(Quick) quick guide to group dynamics in people’s assemblies

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The (Quick) quick guide that was prepared and handed out at the meeting on Sunday 10/23:

Quick Quick guide on group dynamics in people’s assembliesRevision 7, 10/23/11

  • prepared by the “process” subgroup of the OWS Political & Electoral Reform Working Group (PERWG) in order to facilitate and encourage the development of the particular parlimentary procedures that are used in our WG.
  • based on  http://takethesquare.net/2011/07/31/quick-guide-on-group-dynamics-in-peoples-assemblies/
  • will be used by our WG as source material & should not be considered a closed model.
  • This document contains only suggestions. We encourage you to add to it, to improve it and to share it around.   The open draft can be found here : http://piratenpad.de/axsIOgdO63
  • we invite our friends to attend and take part in the meetings of this WG which are open to anyone who wants to come to them and actively participate in maintaining, perfecting and developing them.

Open Reflection on Consensus Building

  • Consensus building is an essential part of our movement.
  • When faced with a decision, the normal response of two people with differing opinions tends to be confrontational until their opinion has won or, at most, a compromise has been reached.
  • The aim of Consensus Building is to construct. 
    • differing ideas work together to build something new.
    • we actively listen, rather than merely be preoccupied with preparing our response.
  • all opinions need to be considered when generating consensus, making it difficult to assimilate and apply, thus it may require a long process….all that’s needed is time. 


What is horizontal organisation?

  • type of social organisation which implies equality and has no hierarchy, as opposed to a vertical organisation in which some people make decisions and others obey them.
  • method used to take decisions in a horizontally-organised group is through assemblies.

What is a People’s Assembly? 

  • participatory decision-making body which works towards consensus.
  • looks for the best arguments to take a decision that reflects every opinion – not positions at odds with each other as what happens when votes are taken.
  • should not be centred around ideological discourse; instead should deal with practical questions:
    • What do we need?
    • How can we get it?
  • based on free association – if you are not in agreement with what has been decided, you are not obliged to carry it out. Every person is free to do what they wish — 
  • tries to produce collective intelligence, and shared lines of thought and action. It encourages dialogue and getting to know one another.

Assembly is a gathering place where people who have a common purpose can meet on equal footing for:

  • Information: the participants share information of mutual interest. They do not debate the content of this information.
  • Reflection:  to jointly think through a subject, situation or problem. Information must be given, but there is no need to arrive at an immediate decision.
  • Decisions:  when the group must reach a joint conclusion or decision about a  subject it has been involved in. To reach this, the two previous steps (having information and reflecting on it) must have been taken in order to build a consensus.

What is Consensus? 

  • Method that the assemblies use to make a final decision over each specific proposal.
  • Consensus is reached when there is no outright opposition in assembly against the proposal.
  • The following format must be applied to each proposal:
    • What is being proposed?
    • Why is it being proposed?
    • How can we carry out the Proposal if a consensus is reached?

To sum up: What? Why? How?

  • collective construction of a solution to or a decision on a common interest.
  • It is not drawing up a proposal which includes each & every individual need, but rather a synthesis of all individual opinions that give shape to the best way to achieve reach the group’s common interest.
  • It implies: 
    • Being very clear about the group’s common interest
    • Being aware that anything collective is the sum of all individual knowledge & input — each individual’s opinions should be communicated, listened to and respected.
    • Realising that [consensus] is a commonly constructed end, rather than a function in itself.
    • Realising that consensus involves a process and that time and the necessary steps must be provided for it, such as:
      • Creating a relaxed group atmosphere which encourages participants to listen to, respect and support each other.
      • Making sure that the task which will to be worked on is crystal clear.
      • Sharing info of each individual or sub-group so it can be properly taken into account.
      • Considering all points carefully.
      • Identifying and using points which are clearly fall on common ground in order to begin building the proposal.
      • Gradually drafting the proposal through consensus building.
      • Celebrating individual and group achievement.

What do we understand by consensus building? 

  • Synthesis of individual talents & ideas, not eclectic summary of what is best, rather a synthesis of all.
  • Individual talents in the service of common good, creating through differences, understanding differences as elements which enrich our common vision or understanding.
  • Not considering others to be opponents, but rather equal individual components of the group.
  • Respecting opinions not through obligation but rather through desire.
  • Having a positive attitude to be able to see what unites, rather than what separates.
  • Formulating criticism, concerns & objections in a constructive way.
  • Thinking in advance that others’ contributions will enrich the process.
  • Not reacting immediately, allowing what others say to sink in first. 

What is Direct Consensus?  A consensus that is directly reached without opinions against it.

What is Indirect Consensus?   A consensus that is reached after debating different opinions on a proposal which did not reach a Direct Consensus.

The following steps are taken to reach a Consensus:  What? Why? How?

  • After proposal is presented, there will be a time for questions of clarification.
  • If there any strongly opposed opinions (i.e. no direct consensus), a queue is prepared by the Moderator(s) to address concerns.
  • Three arguments for and three arguments against are allowed.
  • If consensus is still not reached after the 1st round of debate, Assembly will discuss the issue for 3-5 minutes in small groups where they are sitting.
  • 2nd round of interventions to discuss Proposals/Suggestions for Consensus takes place.
  • If a consensus is still not reached after these two rounds, the following takes place:
    • If the Proposal comes from a sub-Working Group, it is returned in order to be reworked,
    • If the Proposal comes from an individual, it will be given to the appropriate sub-WG (or a new sub-group created) so it can reach a consensus on its usefulness to present a reworked version of it in the next Assembly, where it will go through the same procedure.
  • And so on and so on until a Real Consensus is reached. 


