Working Around Boards, Governments, and Leaders By Name
I’m interested in Democracy and how it works. With ongoing changes in communications, I question, like with so many jobs, the value of boards, government, or those who simply assume the role of “leader”. Even if the people in these roles work hard and do not simply attend board meetings, they are directing the allocation of constituent-members' collective resources (resources that include the association, civil service, etc.).
We call people in these governing positions leaders but leadership implies constituent-members are engaged and making a decision to follow and that’s often not the case.
The ability for community members to be engaged to the level where they are following is already an accomplishment. This implies people have time and are motivated to pay attention, the education needed to understand their environments and the issues their community faces in them, and how using the common resource of their Association (or civil service) will help all involved. That’s huge!
By having an organization that engages members, educates them, and has two way communication you have an opportunity to work around government- the board, elected officials, or those who direct members' collective resource. What are the advantages and disadvantages of having this happen?
The disadvantage is that a lot of people have to be aware and if they are ill-informed or uneducated they can mess things up. If they are poor communicators it can drive participation into the ground, or if there is not enough time or resources to hear from everyone despite best intentions member engagement won’t establish collective direction of their common resource.
The advantages are that with members engaged their collective knowledge and creativity is harnessed. That’s a huge resource. With small incremental change members only have to adapt a little if at all, and less risk is taken -too bad. Bigger risk - bigger reward, however with engaged and informed members this allows for bigger change with more knowledge resources supporting planning direction through common understanding. That collective brain power, educated and effectively communicating when and if needed, provides a better chance of checks and balances reducing risk and increasing success. There is also less risk for those who have to execute the plan (Association staff or civil service).
Developing a process that facilitates frequent member expression is about educating them how to participate in a newly developed, meaningful, and enhanced democratic process that gives them some ownership of their collective situation. The new part is developing a process that invites and incentivizes everyone to be involved and has the resources to manage individual expression evolving to collective direction for their common resources, or policy governing their community. Making that happen is a big task for a little association or a big government but we are, and becoming more capable then ever.
There is a very good reason why we don’t have more education about how to engage all members. It is a chicken or egg situation. First is we don’t have the collective forums to educate about. The nuts and bolts about where and how to go to participate can’t be taught if there is nothing to go teach about, and if no one is going to participate, why develop enhanced forums? Think about it, we are generally not taught how to effectively and efficiently learn about the issues a community could collectively deal with. Today that is left to generally an exclusive group that is a board. How to express ideas and opinions, values and beliefs, listen to understand, negotiate, compromise, and find common direction forward through collective decision making is beyond just about any collective processes we have today. The reality is though we are now more capable then ever of evolving past our current governance systems that were developed in a time when people were towed to work by horses and ‘we the people’ (or ‘we the members') did not include women, minorities, and a host of others.
Technology can be used to do these things but the concept is so new we’re not even trying and again for big or small this kind of change is a big job. That’s why our civic government should be initiating it, but it will be the last to step around the voices of the powerful chosen few. Those governing have bigger problems then supporting democratic evolution. They have to figure out how to deal with the problems of today while maintaining power for those who frankly want control regardless of whether they get the job done or not for the community members-the rest of us. For the rest, if things are getting difficult it is because you’re not adapting, not because our response to economic, social, and environmental change is being poorly managed in part because those ‘leaders’ are not effectively using the resource that is the community members.
The biggest underlying problem facing us all is that technology undermining the 'value of our labour’ and that is the primary means of distributing wealth. The second underlying problem is that we are watching the climate change in front of our eyes and the consequences of that are beyond the wherewithal of our ‘leaders’ today. Besides those things I think we could be optimistic about the future!
We live in one of the most highly educated, economically secure, and socially advanced societies in the world. Your Association members are educated, smart, and the younger ones are the ones who are most likely to respond to a serious education and engagement strategy. Maybe you as an Association member should be the first to start. The Canadian Society of Association Executives is 'the big' for the big task its members –us, face! Using common resources for collective action is what Associations are about and developing a better system of 'Democratic Ownership’ will use the knowledge resource of all members in a positive constructive fashion. That is planning for 'collective evolution'!
Jamie Brougham is a business member of CSAE, studied political science at Carleton University, and is a member of various communities.