On Democratic Decision-making

I took part in a joint meeting of all Spirit of Artova initiatives as the representative of Arabia Street Festival at the end of September. Janne Kareinen, the project leader, asked me a question that went something like this: “The Arabia Street Festival working group utilized a democratic decision-making model. How did that work out, in your opinion?” A bit confused, I waded back in my memories to last spring and answered: “Not very well.”

Afterwards I spent some time thinking about my answer and the reasons behind it. Working in a group – particularly with the small core group – was fun, straightforward, open and effortless. I’d say we conducted our business very democratically indeed and everyone present had a say in how things were done. What I mean is that everyone had and used opportunities to speak their mind nobody dictated what people should do. So you can say that the democratic decision-making was a success.

Then why did I answer “no” to Janne’s question? Maybe because I never perceived there to be any model or method underlying our work. The manner for working in the small group arose, in my opinion, from the routines of the individuals rather than from a jointly adopted guiding logic. In the big group, where all the initiative volunteers met, decision-making was democratic in the same way it is in most meetings where I have been: a handful of the participants do the discussing, pick the topics and content while the large majority sits tacitly and in so doing agree with the new decisions.

It is my opinion, that the Street Festival was a success, and the production process relied on discussion and equal opportunity for all to be heard. Perhaps what I criticized in answering “no” was the ambiguousness of democratic decision-making: what did we want to achieve with it in this project? A conversational atmosphere in the meetings? Yes, that we had. Everyone to voice their opinion of all the different decisions? No, this was left unclear. It was also unclear which were the decisions that were supposed to be taken together. Everyone can influence their own tasks? This wasn’t a problem at all.

We’re going to the right direction. Taking decisions together and hearing everyone out promotes commitment to the work. However, there are also a few points that require further efforts. As I have worked for years in an environment that is very open to conversation, I’ve learned to take talk of democratic decision-making with a grain of salt.  Conversation does not guarantee democratic division of power amongst volunteers. Maybe the problem we actually had in the bigger group was that the volunteers themselves were a bit uncertain as to the mandate they had to decide on questions relating to the Street Festival as a whole. It is one thing to take responsibility (which comes as a by-product of decision-making) of the entity and another to take responsibility of one’s own task. Maybe it would have been fruitful to open up the roles a bit, to talk about what issues are settled together and what issues are up to the smaller groups. Personally, it was already in the spring that I pondered what the democratic decision-making model and method meant in this context. Is there an idea or a method in the background? To what extent was the producer aware of the model?

I presume all work group members shared to some extent the idea of what working democratically means. But did we create a some kind of culture of democratic decision-making so that everyone was aware of its principles? No, I don’t think we did. Not deliberately, at least. Everybody works within their own framework. But maybe by going back to our methods we can afterwards put together some elements to support democratic decision-making in the future.

Kirsi Autio
Translated by Pigasus Translations.

This entry was posted in Arabia Street Festival, Omaehtoisuus / Itseohjautuvuus / Initiative / Self-direction, Prosessin hallinta / Process management, Prosessin kulku / Process development, Ryhmän dynamiikka / Group dynamics, Suunnittelu / Ideointi / Planning / Brainstorming. Bookmark the permalink.

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