Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A New Paradigm in Education

Ok. I admit to being a flawed blogger. I write on a less that regular basis. My mind is filled with ideas and yet I seem to lack the time to put them down in my blog. Shame.

I just finished watching a wonderful video about our current Education Paradigm, and I think it is fully worth watching:

This is triggering a lot for me. First and foremost, why do we treat children as miniature adults? How have we come to expect them to be just like us? What makes us believe that children must be educated in a factory-style system?

The fundamental principle behind sociocracy (and for the matter, behind life) is that individuals are equivalent. Without equivalence, systems cannot be sustained forever. Equivalence simply refers to the fact that we have the right to be considered. If my neighbor decides to throw a large outdoor party without taking my objections into consideration, equivalence has been lost, and the system is broken. This will likely lead to conflict. Had equivalence been present, the friendly neighbor would have worked with me in an attempt to find common grounds through a creative solution.

Few people would argue that in the Education System, the principle of equivalence is largely absent. Take the teacher with her students, the principal with the teachers, the school district manager with the principals, the politicians with the managers, etc. Schools are run like a business. Order must be kept, and if a member does not fit, that member has to be shaped in or kept out. This can be overt or covert. In an overt way, we ask students to behave in certain ways, we demand that they respect their teachers even when certain teachers lack respect to their students (far from the majority). Covertly, this can be happening when teachers give a cold shoulder to the new recruit, who is way too motivated and brings in too much energy and ideas. Instead of admitting that the newcomer brings in a different perspective, it is easier to shut him out.

Let's imagine a different system altogether. One where the following four rules supersede everything else:

1. All members are equivalent (not equal, but of value and all deserving to be treated with dignity and consideration).
2. There is a place where important decisions are made, and there are representatives from all related areas present (called the circle).
3. The decisions that are made in the circle are made by consent, meaning that we work at integrating all the objections into the decisions.
4. Every position in the organisation is filled by consent election (an election based on argumentation rather than on campaigning and seduction).

How would this all come together? Rather simply. Given that the purpose of the education system is to educate, we have a wonderful opportunity to change things. We have a dedicated audience (the learners) and much resources to support their learning (staff, buildings, and money). Before we can teach children to treat each other as equivalent individuals, we must teach it to the authority, which in this case are the teachers, staff, and management. A series of 3-day workshops with these people would bring them to a place where they would experience what it truly means to be equivalent. Only practice can allow a person to grasp what equivalence is.

Once a school's management and staff (the hierarchy) have experienced collective decision-making in a system where equivalence is the norm, they will be able to teach those concepts to their students by treating them as such. Unless the staff has been able to live equivalence through experience, it will be very difficult to pass it down to the students.

In order to have a school which is fully organised in such a way would require two years. The first year to train the staff, the second to implement with the students.

What would the results look like? First and foremost, the climate would be one of respect for each other, staff towards staff and students, and students towards students and staff. There would be much less conflict with authority as the authority would feel legitimate. When there is equivalence, individuals no longer feel threatened by authority. We have learned to fear authority because people who possess it can hurt us. They can overpower us. But in a system of equivalence, authority is kept in line. It is naturally controlled by the rules and the elements of the system.

I dream of a sociocratic school. I would bet my house that students going through such a school would outperform others on just about every objective that our system has for them, and more. I bet staff and students would be happier, more productive, and healthier than in other institutions. I hope I get to make that wager one day...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

I am back online!

Well, all I can say is, "It's been a while"! And although there is no excuse to be produced other than a complete lack of inspiration, I can state for a fact that it has changed.

It has been well over a year already since my last post. And so much has happened in that time, both personally and sociocratically. I shall provide an ever-short version of the personal, and then focus on what this blog is about: the world of Sociocracy!

As I was pursuing my training in Sociocratic Leadership with the International School for Leaders (, I met the person I though did not exist. She is my true love, the kind one only hears about in movies or books. But she is there and she is true... and we now live together and are expecting... twins! As if life had not been generous enough already, I am being given such treasures...

I have also resigned from Yukon College this past summer. The work there was no longer giving me enough satisfaction, nor was it meaningful to me. I was starting to become depressed, low in motivation and low in performance. Being a unionized environment, I could have remained there, do the bare minimum, and keep on making good wages. But the cost would toll would have been very high: my pride, my health, and likely my life... So, I chose to live, I chose to dare, and I chose to leave.

The timing was perfect. We wrapped up the first International Conference on Dynamic Governance on June 16th (which was a wonderful success, many thanks to my dear and esteemed colleague John Buck), after which I left for Montreal, my new old home. After ten years in the Yukon, it was time to leave.

