Internal Democracy/Guidelines

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The following guidelines are produced by the Internal Democracy group. They where experimented at each of the group's meeting and used in labs. The group was created as a consequence of complaints that meetings often didn't go well. Things didn't get done, meetings where tiresome, conflicts rose and didn't get resolved... These guidelines where built from the ground up by everyone who joined and helped.

Structure of the meeting

Visual for the meeting guidelines

Intro plenary

At the start of a meeting there's a short popcorn table where:
  1. Everyone tells at what time they want/need to leave.
    • This is used to define the closing time of the meeting. It's possible that someone has to leave early, it's nice to know that in advance as well and work that in the schedule for the rest of the meeting.
  2. Everyone says how they feel/what their mood is (1-2 words)
    • Mostly people will just say something like I feel good and that's okey. This is mostley because we saw that this can eleviate stress in certain situations or help frame certain reactions from people who at that time have a hard time. Saying that you feel frustrated or bad doesn't give you the right to behave like a jerk, but if something happens at least people can understand where it's coming from which will confine further escalation.
  3. Everyone tells about their expectation(s) and/or wish(es)
    • Expectations (what do you want to do/talk about/see happening). We defined expectations as things need to be done/happen. If these don't happen you may not want to come any more.
    • Everyone tells their wishes. These are things you would like to see done/like to do, but it's not so bad if these don't happen.
    • There isn't a real agenda with points of the day. The things that will be worked on is a subset of the expectations and wishes that people bring here.
    • It's possible to make propositions before the lab, to make pirates warm for your idea, but wether it will actually happen will depend for a big part on whether you bring it to the popcorn table.
  4. A popcorn table means that anyone can (and should) speak, but unlike a round table where people talk in order of how they sit, a popcorn table means that anyone can start if they feel like it (and if no one else is already speaking of course ;) )
    • The reason for a popcorn table as opposed to a round table is that people who want to bring an idea to the table will generally want to start, while others who don't have something specific they want to work on will often want to wait a bit to see what others bring so they can choose between those projects. A round table doesn't give you the freedom to do that. In the beginning it may feel a bit awkward because there's no real order, but after a couple of meetings you really start feeling if someone wants to talk or not.
After this the closing time is defined. Usually the same time to leave is for most people the same within the range of an hour. If most are between 17h and 18h then 17h is a good closing time. This usually goes very fast.
  1. Usually the subgroups (see further) end about 30 minutes before the defined closing time so that there is time for the closing plenary.
Then subgroups are formed (3/5 people) based on the expectations and wishes (what people want to do/talk about)
  • This point may sometimes be a bit chaotic since people are often searching to see what groups form, but generally this can happens within a couple of minutes or even less.
  • If there are many people who want to talk about the same thing, splitting up in even smaller groups is often a good idea. In life we're often told that we should stick together, our experience however showed that splitting up is a good thing. Sometimes you all want to go in the same direction, but the route to get there differs. Splitting up has proven to be a very powerful tool to go onwards without causing friction or unnecessary tension between people. Often you find yourself at similar points afterwards and can then constructively build further on the conclusions of both groups.

Body in subgroups

Here people have the possibility to introduce/explain further what they wish to accomplish. This can even lead to splitting up in even smaller subgroups.
Do the discussion/work to be done.
  1. Notes should also be taken so you can share during the closing plenary what has been decided/talked about. How detailed these notes are depend on the subgroup.
Evaluation: this should be done every time someone intends to leave and when closing down the group. Closing down the group can happen because
  1. A conclusion is reached
  2. It's been defined beforehand that it wouldn't take the whole meeting
  3. The meeting is coming to an end and we need to close down for the closing plenary
The evaluation consists of a popcorn roundtable where:
  1. Everyone says how they feel (see Intro)
  2. Everyone can say what they thought the pro and contra of the process were. Discussion on how the process can be improved can be done here.

