Participatory decision making in the #socialera

We recently talked about the amazing collaboration technique used by young Turkish protestors: They gather at local parks, create speaker’s corners, and try running democracy as it was originally intended! Such collective movements have many advantages: Participation makes people feel energized and galvanized. Diverse opinions are heard, different priorities are learned… Hundreds of people brainstorm a long list of great ideas. These are all fascinating stuff. But, frustration arises when the time comes to make a decision as participatory decision-making is a pain in [you know where.] Unfortunately, generating ocean-full of ideas is much easier than collectively prioritizing all the results and coming up with an action plan. Often, that’s when movements start losing their steam. Well, it doesn’t have to be that way! Let me introduce you Dotmocracy: A cheap and cheerful participatory decision-making tool for your organization.

An empty Dotmocracy sheet
An empty Dotmocracy sheet

It doesn’t really matter whether you are running a corporate workshop or a community event. If you are trying to solve a complex issue and if you are dealing with a large, leaderless group then Dotmocracy can help you find agreement amongst a large number of people with a lot of different ideas. It is a simple, transparent, equal-opportunity and participatory decision-making tool.

Let’s say your company wants to improve customer experience, which is a complex problem that needs the involvement of many departments: Marketing, R&D, technical support, and engineering… Usually, departments have different POVs on what needs to be done. So, an inter-departmental brainstorming session could very quickly turn into blamestorm! That’s why you should start by agreing on what you are trying to achieve. Then, you need to find a communal area with a lot of empty walls. It could be the kitchen, hallway, or a boardroom. Write down the question and post it on the wall in a way that everybody can see: “How can we improve customer experience?” Next to the question write a set of clear instructions, and cover the walls with empty Dotmocracy sheets. Every sheet should have one idea box. Let’s say the first participant wrote the following idea on an empty sheet: “We must increase the R&D budget.” The next participant reads it, signs the sheet and fills in one dot per sheet to show how much s/he agrees with the idea. Then, optionally s/he shares her feedback about the idea and moves on to the next sheet. Any participant can pick up an empty Dotmocracy sheet, write a new idea, and post it on the wall. The process goes on until the group exhausts all ideas. Depending on the size of the group and the complexity of the issue, this process could last an hour or a week. At the end, the sheets are collected and sorted by topic and level of agreement. All results are published. Then, a group of volunteered decision makers collectively review the results; read the comments, discuss the dotting patterns and recognize the disagreements. Final decision is shared with public.

Dotmocracy has some great advantages: First, it is a completely open-ended process. You allow participants to raise their voices and write as many ideas as they want. Everybody –no matter how shy s/he is- gets heard. The process is similar to a discussion, but it is written and totally transparent. It is simple and scalable, and it supports consensus decision-making. Oh, have I mentioned that Dotmocracy is free?

Get your free Dotmocracy handbook here. For other participatory decision making techniques click here.

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