OccHou’s Guide to General Assembly

3/31/2014 update: Occupy Houston proper does through a good General Assembly still from time to time, but for the most part, Occupy Houston mainly coordinate about any ‘real life’ news and meetings via facebook. The best way to reach several members of OH is via Facebook.com/messages/OccupyHouston

From the beginning Occupy Houston adopted a general guideline consisting of a consensus type of model for decision making (consensus rather than majority rule, for example). The specific guide that was selected as a basic reference point was : Quick Guide On Group Dynamics in People’s Assemblies. For the most part we have remained true to this as a basic guideline, except a few places. For example, we had so few people for the first few GAs that there was little need for a floor-time coordinator, just a stack person, along with moderator and minutes taker.

During a  GA (General Assembly) there is an Agenda, which includes an introduction to GA, any proposals that have been carried over from past GAs, announcements, and then the Stack, which is a list of people who wish to make announcements or proposals. When a proposal is stated, a group decision is reached via the consensus process. This process sometimes takes a lot of time to hear everyone out and make the necessary adjustments to where EVERYone can agree and pass a proposal, but this is also the beauty of consensus decision making: no proposal is passed without every person either on-board or able to accept the given proposal.

The consensus process is a type of group decision making. Occupy Houston started with ‘consensus’ defined as unanimous consensus, meaning there can be no blocks in order for a proposal to be accepted.

At this time the consensus process as relates to blocks, works like this: If one one or more blocks are made, those blocking have the opportunity to speak for 2 minutes. The moderator tries to pick a few (even amount of) speakers AGAINST and FOR the proposal, and often sets an overall time for the debate period. After the debate period, consensus will be measured again. One block per proposal (if you already blocked the first round, you may not block again on the same proposal, but can if it is significantly revised and re-presented). If it is still blocked, then the proposal is tabled for the next General Assembly and anyone is free to meet-up after the Assembly to discuss and work on proposals.

During the last week several proposals have been made to somehow amend this definition in cases where there are 1 or very few blocks relative to the total number of attendees (total number of those consenting to the proposal). Some of these include taking a majority vote after 1 or more rounds of consensus taking and debate, but so far no proposal of a specific majority (2/3, 3/4, 9/10 have all been proposed). We will keep you posted.

Facilitator Roles

The following roles are volunteered for before each General Assembly. We are always looking for new facilitators. This is, after all, a leaderless movement of leaders -so let’s all try to facilitate GAs every so often. There’s a role for every personality type…

If you would like to facilitate, try to show up at least 30 minutes (preferably 60) before the GA is scheduled to begin. If you have never facilitated before, you should show up an hour early and ask around about attending facilitation training. First time facilitators must attend facilitation training in order to qualify for any roles other than Stacker and Scribe (minutes taker).

  • Moderator -
    • Shadowed the Moderation of a successful GA
    • Taught a Facilitating training successfully
    • Moderated a work group meeting
  • Facilitator -
    • This person (or persons) is the moderator’s “voice of conscience”. They are the only people in direct contact with the moderators in order to help them maintain their concentration and impartiality. The Facilitators should be positioned around the moderation space. They help the moderator synthesise and reformulate proposals in an objective and impartial way. They facilitate the flow of information between “Coordination” and the Moderator so that floor-time is fair and organised.
  • Coordinator – [not usually used at GAs]

    • Person or people in close coordination with the Facilitator and Stacker, whose task is to organise the requests to take the floor that are forwarded to them by this team before passing them on to the moderator(s). Should a heated debate be under way, their role includes both selecting speakers so that the same message is not repeated, as well as mediating between people with similar arguments with the aim of presenting a unified proposal for debate. The coordinators are a filter – they do not evaluative the content of each intervention.
  • Stacker -
    • A person or two people who look for anyone with raised hand (open, fingers up), and adds them to the Stack, which is a list of those who will be given an opportunity to make a proposal or announcement. If you have not spoken at a GA before, let the Stacker know and you will be given top priority when the GA Agenda turns to Stack time.
  • Scribe -

    • Takes minutes of the GA, noting primarily proposals and if they are accepted or not.
  • Welcome Committee -
    • Asks if there are newcomers and if so, passes out a Guide to GA document.

 

Gestures/ Non-Verbal Feedback

Occupy Houston – General Assembly “Hand Signals” #1 from Ella Egg Films on Vimeo.

 

Hands raised to either side with fingers up, wriggling fingers (jazz hands, some call it) -also the sign for ‘applause’ in sign language. This is used to show that you agree with the speaker, and is also used when a proposal is being presented, as as measurement of consensus
Hands held out in front in a SO-SO gesture means you’re not loving the proposal, but you don’t have a big problem with it either.
Hands held out in front (similar to above) but hanging downward, rotating back and forth. This means that you really disagree with the proposal or statement a speaker is making, but (in the case of a proposal) are are not so strongly opposed that you will Move To Amend (the X symbol)
Question- This to be used for brief questions directly related to the topic or proposal at hand.Try to limit to 30 seconds 

 

Point of INFORMATION- This IS NOT to be used for questions and not for opinions, not matter how pressing yours might be! a Point of Information is only to be used when something being said is lacking a critical piece of factual/empirically based information, or if the basic facts being presented are not accurate.Try to limit to 30 seconds
Point of PROCESS- Holding fingers and thumbs to form a TRIANGLE. This means we are not sticking to adopted PROCEDURE. For example, if someone held their hands up in the POINT OF INFORMATION signal but starts rambling about their opinions, this signal can be used to express this opinion. The moderator *might* at that time direct the speaker to add themselves to the STACK to have a turn to speak their opinions.
WRAP IT UP / DO YOU HAVE A POINT?- Rolling the hands one over the other in front of oneself, as though to say “let’s keep things rolling”

It is not only helpful, but necessary for a smoothly running GA for people to give clear feedback whenever possible so that others can more easily gauge the overall ‘vibe’ or energy of the group.

 

The General Assembly Agenda

Depending on how many facilitators are present, and depending on how much time they have to prepare for the GA, usually an Agenda is drawn up. This will include the general order of events (Intro to GA, announcements, work group ‘report backs’, stack time). Sometimes the agenda will also include prominent proposals that have been tabled. Or sometimes if you show up early enough to meet with the facilitation group, you might be able to get a proposal on the agenda if it is a main or pressing topic (otherwise everyone is free to add themselves to the stack to present their opinion, announcement, proposal, etc).

 

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