The art of facilitating meetings is an on-going process. Occupy Norwich makes decisions based on consensus. The following is an outline of how it is being done and tips to refine the process:
- Choose and advertise in advance meetings. These are being held at the occupation site. General Assembly meetings are open to all participants in the occupy movement, and everybody has a vote of equal value.
- Outline the agenda. All participants can propose agenda items, and the group must agree on the agenda. The agenda is written down and someone in the group has the responsibility to read the agenda items when the list is being developed and at the start of discussion of each item.
- In discussing agenda items, the person who put forward the topic explains it. Group members take turns speaking, raising their hands to indicate they would like to speak after the current speaker (and possibly others queuing to speak) have finished. It is not polite to interrupt other while they are speaking, and such behaviour is not tolerated. In order to avoid this, we use the following hand signals: Jazz Hands (hands up and wiggling fingers) to indicate agreement), and Raised hand (usually with index finger up) to indicate you wish to be placed in the queue to speak. The facilitator silently or quietly lets people know when she/he has placed them in the cue (so they don’t have to keep their hands up). The facilitator calls on each speaker in their turn
- Calling for a vote — the facilitator can do this in between people’s turns speaking, or after everyone in the queue has spoken, and bearing in mind what’s been said (if the group seems likely to take a decision) and the time remaining to discuss the item. The facilitator asks the group to indicate their agreement/disagreement to proposals. Once it seems everyone is an agreement, the facilitator asks if there is consensus, and takes a moment to look around and make sure no one wishes to block consensus.
- The decision is recorded in the meeting minutes, and the facilitator moves on to the next agenda item.
Tips for deciding the agenda:
- An agenda can be posted on the web in advance.
- The agenda is agreed upon before the meeting commences. It can be helpful to group together like agenda items.
- Each agenda item can have a time limit so that all items can be covered in the meeting. The time limits should be agreed upon before the agenda is finalised.
- It might be a good idea to separate operational from policy issues, allotting time in the agenda for each.
Tips for facilitation:
- It is good to rotate facilitators to give everybody a chance to experience being in that role, to avoid overburdening a few individuals with the responsibility, and to limit the potential for a few individuals to assue more power in the group than others.
- The facilitator is the only one who should speak out of turn, and just to put the process back on track if there is a disruption, such as speaking out of turn. If the facilitator failing to do this, please address remarks to the facilitator. If the facilitator continues to struggle in his/her role, then it would be wise for the facilitator to allow another group member to facilitate. In the unfortunate event that the facilitator goes against the wishes of the group to step aside, then another facilitator should be chosen.
- It is important to remember that some group members may be a bit shy to speak, and it sometimes takes people awhile to ponder a topic before knowing what they want to do about it, so it is important that everyone be given the time/space to think and possibly say something.
- When the individual facilitating wishes to contribute their thoughts to the discussion of a topic, they should put their name in the speaking cue. Unless it is a process point, the facilitator should never speak their opinion before others who are waiting their turn.
Tips for co-facilitation:
- Everyone has the responsibility to make sure that meetings are ‘safe spaces’ where all people are being respected and the agreed-upon process is being followed.
- Hand signals can be further developed to increase non-disruptive feedback being shared with the group. For example, we might use Jazz Hands Down to indicate disagreement.
Tips for taking decisions:
- Not every issue can be resolved in the allotted time. In these cases, they will have to be tabled until the next general assembly. An individual or ‘committee’ can be selected by consent to develop a proposal on the issue for the next meeting.
- It would be helpful to have something to write proposals on (a board or very large sheet of paper), so everyone can see them, and they can be tweaked if necessary.