XR, ecolocracy and decision making

| 17th October 2019
Environmental organisations of all kinds are engaged in decision making. What can 'ecolocracy' add to this most difficult of issues?

We test objections with an attitude of scientific curiosity. 

Environmentalists working together have to make huge decisions. In some parts of the world these are immediate life and death decisions. The decision to hold the Extinction Rebellion Autumn Uprising and the decisions taken at them by individuals has resulted in more than 1,600 arrests. These decisions have been taken in the context of climate change - the result of the failure of decision making processes that could literally cost the earth. So the decisions we take are hugely important.

Read, Why we need 'ecolocracy'

Read, An introduction to 'ecolocracy' - pt.1

It seems therefore to be important to discuss the process of decisions, as well as the validity or wisdom of any decision in isolation. It could be helpful to think about three styles of decision making: 1. The veto, where any one decision maker can prevent an action being taken. This is essentially the model that killed the Occupy movement. 2. The vote, where 50 percent plus one decision maker need to agree to an action before it is taken. This is the heart of democracy, and has given us Brexit. The third is Integrative Decision Making Process (IDMP) which is the least well known, but could the most useful.

IDMP has been adopted by Extinction Rebellion and is, I would argue, one of the key reasons why this climate movement has been able to scale so quickly and effectively, it allows members to take initiatives without approval from a managing director, or a central committee. Whether the use of IDMP has also allowed poor or controversial decisions to be made - the targeting of Underground train stations today being a case worthy of examination - is yet to be fully established.

Ecolocracy

IDMP is set out in Brian J Robertson's Holacracy, which proposes a systems based approach to organisational structure. Robertson advises that IDMP should only be used for major, organisational decisions, like changing someones role and responsibilities in an organisation. However, it is used by XR for deciding which specific actions and projects go ahead. It can be used without having to engage with ecolocracy more generally or adopting the holacracy constitution as a whole. You can read more about ecolocracy in this article. Here I set out how an IDMP decision meeting can be structured. 

Integrative Decision Making Process (IDMP)

1.Present proposal: The proposer has a space to describe a problem and present her proposal to resolve it, usually without a discussion. The proposer can ask for a discussion to help craft the proposal - but not to build consensus or integrate concerns.

2. Clarifying questions: Anyone can ask a clarifying question to seek information or understanding. The proposer can simply say ‘not specified’. No reactions or dialogue are allowed at this stage.

3. Reaction round: Each person is given space to react to the proposal. Comments should be made as first or third person comments. No discussion allowed at this stage.

4. Amend and clarify: The proposer can optionally clarify the intent of the proposal further or amend the proposal based on the reactions, or just move on. No discussion allowed at this stage.

5. Objection round: The facilitator asks: “Do you see any reasons why adopting this proposal would cause harm or move us backwards?” Objections are stated, tested and captured without discussion. With ecolocracy, the facilitator then asks, “Do you see any reasons why adopting this proposal would cause harm to others, or to the environment?” The proposal is adopted if no objections surface.

6. Integration: Focus on each objection - one at a time. The goal is to craft an amended proposal that would not cause the objection - but would still resolve the problem originally identified. Once all objections are processed, return to the Objection round.

Testing proposals

A proposal can be presented (at stage 1. described above) when the facilitator agrees that the problem behind the proposal is limiting someone’s role, and the aim must be to remove that limit, for the sake of the role. A proposal may modify other roles in the process, as long as there is a reason.

A proposal can be discarded by the facilitator if the proposer cannot give a concrete example of how it would improve her or his ability to express the purpose or accountabilities of one of the roles. Any individual can propose something to help in relation to a role they do not fill - but only if permission has been given by the person currently in that role.

Testing objections

An objection is invited by the facilitator. She asks: ‘Do you see any reason why adopting this proposal would cause harm or move us backwards?’ You invite each person attending the governance meeting to respond, ‘objection’ or ‘no objection’.

An objection can block a proposal. There is a potential for conflict - and indeed sclerosis - to play out or set in during this process. Therefore, the power of objection needs to be limited, or regulated. This is achieved through a fair and transparent process.

A valid objection must cite a new problem that would be created by adopting the proposal: when they do so all the following must be true:

1. The proposal would hurt the team and not just fail to improve it - or (when using ecolocracy) the proposal would be a net harm to others, or a harm to the environment.

2. The objection would be created specifically by adopting the proposal - and would no longer exist if the objection were dropped.

3. The objection arises from known data - or there would not be an opportunity to adapt before significant harm could be done.

4. If the proposal had already been adopted, it would be necessary for the objector to process the objection as a proposal - that the proposal limits one of the objector’s roles.

The decision meeting then continues the objection round until all objections have been raised and tested. “We test objections with an attitude of scientific curiosity,” Robertson argued.

Integration

There is final stage where the decision makers at the meeting attempt to ‘integrate’ the proposal with any valid objections. If this cannot be done, the objections stand and the proposal falls, at least until the next meeting.

The integration process begins with the valid objection being written on a board. The team then works together to answer the following question: ‘What could we add to or amend in the proposal to dissolve the objection, while still addressing the original objection’.

When the team completes the integration they then go back to the objection round and see if any further objections surface. If no objections are raised, the proposal is adopted.

The ecolocracy management system has been designed so that organisations can actuate their purpose of meeting a wider social need. This is done be ensuring each individual can contribute to the best of their ability, by ensuring their needs are met - including the need for autonomy.

The proposed management system is radically different from conventional organisational structures, which are in turn modelled on the military: divisions of men controlled by the commander who sets the purpose, sets the strategy, and sets the individual tasks.

This Author

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist.

Help us keep The Ecologist working for the planet

The Ecologist website is a free service, published by The Resurgence Trust, a UK-based educational charity. We work hard - with a small budget and tiny editorial team - to bring you the wide-ranging, independent journalism we know you value and enjoy, but we need your help. Please make a donation to support The Ecologist platform. Thank you!

Donate to us here