We recommend this approach to assemblies for non violent civil disobedient occupation actions, because the process respects individual free will and fosters affinity amongst participates in civil disobedience participants. We need each other in order to sustain our occupation.
What is horizontal organisation?
It is a type of social organisation which implies equality and has no hierarchy, as opposed to a vertical organisation in which some people make decisions and others obey them.
The method used to take decisions in a horizontally-organised group is through assemblies.
What is a People’s Assembly?
It is a participatory decision-making body which works towards consensus.
The Assembly looks for the best arguments to take a decision that reflects every opinion – not positions at odds with each other as what happens when votes are taken.
An Assembly should not be centred around an ideological discourse; instead it should deal with practical questions:
- What do we need?
- How can we get it?
The Assembly is based on free association – if you are not in agreement with what has been decided, you are not obliged to carry it out. Every person is free to do what they wish – the Assembly tries to produce collective intelligence, and shared lines of thought and action. It encourages dialogue and getting to know one another.
An Assembly is a gathering place where people who have a common purpose can meet on equal footing. It can be for:
- Information: the participants share information of mutual interest. They do not debate the content of this information.
- Reflection: to jointly think through a subject, situation or problem. Information must be given, but there is no need to arrive at an immediate decision.
- Decisions: when the group must reach a joint conclusion or decision about a subject it has been involved in. To reach this, the two previous steps (having information and reflecting on it) must have been taken in order to build a consensus.
What is Consensus?
It is the way that the assemblies make a final decision over each specific proposal. Consensus is reached when there is no outright opposition in the assembly against the proposal. The following format must be applied to each proposal:
- What is being proposed?
- Why is it being proposed?
- How can we carry out the Proposal if a consensus is reached?
To sum up: What? Why? How?
A consensus is a collective construction of a solution to or a decision on a common interest.
It is not drawing up a proposal which includes each and every individual need, but is rather a the synthesis of all the individual opinions which give shape to the best way to achieve reach the group’s common interest.
- Being very clear about the group’s common interest.
- Being aware that anything collective is the sum of all the individual knowledge and input; to this end, each individual’s opinions must have been be communicated, listened to and respected.
- Realizing that it [consensus] is a commonly constructed end, rather than a function in itself.
- Realizing that consensus involves a process and that time and the necessary steps must be provided for it.
Those necessary steps are:
- Creating a relaxed group atmosphere which encourages participants to listen to, respect and support each other. climate which listens to, respects and has complicity amongst its members.
- Making sure that the task which will to be worked on is crystal clear.
- Sharing the information of each individual or sub-group so it can be properly taken into account.
- Considering all points carefully.
- Identifying and using points which are clearly fall on common ground in order to begin building the proposal.
- Gradually drafting the proposal through collective thinking.
- Celebrating individual and group achievement.
What is Direct Consensus?
A consensus that is directly reached without opinions against it.
What is Indirect Consensus?
A consensus that is reached after debating different opinions on a proposal which did not reach a Direct Consensus.
The following steps are taken to reach an Indirect Consensus:
- What? Why? How?
- After the moderator asks ‘Are there any strongly opposed opinions?’, and if there are, a queue for floor time is prepared. The Floor Time Team and Coordinator(s) open the first round of debate.
Three arguments for and three arguments against are allowed. After that, the Assembly is asked to show its opinion again through Gestures.
If consensus is still not reached when asking if there are opinions against, the Moderator will ask the Assembly to discuss the issue for three to five minutes in small groups where they are sitting.
After this small break a second round of interventions consisting of Proposals for Consensus takes place.
If a consensus is still not reached after these two rounds, the following takes place:
- If the Proposal comes from a Working Group, it is returned in order to be reworked,
- If the Proposal comes from an individual, it will be taken to the competent Working Group so it can reach a consensus on its usefulness and present a reworked version of it in the next Assembly, where it will once again go through the same procedure. And so on until a real consensus is reached.
Keys to Creating Dynamic Agendas
What is the Agenda of an Assembly?
The Agenda is a summary of the topics to be discussed during an Assembly. Its function is to make sure no important issue is left out, to establish an order in the type of interventions and to make it possible to calculate how much time each part of the Assembly should take.
The agenda is drawn up by the Group Dynamics Team and the Moderator of any assembly should be familiar with it before opening an assembly as it is a basic guide to that assembly’s contents.
The Group Dynamics Team does not have jurisdiction over the contents of the Agenda; its members merely organise the issues to be discussed as reflected in the consensus reached by the representatives of all participating working groups (if there are working groups) or individuals (in smaller assemblies) in preparatory meetings.
