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Engaging Members : Action Research to Get and Keep Your Members Involved Cohesion and Democratic Character. On Co-op Gala Share, Learn, Grow Burlington ON 18 October 2006. Brett Fairbairn Fellow in Co-operative Thought and Ideas Centre for the Study of Co-operatives

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Brett Fairbairn Fellow in Co-operative Thought and Ideas Centre for the Study of Co-operatives

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Brett fairbairn fellow in co operative thought and ideas centre for the study of co operatives

Engaging Members:Action Research to Get and Keep Your Members InvolvedCohesion and Democratic Character

On Co-op Gala

Share, Learn, Grow

Burlington ON

18 October 2006

Brett FairbairnFellow in Co-operative Thought and Ideas

Centre for the Study of Co-operatives

University of Saskatchewan, Canada


Outline

Outline

  • Why is democracy important to co-ops?What is democracy?

  • Practical ideas to take away and test

    • Alternative democratic practices

    • Self-Assessment of Democratic Character in Organizations

      Workshop materials:

    • Copy of overheads

    • “Six Views of Democracy”

    • Self-Assessment questionnaire


Why is democracy important

Why is democracy important?

  • Definition of a co-op: “autonomous association of people” who meet their common needs through a “democratically controlled enterprise” (ICA 1995)

  • Various writers have argued democracy is the thing that makes co-ops distinct

  • Also definitive for the social economy

  • Democracy produces legitimacyDemocracy produces trustIt produces decisions and leaders(Imagine the cost of not having these!)


What is democracy

What is democracy?

  • Despite (because of?) its fundamental importance in our society, there is no clear definition

  • People feel it is important, but respond negatively to many of its manifestations

  • It is often most clearly expressed in oppositional terms, i.e. denunciation of things as undemocratic


Democracy is

Democracy is…

  • (1) “Rule by the people” (demos+kratos)

  • (2) Electing leaders to make decisions

  • (3) Liberty: the freedom of the individual

  • (4) Justice for all

  • (5) Informed deliberation

  • (6) Dignity and autonomy; values


A common paradox

A common paradox

  • Democracy is most often associated with voting…

  • … but people distance themselves from voting processes and results

  • In co-ops, members have the vote but do not seem excited about using it

  • Are we looking for democracy in the wrong place? Perhaps there is something we are missing?


What is democracy cntd

What is democracy? (cntd.)

  • Does democracy always involve voting?

    • In ancient Greece, some positions were filled by random lot. Is this democratic? Why?

  • Is democracy only European?

    • Thought experiment: imagine a decision being made in a traditional village by means of “talking circles” and a consensus pronounced by hereditary or clan leaders.

    • Is this democratic? Why?

  • On what basis do you judge?


Is democracy a way of thinking

Is democracy a way of thinking?

  • For some people, democracy is a social philosophy, not only a procedure

  • This is why people in co-ops and the social economy value democracy

  • So: A democratic organization is one whose structures, culture, and cognitive processes express an underlying set of values

  • Values may be long-lasting, butexpressions change over time


What values are democratic a work in progress

What values are democratic?(a work in progress)

  • Equality

    • equity, fairness

    • respect, dignity

  • Inclusion

    • openness

    • harmony, solidarity, mutuality

    • participation

  • Self-determination

    • autonomy, freedom, liberty

    • responsibility, accountability


Ideas democratic procedures without voting 1

Ideas: democratic procedures without voting (1)

  • Randomly select ordinary members to serve on committees, or conference participants to speak on panels

    • Random selection confers a different kind of democratic legitimacy

    • It speaks to populist ideas of democracy, the importance of what ordinary people think

    • It avoids excessive self-promotion or recruitment through narrow networks


Ideas democracy without voting 2

Ideas: democracy without voting (2)

  • Run talking circles in committee meetings or table discussions

    • Each person is invited to speak in turn

    • No one can interrupt

    • You hear from everyone

    • No individual can dominate

    • If a consensus is needed, you can keep repeating the process

    • There is an opportunity for cross-cultural education


Ideas democracy without voting 3

Ideas: democracy without voting (3)

  • Use a variety of more interactive techniques in large meetings

    • (Table discussions and report-back are a well-used example.)

    • Obtain frequent audience response

      • “twinkling”, “clickers”

      • Ask the audience questions

    • Roving “interviewers” with microphones – “person in the street” interviews

    • Reaction panels of ordinary participants talking about what they just heard


Ideas democracy without voting 4

Ideas: democracy without voting (4)

  • Use participatory techniques that draw in members on a short-term basis but also involve enabling them to educate themselves about issues

    • Action research - “interactive focus groups,” advice from members with education built in

    • Member committees to study specific issues over a period of time, ending with presentation of recommendations directly to the board


Ideas democracy without voting 5

Ideas: democracy without voting (5)

  • “e-democracy” techniques

    • Internet feedback

    • Digital brainstorming – moderated real-time discussion (see the Globe and Mail online)

    • On-line member panels

    • “Deliberative polling” – small-group online discussion accompanied by random sampling

    • Virtual question periods – “ask the CEO”

    • Scenario modelling – show several different choices (e.g. facility designs; financial policies) and invite member feedback


Democracy without voting democratic character of organizations

Democracy without voting:Democratic character of organizations

  • Organization benefits or outcomes

  • Interactions with key stakeholders (e.g. clients or members)

    • Goods and services

    • Staff-client/member transactions

    • Locations and spaces

    • Communications

    • Decision-making

  • Other internal relations – staff

  • External relations

    • Community and other stakeholders


Discussion

Discussion

  • When is the word “democracy” used in your organization?

  • What do people appear to mean by it?

  • Who uses the word?

  • Where do you think democracy is evident in the life of your organization?


A self assessment of democratic character

A self-assessment of democratic character

  • 2003 CARD II Leadership Development

    • Côté and Fairbairn “Diagnosis of Democratic Functioning”

  • Expanded concept: how democratic values are communicated in all aspects of an organization’s activities

  • Action-research project 2006-7CASC research forum, May 2006CCA Congress, June 2006

  • “Open-access” self-assessment tool


Introduction to the self assessment tool

Introduction to the self-assessment tool

  • 84 questions – approximately 8 pages

  • Questions of perception and judgement (self-analysis)

  • Practical purpose: intended to structure thinking to focus on areas that can be improved

  • Suitable for groups

  • Voluntary use and reporting of results


Working with the questionnaire

Working with the questionnaire

  • Work through the questionnaire, answering with respect to one specific organization you are part of

  • For today, skip to sections that interest you; don’t worry about every question

  • When you are done, form a group of 2 or 3 with people near you, and begin discussing what was easy or difficult, straightforward or revealing


Discussion1

Discussion

  • Where did you rate your organizations at a high level? At a low level?

  • Has the questionnaire given you ideas for specific things to investigate or work on?

  • What was hard to answer or did not apply?

  • Could your board of directors, staff, or other stakeholders do this assessment?

  • Would it be useful to have a database of results (benchmarks)?


Closing thought

Closing thought

  • Research is the creation of new knowledge

  • We are all researchers


Brett fairbairn fellow in co operative thought and ideas centre for the study of co operatives

Comments and Questions Welcome

Brett Fairbairn

Professor of History and

Fellow in Co-operative Thought and Ideas

Centre for the Study of Co-operatives

University of Saskatchewan

101 Diefenbaker Place

Saskatoon SK S7N 5B8 Canada

Tel. (306) 966-8505 Fax (306) 966-8517

E-mail [email protected]

Check out the centre’s website!

http://www.usaskstudies.coop


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