Panocratic Decision Making

Panocratic decision making has three phases:

  1. Collecting information

  2. Gathering, i.e. summarising the information

  3. Making decisions

There is considerable flexibility in the process and in complex situations it allows for partial, multiple and temporary decisions with ongoing review. It can be done as thoroughly or as quickly as time and resources allow. It has a particular advantage of being open to multiple options and possible outcomes from the outset. The processes tend towards a problem solving approach, trying to solve the problem of meeting everyone's needs and opinions.

The method has overtones of wu wei or doing by not doing. As it does not require everyone to to act in concord with the whole group, on the whole people do. This is underpinned by the group recognising everyone's needs and opinions and everyone having a sense of the value of the group to them.

  1. Collecting information

Collecting information can include everyone stating their needs and opinions. It can include discussion and research. In problem solving terms collecting information covers the stages of problem identification and solution generation.

  1. Gathering

Gathering is a process where someone (it can be anyone) offers a summary of all the needs and opinions. If anyone thinks that the summary is inadequate in any way then they can regather, in other words offer their own summary. The rule is that each gather is a complete gather, in other words it not acceptable for someone just to “correct” what they though was “wrong” in a gather. This continues until everyone is sufficiently satisfied with the latest gather. Hence the whole group acknowledges all the needs and opinions and everyone is responsible for acting in the light of this information.

  1. Making decisions

Decision making is both complex and simple. It is simple because every time anyone does anything they have made a decision to do it. Panocracy asserts that everyone is responsible for the decisions that they make. Hence, decisions are made when people make them. So, in a group decision making context, if some of the members of the group agree on a particular course of action, in the light of the gathered information and taking responsibility for their actions, they may decide to go ahead and carry it out. They do not need any sort of permission from the rest of the group. In practice, however, most subgroups would seek some sort of group assent unless there were particular reasons not to.

There are various ways in which the fact that a decision has been made can be marked. It can be verbal assent, non-verbal such as nodding or a show of hands or people may “vote with their feet” and move off to do whatever they have decided.

Someone can be nominated to oversee the facilitation of a decision making process, or not. Panocratic decision making works with peer facilitation, in other words all members of the group take responsibility for making the process work. Panocracy works with and supports people's own self-empowerment.

Group decision making

Decision making for groups where all the members who are taking part in the process are present. Note that in panocracy, those who are not present are not part of the process, have no responsibility for the process (though they are responsible for not being present) and are not in any sense bound by whatever those present decide. They are, of course, responsible for how they act in the light of decisions made by others and they may well choose to consider the effects any actions might have.

      1. Collecting information

Collecting information will often include opportunities such as go-rounds for everyone to state their needs and opinions. There will usually be discussion particularly with the aim of clarifying the issues and then suggesting and developing possible solutions. There may also be research which can include such things as straw polls to gauge opinions in the group or to find out how people might affected by something or there may be times when individuals go off to find out things.

      1. Gathering

Straightforward gathering is particularly suitable for meetings. Gathers may be started by a chairperson of facilitator and they can be started by anyone.

      1. Making decisions

Decisions are made by individuals when they make them. The issue here is highlighting when several people have come to a common decision. This can be marked in a number of ways, for instance a show of hands, people nodding agreement a go-round or people standing up and moving to a place that represents their opinion. Groups may also decide by acting, typically voting with their feet or their bums. Voting with feet is when members of the group realise that a point has been reached when they can just get up and go and do what has been decided. Voting with bums is often what groups do when they have made a pious decision like, say, it would be a good idea if we all wrote 100 words about what we think about this issue. If that was a pious decision and most people really did not want to do it they would just stay put. A similar thing happens when a group decides in the evening to meet at 9 o'clock the next morning but in fact decides to meet at 10 by turning up at that time.

A gather may indicate a range of possibilities for decisions from a decision through decisions of part of the group to indecision.

It may be clear that a gather incorporates a course of action or several courses that are compatible either simultaneously or sequentially and no dissent, at least none that would stop the actions being taken. In such a case all that may be needed is to check that everyone has understood this is so, which could be a simple as someone saying “That sounds like a decision, OK?” and looking round.

A gather may indicate that some members of the group are ready to decide on one or more courses of action while the rest of the group are not. These members may decide to go ahead and not wait for the rest of the group to make a decision. Everyone is responsible for their own actions and these members act on their own responsibility in the light of the information they have about the needs and opinions of the rest of the group and the affects their actions might have.

A version of this is where there are opposing opinions. Subgroups may nevertheless decide to act in opposition to others and an outcome could be, at least for a time, that several groups are pursuing opposing courses of action. This has the advantage that opposition does not necessarily prevent action and that opposing courses of action can be explored at the same time.

The situation in which a gather indicates indecision is normal at interim stages. The gather may not indicate total indecision in that there may be some agreement on how to proceed towards desired outcomes. These gathers clarify the situation as a basis for further discussion.

Large scale decision making

For example, planning a new power station.

      1. Collecting information

This would involve research and an extensive consultation exercise. Research would involve finding answers to the questions that come up during consultation. Consultation must include trying to make sure that everyone who may be affected by the proposal is aware of it and can include informing them of provisions that are being made for them to be involved. Methods of consultation may include public meetings, surveys, opinion polls and having open channels of communication to planners, those submitting proposals and decision makers.

      1. Gathering

In this case a gather is likely to take the form of a report that is subject to redrafting until a version is obtained that sufficiently accurately reflects all the issues, opinions and options. One example of a way of doing this would be to develop the report on-line using Wiki type software that would enable anyone to edit it.

Since these first two steps are a collaborative exercise in which nothing is ruled in or out this would be faster and more efficient than current UK planning procedures.

      1. Making decisions

In the planning case it will be up to those who have the role of making these decisions, themselves using panocratic processes, to decide what is to be done. Decision makers in a panocracy are not representatives but people who are appointed to do their best to make a range of decisions.

Decisions are made in the light of the information that has been gathered. The decision makers are unlikely to be able to please everyone but under panocracy they will need to make decisions for which there is sufficient consent. If they do so then even those who do not agree with their decision will value how it was arrived at. Anyone who actively opposes the decision is unlikely to receive much support. If, on the other hand, many people see the decision as unreasonable, or find that the way in which a small number of people are affected is unacceptable, then they will act in whatever way they see fit to make the decision non-viable.

Quick decision making

      1. Collecting information

Call for ideas. Allow for discussion, more ideas to come forward and everyone to have a chance to say something to the extent that time allows.

      1. Gathering

Summarise the options and information. Regathering is possible if there is time.

      1. Making decisions

It may well be clear that the options are viable and if there are more than one that they can be acted on either simultaneously or sequentially. This can be marked by someone eliciting a show of assent, e.g. “Are we agreed”, “Hands up those in favour”, or “OK? Let's go”. The group (i.e. all the individuals in it) may assent with or without this phase by moving off and acting accordingly.

Another possibility is that subgroups may decide to act, e.g. to deal with some form of threat, while the rest of the group is indecisive. In other words, a need for unanimity does not block action, each person is responsible for the actions they take in the light of the information, that they have, including the gather.

If an agreed set of actions is not clear then, if there is time, further discussion takes place leading to another gather. If time runs out before there is general agreement then each person takes responsibility for making the best decision they can. This may be accompanied by individuals taking leadership such as by saying “I am going to do X, who wants to join me”.

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