[Noisebridge-discuss] Keeping associate members in their place

Charles Tang cjtang1 at asu.edu
Thu Dec 19 19:17:07 UTC 2013

This question on consensus. . . . the premise is a people and
discourse problem.

I've read through a few comparative studies on the subject, and it does
seem to me that on all cases it depends on the people involved.

Please consider the following, very applicable journal article:


The biggest problems facing organizations similar to noisebridge (VNPOs) are
as follows:

1. Time

2. Homogeneity

3. Emotional intensity

4. Individual differences

5. Nondemocratic individuals

6. Environmental constraints

Now, even if one does add a hierarchy to the situation, does that resolve
these problems? I'm reading possibly, where more that fifteen (15) they
found that the group would . . . "loose intimacy and would make informal
decision making difficult." However, they found that when in a collectivist
non-buearucratic governance style, larger groups seem to me more interested
in the organization than self interest. Which moots arguments that these
dissenters are acting in some sort of self interest. Which was the brunt of
the articulation of why consensus kills community. What is clear is that we
are dealing with emotionally charged individual differences here.

However, the article found that even larger organizations, beyond the
bright-line of being considered a small group, can overcome differences if
they were to do the following:

*"Implications for practice intended for non-bureaucratic VNPOs*



Managing time

   - consider Iannello (1992) circular model (Figure 7)
   - distinguish routine from non-routine issues
   - entrust a group of members to make routine decisions on behalf of the
   organization     and inform others
   - allow time to discuss controversial issues
   - create simple protocol, e.g. reply to email in 72 hours, flagging
   emails as urgent, setting specific timelines for tasks, phone colleagues if
   immediate responses are needed.

  Managing homogeneity

   - accept the benefits of having homogeneity
   - build space for autonomy within the organization
   - *create an environment where members feel safe and supported to
   express differences of opinion*
   - if possible, place few restrictions on new incoming members and reach
   out to populations your organization wants to include
   - at events, be welcoming to potential new members with sign-up lists
   and information/invitation cards
   - *allow for some diversity to encourage innovation and creativity in

  Managing emotional intensity

   - ensure all members agree with and understand the mission of the
   organization and how it will be carried out
   - allow the mission to guide decision making
   - get input from members individually when drafting proposals
   - describe and distribute controversial issues in a written form prior
   to a meeting to allow members to generate opinions
   - *use diplomacy when speaking to other members especially on sensitive
   issues; assess when it is critical for you to refrain to add to a
   - *postpone controversial decisions to allow time for members to digest
   the issues*
   - *check-in with members regularly and especially after emotionally
   intense situations*

   - encourage members to resolve conflicts quickly
   - minimize any opportunity for members to execute a personal agenda by
   insisting on collaborative mission-based decision making
   - employ a mediator is necessary
   - offer gratitude if appropriate

  Managing nondemocratic individuals

   - use an informal interview process to gage whether a potential new
   member is a right fit for the organization
   - ensure new members are fully aware of the mission, rules if any, and
   governance style of the organization to set expectations
   - new members should agree to the decision making processes of the
   organization; consider asking new members to sign a pledge to follow
   desired protocol
   - create distinct roles and allow nondemocratic individuals to have
   autonomy over their own project to alleviate tension
   -  share leadership by rotating leadership-roles and roles of
   - ways to include a nondemocratic individual within the organization
   should be discussed together with the individual in a non-threatening
   manner, if a compromise is not possible, nondemocratic individuals who
   are disruptive and threatening the life of the organization should be
   discouraged from remaining with the organization

Managing environmental constraints

   - *carefully examine the internal needs of the organization before any
   externally imposed conditions, i.e. ask what the organization needs before
   determining what the external environment requires it to have*
   - carefully gage the amount of legal recognition, professionalism, and
   external funding the organization requires
   - consider the need for liability insurance, bank account in the
   organization’s name, constitution and bylaws
   - consider the implications of accepting earmarked donations/grants
   - ensure there are sufficient volunteers and finances to manage the
   added legal responsibilities of having charitable status


individual differences

   - assess the needs and pros/cons of having distinct roles for members
   - practice reflective leadership within the organization either
   informally or formally, where members reflect on their role and influence
   within the organization
   - *members with pronounced influence should seek ways to minimize or
   disperse their influence*
   - if role distinction is necessary for practical purposes, stress
   members still work collaboratively as a collective. Attempt to create a
   culture where members remain on equal footing. Encourage transparency,
   information sharing, a climate of trust and acceptance, and environment of
   mutual support and facilitation.
   - *if possible, rotate roles so members learn and share different skills
   to avoid creating a hierarchy of knowledge*
   - consider discounting the senior officer roles, i.e. president and
   vice-president, required for the application for charitable status