The agenda contains an outline of what issues are to be discussed in the Assembly and as such should be read out loud at the beginning of the Assembly so that the all present are aware of what is going to take place.
Experience will help improve the design and relevance of each Assembly agenda. We recommend setting time limits for each Assembly depending on the number of participants and the issues to be discussed, in order to avoid loss of concentration and unfruitful assemblies.
Example of an Assembly Agenda
- Summary of the consensuses reached in the previous Assembly and all outstanding issues.
- Presentation of the facilitator’s roles.
- Explanation of the concept “Assembly”. We do not “vote”, we reach consensus.
- Explanation of the concept “Consensus” (direct and indirect). Explanation of the process used to reach an indirect consensus.
- Examples of how the mechanics of the Floor-Time Team and Facilitators during an Assembly.
- Reading the Agenda out loud.
- The turn of the Working Groups without specific proposals for the Assembly, only information which does not require consensus. These are called, “Reports.” It is advisable that a spokesperson from each Working Group attends the preparatory meeting for the Assembly in order to help organise the list of issues to be discussed.
- The turn of the Working Groups with specific proposals for the Assembly. If a direct consensus is not reached, the floor is opened to debate. Remember: there should be a maximum of two rounds of debate to defend each position (in groups of three speakers) and/or find a point of agreement. If the debate becomes heated, a period of common reflection can be opened and if after two rounds no consensus is reached the issue can be adjourned to the following Assembly. Opinion > Debate > Resolution or Adjournment.
- IMPORTANT NOTICES. Citations, general interest information, latest news, etc.
- ANY OTHER BUSINESS. During this round, there is no opportunity for debate. The information is not to be ratified at this point, rather taken up by the pertinent working group or commission. Important: if it is necessary to cut short this round because of lack of time or tiredness, announce this and tell those who have not had a chance to intervene in this round that the subjects they wanted to mention will have priority in the any-other-business round in the next Assembly.
- Conclusions and notification of time and place of next Assembly.
- Message of motivation and reminder of common purpose. Now is the time to use memorable words, which may be in verse, a piece of good news, a highly-charged quotation or a short text, etc.
- Closure and acknowledgements.
Roles and Functions for an Assembly:
FACILITATING TEAM: Two or three people who back up the moderator.
They are the moderator’s “voice of conscience”. They are the only people in direct contact with the moderators in order to help them maintain their concentration and impartiality.
The Facilitators should be positioned around the moderation space. They help the moderator synthesise and reformulate proposals in an objective and impartial way.
They facilitate the flow of information between “Coordination” and the Moderator so that floor-time is fair and organised.
They prevent assembly participants from distracting the moderator, help the moderator communicate with people who find it difficult to speak in public, make the moderator aware of any errors in their vocabulary or summaries, inform them of any last-minute announcements, help them stick to the agenda, etc. In large debates the figure of a “Direct Facilitator” may be created in order to even more closely help the moderator to follow the norms of the Assembly.
An important way of helping the Assembly to run smoothly is to incorporate one or two people who intervene when there are silences, over-heated discussions or serious digressions. Their main role is to remind assembly participants of the importance of active listening and the true meaning of consensus.
ROTATING TEAM OF MODERATORS: One or more people (who rotate if the Assembly is large or there is a lot of tension). This rotation is decided upon assembly, with the greater good of the assembly in mind.
The moderator(s) are responsible for:
- welcoming the participants to the Assembly;
- explaining the nature and workings of the Assembly;
- presenting the group dynamic teams and their functions;
- moderating positively and conciliating distinct positions without aligning themselves personally with any of these;
- informing the Assembly of the positions for and against during the process of Indirect Consensus;
- summarizing each intervention during the rounds of debate should it be needed;
- and repeating the consensus as recorded in the minutes.
The moderator also gives voice to gestures made should a speaker not have noticed (it is recommended that assembly participants wait for a speaker to finish their turn in order to express agreement or disagreement so as to avoid swaying the speaker).
Furthermore, the moderator is responsible for ensuring an atmosphere propitious to the exchange of ideas and for establishing a positive tone.
MINUTES TEAM: One or two people responsible for noting all interventions which do no have a script.
In the case of consensus resolutions the minutes team can ask for any resolution to be repeated word by word and subsequently ratified by the Assembly. Normally one team member writes down interventions by hand whilst the other uses a computer in case what has been written needs to be cross-checked.
At the end of the Assembly, the minutes taken by this team should be read out to avoid any confusion.