Our Structure & Decision Making Process
Don't be frightened away by the number of words that follow. InterAct's decision-making process is not extremely complicated-- quite the opposite, actually! We've found that this formal structure and decision-making process (DMP) does away with a great deal of confusion, miscommunication and wasted time at our meetings while also making it possible for a fairly large group of people to make decisions in a directly democratic manner. Sure, it takes a little practice to get used to. But the time and energy it takes to learn how to use this DMP is well worth the time and energy we all save by using it.
Everyone attending her/his first InterAct meeting is provided with a printed copy of this information, and the meeting's facilitator (see below) keeps the rest of the group on track with the process. We've also included this info here to let you know more about how the group works and to give you the opportunity to get a head-start before attending your first meeting. While this description will make most sense if you read it from start to finish, you may also jump from section to section by clicking on any of the links below.
The Values Behind the Structure & Process
InterAct Decision Making Process (DMP)
2) Direct, Participatory Democracy. InterAct is a non-hierarchical organization. All members have equal power to determine the group's course, which emerges from open discussion among members in which everyone's participation is encouraged.
Responsibility. Just as it is not fair for some subset of the
group to make
all the decisions, it is not fair for some subset of the group to do
work implementing those decisions. While our schedules, availability,
commitment levels may differ, each individual m
ember shares in the
responsibility for the group's success, and we will do our best to
distribute InterAct's workload.
Shared Commitment to
Each Other. Each individual member is responsible for helping other members to fully
participate in decision-making, to develop practical activist/organizer skills, and
to feel empowered to consciously act upon the world around them.
The General Body is made up of whoever is present at the regularly scheduled weekly meetings. General Body meetings are open to all c ampus and community progressives.
Minutes from every General Body meeting must be posted to InterAct's main listserv.
1) Anyone can propose to hold a General Body meeti ng.
2) The proposal must be made publicly (i.e. over the listerv).
3) The meeting must be held in a generally accessible location.
4) In order to hold the meeting, quorum must be achieved.
a) a quorum is three-quarters of the average attendance of the previous four General Body meetings.5) The person calling the meeting must propose a number of options for meeting times and locations. The meeting time must occur after at least 24 hours from when the announcement is posted. If enough people to create a quorum can meet during one of those options, then the person calling the meeting must announce the time and place of the meeting over the listserv.
The General Body decides what projects InterAct will carry o ut. After the General Body has decided that InterAct will do a certain project it will frequently (but not always) create a working group responsible for making that project happen.
The General Body has final say over the activities of a working group. In order for the general body to remain informed about the activities of the working group, all working groups report on their progress at each regularly scheduled General Body meeting. The report should include not only decisions reached, but a brief summary of the options considered for decisions that affect the public face of the project. (For example, the decision of which working group member will draft a project flyer is immaterial to the main body, but sharing the flyer with the main body during the working group report is required.)
Discussion is “facilitated,” meaning that a member present is chosen to help improve the group's communication by providing assistance and guidance to keep discussion flowing smoothly.
The facilitator's roles and duties are:
1) briefly explaining the decision making process at the beginning of each meeting
2) calling on those who wish to speak in the order in which the facilitator saw hands raised. This order is called the “stack.” There are two exceptions to this order:
a) Slanted Stack: to prevent the discussion from being dominated by a small number of people, the facilitator will frequently call on someone who has spoken less before someone who has spoken more, regardless of the order hands were raised.3) ensuring that one topic of discussion is adequately addressed before the subject changes, as well as ensuring that an agenda item is resolved to everyone's satisfaction before moving on.
b) Direct Response: In cases where many people are waiting to speak and someone makes a comment which inspires responses that merit immediate attention, these “direct responses” will be heard before continuing down the the stack. A direct response will be signaled by a special hand gesture (see demonstration).
4) reiterating and clarifying alternative proposals to ensure everyone understands them.
5) restating proposals that have been made, and initiate thumbs (see “Thumb-Meter Consensus” below)
6) keeping track of time.
7) otherwise ensuring an orderly, productive meeting in which everyone's voice is being heard
Facilitator Evaluation and Improvement
Comment cards will be made available at the end of each meeting for all members, including the facilitator, to make comments about what the facilitator has done well and what can be improved. In this way, the group not only helps each facilitator improve his or her skills, but also continues to refine the role of facilitator within the group. These comment cards will be collected by the minutes-taker and posted with the minutes to the main InterAct listser
At the beginning of each meeting, one person will volunteer to be the backup facilitator. In the event that the facilitator wishes to contribute to the discussion, leave the room for whatever reason, or otherwise temporarily suspend his or her role as facilitator, the backup facilitator will be asked to take over facilitation.
In the event that those present feel that the facilitator is not fulfilling the roles and duties outlined above, anyone is free to make their concerns known during the regular discussion. If the facilitator continues to hamper discussion, the facilitator may be recalled. The recall is made as a proposal to replace the current facilitator with a specific member present.