  • Vital to remember to control our gestures & body language so that emotions do not confuse matters.
  • Everybody should respect everybody.
  • Haste and tiredness are the enemies of consensus.

ASSEMBLY PARTICIPANTS: life blood and the raison d’être of an Assembly. We are all responsible for running and building the Assembly.

ROTATING TEAM OF MODERATORS:  1+ people (who rotate if Assembly is large or there is much tension).  Rotation is decided upon assembly, with the greater good of the assembly in mind.

The moderator(s) are responsible for:

  • welcoming the participants to the Assembly;
  • explaining the nature and workings of the Assembly;
  • presenting the group dynamic teams and their functions;
  • moderating positively and conciliating distinct positions without aligning themselves personally;
  • informing the Assembly of the positions for and against during the process of Indirect Consensus;
  • summarizing each intervention during the rounds of debate should it be needed;
  • and repeating the consensus as recorded in the minutes.

The moderator also gives voice to gestures made should a speaker not have noticed (it is recommended that assembly participants wait for a speaker to finish their turn in order to express agreement or disagreement so as to avoid swaying the speaker).

Furthermore,  the moderator is responsible for ensuring an atmosphere propitious to the exchange of ideas and for establishing a positive tone.


  • Two or three people who back up the moderator.
  • moderator’s “voice of conscience” and help them maintain their concentration and impartiality.
  • help the moderator synthesise and reformulate proposals in an objective and impartial way.
  • facilitate the flow of information so that floor-time is fair and organised.
  • prevent assembly participants from distracting the moderator, help the moderator communicate with people who find it difficult to speak in public, make the moderator aware of any errors, help them stick to the agenda, etc.


  • Two people responsible for noting all interventions which do no have a script.
  • one team member writes down interventions by hand whilst the other uses a computer.
  • At the end of the Assembly, the minutes taken by this team should be posted online to avoid any confusion and to inform those who were not able to attend.


  • Assembly participants will agree upon any time limits to the overall meeting and/or specific agenda items within the meeting.
  • Timekeeper monitors time in order to encourage everyone to adhere to the agreed-upon limitations (if any) so that Assembly runs smoothly.
  • Total amount of time of any agenda item can be limited using common sense in order not to allow each issue to drag on indefinitely. 
  • It would be helpful to set time limits for each Assembly depending on the number of participants and the issues to be discussed, in order to avoid loss of concentration and unfruitful assemblies. 

LOGISTICS TEAM: responsible for the equipment of an Assembly if needed (e.g. Skype).


  • Will be discussed & formulated at today’s meeting.
  • It is recommended that assembly participants wait for a speaker to finish their turn in order to express agreement or disagreement so as to avoid swaying the speaker.


  • Please consider using Positive Speech, avoiding negative statements which close the door to constructive debate.
  • It is useful to open a debate with the points that unite before dealing with the points that separate.
  • Please consider using Inclusive Speech which makes no distinctions between individuals.  Force of habit can be hard to break, but it is convenient that we mutually remind ourselves to remember this.


  • Agenda is a summary of the topics to be discussed during an Assembly.
  • Make sure no important issue is left out, to establish an order, and to make it possible to calculate how much time each part of the Assembly should take.
  • Team does not have jurisdiction over the contents of the Agenda; its members merely organise the issues to be discussed as reflected in the consensus reached by the representatives of all participating commissions in preparatory meetings.
  • Should be read out loud at the beginning so that the all present are aware of what’s about to take place.

**Schematic, practical example of an Assembly Agenda** 

1) Welcome and Positive Presentation : Assembly is effective celebration of the power of the people.
2) Summary of the consensuses reached in the previous Assembly and all outstanding issues.
3) Roles of each of the team members.
4) Explanation of the concept “Assembly”: We do not “vote”, we reach consensus.
5) Explanation of the concept “Consensus” (direct/indirect). Explanation of consensus building process.
6) Reminder of the gestures used in an Assembly and suggestions of how to express oneself verbally
7) Reading the Agenda out loud.
8) Sub-Working Groups without specific proposals for the Assembly, only information which does not require consensus.
9) Sub-Working Groups with specific proposals for the Assembly.
Opinion > Debate > Resolution or Adjournment 
10) Individuals with specific proposals for the Assembly.
Opinion > Debate > Resolution or Adjournment

  • Citations, general interest information, latest news, etc.
  • During this round, there is no opportunity for debate. , rather taken up by the pertinent working group or commission.
  • Important: if it is necessary to cut short this round because of lack of time or tiredness, announce this and tell those who have not had a chance to intervene in this round that the subjects they wanted to mention will have priority in the any-other-business round in the next Assembly with encouragement to also be put online.

12) Conclusions and notification of time and place of next Assembly.
13) Closure and acknowledgements, including a message of motivation and reminder of common purpose (memorable words : verse, a piece of good news, quotation or a short text, etc.)

Please feel free to continue making constructive revisions if you so choose.

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