Additional problems included the problem of consensus, however, *it was not
at the top of the list. *Even though they seemed to be more "specific" to
organizations like ours. Specificity to circumstance does not determine the
impact problem. Again, you're dealing with a "people problem":

"However, *the research found other challenges which could inhibit
non-bureaucratic governance and are more specific to the circumstance of
VNPO*s. These challenges include the lack of succession planning, *minimal
recruitment*, unreliable task completion, *minimal socialization with the
potential for disengagement*, *a pronounced pressure to achieve consensus,
defining members and member rights, and establishing a reporting structure*,*
bylaws and constitution reflective of their governance mode*l." (Pg. 81)

Maybe we are focusing on the wrong thing here. But, on face, if you do kill
consensus, I can see the losers of the non-consensus framework leaving
noisebridge out of frustration. The political argument is winers-win and
losers-lose, and that may be the new framework if there is no consensus
framework. Now that may spark some sort of "spatial innovation", like
adding lockers, or kicking out all the sleepers, but it would indeed kill
the community as it is.

There is a difference in world views.

On 19 December 2013 10:26, jim <jim at well.com> wrote:

> Great points! Kudos!
> On Thu, 2013-12-19 at 08:56 -0800, bfb wrote:
> > Al and Madelynn,
> >
> >
> > Both in this thread and at the last meeting I have been overwhelmed
> > with the sense that this will never become a dialog. It feels like an
> > epic monolog that's bound to flame out.
> >
> >
> > But let' try anyway...
> >
> >
> > What I did say on Tuesday was that 1. I didn't know where to begin and
> > 2. Quoted the first line from noisebridge.net "Noisebridge is an
> > infrastructure provider for technical-creative projects,
> > collaboratively run by our members." Which is to say, not only a space
> > where collaboration happens, but a space collaboratively run by our
> > members. Your proposal derides this statement in two ways. 1. Moving
> > to a majoritarian system creates less opportunity for collaboration on
> > decision making and 2. It hands over the process to a board of
> > directors from the hands of the membership.
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > -------- Original message --------
> > From: Al Sweigart
> > Date:12/18/2013 19:06 (GMT-08:00)
> > To: Rubin Abdi
> > Cc: noisebridge-discuss
> > Subject: Re: [Noisebridge-discuss] Keeping associate members in their
> > place
> >
> > It's in the meeting
> > notes: https://noisebridge.net/wiki/Meeting_Notes_2013_12_17
> >
> >
> > Basically, Danny blocks because other people would block. Kevin blocks
> > because Noisebridge is a collaborative space and majority voting would
> > undo or impinge on that. I encourage them (or anyone else) to correct
> > this description, but it's what I came away from the meeting with.
> > (And, of course, if Danny and Kevin don't have time to reply to the
> > list, that doesn't mean they implicitly agree with my description.)
> >
> >
> > The "other people who would block" I can only take a guess at, and
> > half of them aren't even living in SF anymore. If I try to read
> > people's minds about this issue I'm going to fail; I'd rather have
> > them chime in on the mailing list or show up at a meeting if they have
> > strong feelings about this.
> >
> >
> > -Al
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > On Wed, Dec 18, 2013 at 6:49 PM, Rubin Abdi <rubin at starset.net> wrote:
> >         Al Sweigart wrote, On 2013-12-18 18:44:
> >         > The most common tactic in Noisebridge politics is to get
> >         people to stop
> >         > speaking up about issues.
> >
> >
> >         Then that sounds like an entirely different issue that needs
> >         attention.
> >         Don't cut off the finger when all that is needed is a bandage.
> >
> >         If I were you I would call out those members.
> >
> >         --
> >         Rubin
> >         rubin at starset.net
> >
> >
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> > Noisebridge-discuss mailing list
> > Noisebridge-discuss at lists.noisebridge.net
> > https://www.noisebridge.net/mailman/listinfo/noisebridge-discuss
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