Since then, life has gone into hyperdrive. Let me explain: I have been asked to take the lead to set up the new Canadian Sociocratic Centre (more on this in a post to come) as the assistant to the Executive Director. The plan is for me to take over in the coming year. I am also working hard at developing a network to attract student into the School for Leaders. I have moved from the Yukon into a new home in Montreal, and am helping my partner in the transition with her business, as her pregnancy is, well, growing!

So, there is lots to talk about in the world of sociocracy, and as such, inspiration will likely not falter for a while. In one of my next posts, I want to discuss why I think Sociocracy could lead to much better results than the court system when it comes to broken up families. I will also discuss its application to family counselling, to business governance, and other such topics.

Until then, I wish you wonderful and meaningful sociocratic experiences!



Thursday, July 30, 2009

Consensus vs Consent

A common misconception is that Consent and Concensus are the same. I have been given this some thought for a while, and just as I had more or less let the topic wander off the fringe of my attention, I received a few emails directly relating to it, so I decided to post a summary of what has come my way.

First, I will copy a few definitions of Concensus (and attempt to cite as accurately as possible):

1. Consensus/ is a group decision (which some members may not feel is the best decision, but which they can all live with, support and commit themselves to not undermine), arrived at without voting, through a process whereby the issues are fully aired, all members feel they have been adequately heard, in which everyone has equal power and responsibility, and different degrees of influence by virtue of individual stubbornness or charisma are avoided so that all are satisfied with the process. The process requires the members to be emotionally present and engaged, frank in a loving, mutually respectful manner, sensitive to each other; to be selfless, dispassionate, and capable of emptying themselves and possessing a paradoxical awareness of precariousness of both people and time (including knowing when the solution is satisfactory, and that it is time to stop and not reopen the discussion until such time as the group determines a need for revision.)

From A World Waiting To Be Born_ by M. Scott Peck, pg. 291. Copyrighted. / This definition was written by a group, Valley Diagnostic and Surgical Clinic of Harlingen Texas, as part of a community.

My initial reaction to this is: WOW! Sounds great, but how many groups can achieve this? Let me relate a translated version of Gilles Charest's comment in relation to this definition. His words coin the issues related to concensus:

1. Concensus requires too many conditions related to the quality of the people or their intentions.
2. Concensus is not operational. The process for arriving at a consensus decision is unclear.
3. Concensus is based on a more or less idyllic democracy where ultimately the individual must convince the majority of the validity of his arguments, otherwise he must have the generosity to join.

In my next post, I will go over the definition of Consent, and the process to reach it. It is well-defined, very well-structured, and very, very efficient.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Back Online, and So Much More...

Well, after one month on the road vacationing and attending leadership and Sociocratic training, I am glad to be back to work. My mind is full of fresh thoughts and ideas, and I am eager to get working on the implementation at the College and the International Conference for next June.

During my travels, I attended my third 3-day sociocracy training session (out of six). It was a wonderful experience, with many thought provoking concepts and activities. The course was held in Très-Saint-Rédempteur, a small village an hour out of Montreal.

The course was held there due to the fact that the municipality is amazingly progressive and constantly looking at new ways of doing things. One of their great achievements has been to launch an internet Coop a few years ago. That Coop was born as a direct result of the major Internet Providers' refusal to provide high-speed internet to the small 700-resident community (not enough profits to be generated). This was a serious issue for the town, as many residents are young entrepreneurs who cannot do their work without the internet access. The municipality is drawing young people from Montreal who seek life-balance, combining nature with modern-day work. Without internet, many such young entrepreneurs would either not move to Très-Saint-Rédempteur, or worse, some would have to leave.

With that prospect in mind, a small group of people, some part of the city council, others volunteers, got together and founded a Coop, CSUR, with the goal of providing high-speed internet access to all residents of the area. Four years later, with multiple hundred customers, the Coop has been identified by the Québec governement as a potential internet solution model for all of rural municipalities in the province.

Refusing to sit on such praise, the Coop board has taken on to further its development and take on a more active role withing the municipality. There are projects for a green affordable-housing complex, an equestrian centre, a network of trails, and so much more. But with such a major endeavour, there are issues of governance. How should the municipality and the Coop work together? How should decisions that affect many, if not most, residents be made? Is it at all possible to avoid power struggles, personality conflicts, and "small town" politics?

Exploring possibilities, the Coop has decided to attempt an implementation of sociocracy. They have obtained government support for this, and will work with Sociogest, a Quebec consulting firm that specializes in Sociocracy.

It was wonderful to meet these pioneers while on location for the course. These people are dedicated, high-spirited, and have given themselves a life mission of making things better for themselves, their community, and the future. I will keep an eye wide open to see how things develop over the years. I have no doubt they will become a model for the world!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Yukon Conference on Dynamic Governance

The web site is finally online, albeit in a limited version.

