Democratic Ownership requires a Strategic Plan

Is collective decision-making impossible?  It can be if the right people are not involved.  The ability of a group to express ideas and opinion, values and beliefs, negotiate compromise and find common direction forward is nothing to take for granted.  Of course most of us would say the ability of a community to do that is even less possible simply because you’d be trying to do it with more people. Therefore, asking members to come together and effectively do what your board does is not worth the effort, right? 

This article is to say that that can’t-do attitude is a problem. With all the changes going on in our economic, social, and natural environments all association (community) members need to adapt and our ability to have them participate in planning is better, and we are more able then ever.  A system that motivates and educates all members on how to be engaged in strategic planning is a process called Democratic Ownership.  It gives members the skills and knowledge necessary to collectively plan.

For an association Democratic Ownership means a place where members are welcome to engage their association is created.  Members feels they have the ability to take ownership and a vested interest in ‘their community’.  It means that there is an education system that is always available to inform members about the strategic plan for their community and how its being adapted to deal with the issues facing it.  It means that by having the member understand the issues that are arising in their economic, social and even natural environments, they will care enough to participate. 

What to do to make this evolutionary change? 

The Place-

There are two places for your community to interact with staff and board members. 

1.     At events- instead of having just an info-booth at your shows, have an engagement centre set up.  Association departments identified perhaps with their own booth or table in an area where staff is prepared to engage members on topics of interest or concern, and potentially board members are set up to discuss strategic direction. 

2.     Have community meetings.  Not only face to face, but on-line.  In Canada rules have changed about what’s required for annual general meetings.  If you are lucky enough to have everyone together, talk about the issues and the strategic plans to deal with them.  Yes, ‘the Association’ needs to be held to account but given members’ blind faith and often automatic approvals, a huge opportunity for collective engagement is lost and more members don’t attend because they don’t feel actively part of ‘their community’.  In addition to face-to-face meetings onn-line discussion groups are imperative.  With the technology today it is the best way to capture younger members.  They might even be baited into coming to the real meetings if the virtual ones are enticing enough.  Welcome conversation on-line and in person!

Educate Members

There are 5 areas of education that can facilitate members’ ability to engage. 

1.     Learning to learn- to some of you that may sound dumb.  There are so many smart people who really have the ability for live-long learning.  In contrast, the majority of people have been out of school for years and are reading less and less.  They don’t connect with on-line learning programs because they’ve not adapted to include education in their new behavior.  Time management, knowing the best way for to learn, and practicing it all need to be reinvented. 

2.     Learning how to use the forums set up for collective expression.  How to express ideas and opinions, values and beliefs, negotiate, compromise and find common direction to be given to elected officials.  

3.     Defining common language.  An example explains this.  When we discuss government, is it everything government pays for, does that mean everyone who works in government including the civil service, everyone elected to the house, the party in power, the executive?  All these meanings are used regularly and it leads to confusion and a breakdown in any groups ability to discuss. 

4.     Knowledge about the issues we face.  Open government –sharing what you know, and open media channeling (what members are taught about in related publications), should be related back to strategic plans.   

5.     Knowing what a strategic plan is matters a lot.  Being able to participate in the discussion of what’s to be done about adjusting strategic direction requires knowing where you are and where you want to go.  Beyond full strategic reviews, having the ability to tweak the goals and in the face of rapidly changing environments is a good idea.  Members who want to be engaged and make suggestions about modifying what the association is doing are only going to be lucky their ideas to reach goals without knowing the strategic plan.  Remarkably, there are boards with members who don’t know the strategic plan and still are asked for advice on direction.  Imagine how members feel when they don’t know what their community’s vision is or what the plan is to reach it. 

Motivation to Participate

Coming up with little incentives like a voucher to participate is not a bad idea for those members who don’t understand the issues and need superficial incentives to participate however if there are issues facing your community as a whole and its individual members personally, acting collectively should not need ‘carrots’ to have them engaged. 

For example, I’m interested in collective expression because I see the biggest problem facing society today is that technology is and will continue to replace parts or all of what we do for a living.  Considering the primary way we distribute wealth in our society is through the value of our labour, having that undermined by technology that is owned by someone else undermines are society’s ability to share wealth. 

I see our collective ability to take ownership of these capital (technology) resources and realize (gain) the wealth as a viable alternative to being beat out one at a time.  I know it sounds socialist but in my industry I as a small business owner have clearly felt the economic effects of technology (and globalization).  I would like to see my association start a co-op, but getting there would require ‘Democratic Ownership’ and I can assure you that while its possible we are a long ways off from making that happen.  What’s the collective action that will strengthen your community?