Open discussion on each agenda item continues until someone proposes a specific plan of action. So that proposals are not confused with other kinds of comments made during open discussion, proposals must always begin with the words, “I propose that…” After a member makes a proposal, the facilitator restates the proposal, and initiates thumbs.
Thumb Meter Consensus
Consensus is unanimous agreement on a course of action. This course of action is arrived at through discussion in which proposals are made and refined. Consensus is not simply deciding between a number of possible courses of action, it is a process of developing a single course of action that everyone is willing to go along with.
Immediately after a proposal is made, the facilitator restates the proposal and asks for a showing of thumbs. Even if other people have their hands raised, discussion is put on hold. At this point every InterAct member present puts out her/his hand for all to see and gives one of the following thumb gestures:
1) Two thumbs shows enthusiastic support, meaning the person believes the proposed course of action is not only a good choice, but is also making a firm commitment to contribute the time and effort needed to make the proposal happen.
2) One thumb up shows support, but without a firm commitment to contribute time and effort to make the proposal happen. (This gesture is also used when no time and effort are required to make the proposal happen.)
3) One thumb sideways (also known as a “stand-aside”) shows that the person does not support the proposal and will not contribute time and effort, but is willing to go accept the course of action going forward “in their name” as a member of InterAct.
4) One thumb-down with pinky finger extended to indicate that the person feels it is too early in the discussion to make decisions. The “pinky variant” does not indicate that the person is opposed to the proposal, but simply that he or she would like to hear further discussion, including answers to clarifying questions about the proposal, refinement of the proposal, and/or the suggestion of other options.
5) One thumb-down shows strong disagreement and “blocks” consensus. Blocking consensus can indicate that the member has a strategic or ideological objection to proposed course of action. It can also indicate that the member prefers another course of action.
(NOTE: Prior to the enactment of this DMP, it was sometimes been the case that someone would make a proposal and, rather than going directly to a show of thumbs, the facilitator will ask if anyone else has any alternative proposals for handling the same issue. This is no longer a part of InterAct's process. Instead, someone with an alternative proposal may do one of two things: 1) block (with or without pinky) during the show of thumbs to decide the first proposal, and then explain the reasoning for blocking during the “check-in” (see below): or 2) not block the first proposal, but sometime thereafter make an alternative proposal, which, if accepted will cancel the first one.)
If any thumbs
are down, the facilitator leads the group through a brief “check-in.”
So that the entire group can
be quickly made aware of why a proposal was blocked, the facilitator manages a
“check-in” through the following:
If all blocks were thumbs down with pinky variant, it indicates that no member present has a strong objection to the course of action AND that no member has alternative proposals. In this case the facilitator asks if there are any comments before another show of thumbs. If there are no comments, the check-in period is over. The facilitator restates the proposal and another show of thumbs is made.
If there are any thumbs-down without pinky variant, the facilitator calls on each memb er blocking consensus to briefly summarize their opposition to the plan. No new proposals can be made at this point. However, a member is free to state that they have an alternative proposal. The facilitator is encouraged to keep thumbs-down check-in as brief as possible. The goal is to get a brief idea of the nature of group members' opposition so that the group knows what to discuss in open discussion. After all members with thumbs-down have briefly stated their opposition to the propo sal, the check-in is over. The facilitator resumes open discussion and InterAct members are free to make new proposals.
A proposal to abandon consensus must include the specific course of action the group should take upon abandoning consensus. For example, “I propose we abandon consensus and choose between the following options…”
When a proposal to abandon consensus is made, all members in favor of abandoning consensus raise their hands. If a ¾ majority of those present agree to abandon consensus, then the group chooses its' course of action through run-off voting (see below).
then write down a thumb meter. “EU” will signify double thumbs-up
support and a commitment to contribute time and effort). “U” will
thumb-up (enthusiastic support, but not willing to volunteer). “A” will
stand-aside (no support, but will
ing to go along with the proposal).
signify thumbs-down (block).
The EU's, U's, and A's for each proposal will be tallied. The proposal which has the highest number of EU's and U's, as well as at least ¾ majority of EU's and U's plus A's will be announced by the facilitator as the option with greatest support. The facilitator will ask those who marked EU's on that proposal if they feel they can take on the workload. If those who have given an EU feel there is enough support, then that course of action will be taken by the group.
The facilitator then asks if anyone would like to “register dissent” – i.e. have a minority dissenting opinion recorded in the meeting minutes.
If those who gave an EU do not feel there is enough support to carry out the course of action, then the propos al has not passed and open discussion resumes.
1) A proposal is accepted by the group either through consensus or ¾ majority rule.
2) A proposal to suspend discussion on an agenda item until a specific time in the future passes through consensus or ¾ majority rule.
3) A proposal to remove a particular item from the agenda passes through consensus or ¾ majority rule. For instance, an agenda item is considered to be outside the group's mission, abilities, or not within the General Body's desire to address.