Yukon College and the Centre for Sociocratic Governance - North America are co-hosting an International Conference on Dynamic Governance:

The River Flows Both Ways - A New Era of Organizational Governance
June 14-15-16 2010, in Whitehorse, Yukon
View Larger Map

This will be an event you will NOT want to miss! The full web site should be online by mid-July, and i will keep posting information on this Blog.

You can view Yukon College on Facebook

Also, check out this great site relating to self-organization:
Our Next Step Together

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Taking the Time to Take Time

Well folks, I have suddenly come up with a Paramount Objection to most of my extracurricular activities, and the reason is that I am simply in need of a break. A real one!

So, this will be my last posting for the next few weeks. It will allow me to collect my thoughts, process much of what has happened over the past year, and hopefully obtain better clarity over Dynamic Governance and its implementation at the College.

For this last posting, I want to follow up on my last entry, where I discussed how I felt I had let my Implementation Group down by allowing the group to ignore an issue that had spontaneously arisen (around whether to hold the meeting outside or not). As it happens, at our next meeting (which happened a week later) as facilitator I decided to amend the agenda and resolve the issue from the previous meeting.

I decided to do this for a few reasons. First, as people were coming in, I heard the comment being made that perhaps "today, if we are lucky, we could go outside". Second, I felt that for the group to become solid and effective, we had to be able to resolve what appeared to be a simple issue. So I set to steer the group in that direction.

The way we tackled the issue was simple. I explained why I wanted to go back to it, and then I proceeded to ask the group to come up with an idea, a solution, or a proposal. Someone then proposed that we go outside for that meeting. So we treated that proposal as any other, and within about 15 minutes, it was decided that the next meeting would be outside, weather permitting, so that everyone would know in advance and be able to prepare for it.

When I asked for a comment round at the end of that decision, a few interesting comments were brought up. First, many thought that it was great to actually take the time to learn how to work together; second, a few were not too keen on that, rather, they would have preferred to go straight to the business items, but were ok with going along; third (and this one was during the closing round), two people mentioned that they felt I had taken a lot of space in the discussions, especially during the debate over our Vision Statement. The question was whether I took so much space because I was facilitator or because I had drafted the Vision statement.

At that moment it became clear to me that the time had come to have an election for a new facilitator. This will build the capacity of the group and allow the members to get engaged at a different level.

The main thought I will be leaving on holidays with is that Sociocracy is much, much more than an organizational structure and a decision-making process. I will write more on these thoughts once I have had time to rest and wander...

Until then, feel free to post comments or email me. I will never be too far from an internet connection...

Friday, June 5, 2009

From Cognition to Emotion

I had a neat experience during a circle meeting not too long ago that taught me a lot about group dynamics, and also about some of the challenges around implementing DG. About a dozen of us were meeting for an hour to do some planning for a workgroup, on a spectacular day of sun and warmth. Now, for those of you who are not familiar with the Yukon, we get long winters, and when we get nice weather, many like to be outside! So, during the opening round, someone made the comment that he would like to be outside for this meeting. Following that, in my role of facilitator, I suggested that the person make that into a proposal. Without having the time to formulate it, another member of the group objected, stating that he did not do well in hot weather, and that if the group wanted to go outside, and that we should just go ahead and get the meeting done.

I then proceeded to explore a possible alternative, such as finding a location with shade, to which the person replied that we could go outside and he would simply go home. What struck me was the immediate rise of tension around the table. It was so thick and people were so uncomfortable that I then proceeded to see if the group could live with being inside (bad move on my part as a facilitator, as I feel I let my guard down and missed a great opportunity to help the group grow as a unit). I saw people's resignation to that idea and we proceeded with the meeting.

So what have I learned with that situation? First, that the role of Facilitator is a tough one that requires a lot of knowledge, experience, leadership, and trust in oneself. Second, that there is a difference between "understanding" DG, "experiencing" DG, and "living" DG. Third, that DG requires a lot more time than I anticipated.

It is one thing to implement a circle structure and to explain what "zero objections" means. But it is entirely different to "experience" it. The tension that is generated through objections can either be avoided by dismissing the issue to be resolved (or by doing a poor job at resolving it) or be harnessed to become a driver or creativity and team development. Teams that allow themselves the privilege to stay in the moment, live the tension, work with it, will become that much stronger, more efficient, and creative. The members will feel connected with one another and feel a greater sense of belonging both to the group and the institution. This all happens when the information gets transferred from the head into the heart.

I am so thrilled by this new group I am feeling hopeful, energized, driven, and giddy!