Closing plenary

  1. Each subgroup reports orally his conclusion/decisions to the whole group
    1. Everyone needs to make sure they understand the conclusions, but there is no further discussion here.
    2. When everyone is sure they understand, everyone can say if they agree/disagree. If everyone agrees, a decision is reached. If this is not the case, this can be discussed further in a next meeting. There is no discussion here!
    3. If there is no unanimity: you can decide for a next submeeting involving the people disagreeing.
  2. Evaluation (30 minutes before the end time), popcorn roundtable where:
    1. Everyone says how they feel (1-2 words)
      • This gives a generall idea of the mood people have when leaving the meeting. When many negative feelings rise here, that should be a warning.
    2. Pro's and contra's of the plenaries (intro and closing) and discussion about how to do next time
  3. Define next meeting. What do we decide for next time: venue, date, hour, general goal, and maybe already some proposition of subgroups.


Where the group is big (plenary and closing) the whole thing is pretty well defined. The most important this here is that there can't be discussions here unless otherwise noted in the guidelines. This makes a moderator unnecessary. If people start discussing it's usually enough to just point that out. The subgroups is where you have more freedom. Here the groups should be small enough that a moderator isn't needed either.

The Silent Object

Sometimes people need time to process things they heard or want to say. Some people have this more than others. Something we experimented with was the idea of a silent object.

Define a silent object (an empty bottle, a napkin, a saltshaker, ...) anything accessible by every members of the assembly.

It can be taken by anyone who needs all the group to remain silent until the silent object is released after a few seconds (to one or two minutes maximum).

The object become available again and the discussions can continue.

If more silent seems to be necessary, maybe it is the moment to have a break.

 Listen, listen, listen ... and listen.  Speaking is not always necessary.


Reporting is an important point which has to be done by the sub groups (because the have to report to the plenary) and by the plenary (intro & closing).

Inform about the ideas that came up or decisions that have been made within the subgroup
Make participation of people who weren't present possible.
Provides others with the necessary means to reach consensus for a decision and/or action.
  1. You should be able to look back to the meetings you had to see what was discussed/decided.
For the group (the active members of a project).
  1. You should be able to look to the meetings you couldn't attend to see what was discussed/decided.
For everyone (the rest of the world).
  1. People not active in the group should be able to look back to the meetings you had to see what was discussed/decided.
People don't always like to have their name online, especially not on political things. But a good report has the Five Ws (what, who where, when, why +how). People who feel uncomfortable with putting their name online can always use a tagname/nickname.
Can be related to «what is the result of the meeting».
Oral, we can count on our listening, collective memory, and group dynamics.
Written, if every members is unavailable, the written text is available.
We use the wiki because, disregarding the fact that it seems to be complicated for the untrained users, it is a platform on which we count because; it's FOSS, it's public, it's transparent, it does not forget (create, edit, delete, move).


It's always important to have a good atmosphere when having a meeting. People can contribute a lot to this, but there are other things as well
  1. Never put yourself under time pressure
    • We often set deadlines and see this as a good thing since it pushes us to reach a goal. However this often leads to decisions that have been forced or not well thought of. This then can lead to frustrations with people or other problems further down the road. Sometimes you can't help it (e.g. because a decision needs to be reached at a time that you don't have control over), but you should always question whether the time-constraint is valid.
  2. Choose a time and place people are comfortable with.
  3. Know that a decision is never final. If there is consensus to do something, do it. This doesn't mean that consensus can't break in the future. When this happens you should take the time to work it out. This is also why it's important to not put yourself under time pressure. When this happens you shouldn't see it as a step backwards (as in we had a decision, and we don't have it any more), but a step forwards. Breaking of consensus means that new input can be found to reach a new, and better, consensus. Or if the consensus stays, a new way of explaining why the proposition is a good idea can be found.
  4. Consensus does not mean that everyone has to agree explicitly. Sometimes it means good enough for everyone. Sometimes it means no one objects. Sometimes it can even mean that a decision is based on another system than consensus (like voting), what is important in the latter case is that everyone should agree that this is a good way to reach the decision. In other words, there needs to be at least consensus on the decision making process.
  5. Splitting up is a good thing!