ABOUT THIS TRAINING
In this training, we will go over a brief history of people´s assemblies and how to implement this strategy in your own community. This Training was originally created by Extinction Rebellion UK and edited for NooWorld.
This training is a 12 minute read.
INTRODUCTION TO PEOPLE´S ASSEMBLIES
What are People’s Assemblies?
People’s Assemblies are a way for a group of people to discuss issues or make decisions collectively, where all voices are heard and valued equally and no one person or group is able to dominate the process. Assemblies can be a form of direct action if they are being held in a space designed to be disruptive or during occupations.
This grassroots method of self-organizing and direct action is genuinely democratic and has been used throughout history to instigate people-powered change. People’s Assemblies were at the centre of the Arab Revolt that spread from Tunisia to Egypt in 2011, as well as the Spanish 15M movement, the Occupy movement, and the Y En A Marre movement in Senegal, and they are central to the organization of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria.
People´s assemblies are ‘self-selected’, meaning that anyone can choose to take part. They are not to be confused with citizens’ assemblies, which are composed of people randomly selected from the population by the process of Sortition to make sure they are representative of society. For Citizens´ Assemblies, key characteristics such as gender, age, ethnicity, education level, and geography are taken into consideration. Citizens’ assembly members are selected to make a decision on a specific topic. Before making that decision, they learn about critical thinking and hear balanced information from experts and stakeholders. They then spend time deliberating in small facilitated groups, similar to the break-out groups used in People’s Assemblies.
Three ways that People’s Assemblies can be used:
- Movement Building: Assemblies held in public spaces can act as a way for members of the public to be drawn into joining the conversation and add their voice to discussion and debate around the climate emergency or around specific topics such as local environmental issues
- Direct Action: Assemblies can form part of a direct action when they are held during occupations, roadblocks, or other forms of peaceful civil disobedience involving groups of people holding spaces at any length of time
- Organizing and Decision Making: Groups of any size can meet and discuss issues or make decisions collectively in regards to moving the aims and actions of XR or a community forward. The basic participatory democracy method can be used by direct action groups, regional groups, affinity, and working groups or community groups to make emergency decisions or for decisions on how to organize themselves.
THREE PILLARS OF PEOPLE´S ASSEMBLIES
Three key elements of People’s Assemblies, also referred to as ‘the three pillars’, are radical inclusivity, active listening, and trust.
- Effective assemblies achieve radical inclusivity, where the emphasis on all being heard and valued equally means no voices are dominating and the collective wisdom of the assembly can be reached. People can participate safely and openly, without fear of judgment or ridicule. Radical inclusivity is a practical step to widening a movement through providing agency to all who participate. Radical Inclusivity also means being aware of potential barriers to engagement and working with those affected to enable participation. Think about disabled access, sign language, and other possible means by which those barriers can be removed. Ask if there are any barriers to engagement that people need to identify and then request that the group works together to find ways to remove them, then read out the ‘Inclusivity Statement’.
- It is easy to start mapping out in your mind what your response may be while someone is still talking. Active listening is focusing on hearing someone all the way through before developing your responses. Assemblies are not an arena for intellectual jousting or point-scoring but a place that recognizes that no one person or group holds all the answers and that through the wisdom of the crowds we achieve powerful intelligence about the core issues being discussed.
- Once the system and process for People’s Assemblies have been agreed on, it is essential that all participants trust the process, trust the facilitators, and trust the various working groups involved. It is essential that the facilitators and Assembly team enable this trust through sticking to the agreed process and ensuring that everyone follows the facilitators. It is not meant to be a perfect system and can only be effective if people trust that those involved have come together in humility, to work towards decisions and actions that are best for all.
GUIDE TO HAND SIGNALS
- Lead facilitators: Ideally two people. Responsible for the overall running of the assembly, timekeeping, and the delivery of all relevant information.
- Assembly Notetaker: Responsible for recording the results of the Feedback phase of the assembly and responsible for feeding the assembly results into wherever they are destined to go They might, for example, need to send them to the local Council to demand action or feed them into an online organizing platform. The destination of what is generated in assembly needs to be clearly defined before the start.
Each breakout group needs
- Facilitator: Facilitates discussion using hand signals, ensures no one dominates, keeps an eye on the time, maintains radical inclusivity and active listening, and adheres to the ‘Inclusivity Statement’.
- Notetaker: Summarises the most popular points, ideally as bullet points. Aims to boil them down to a few key points or ideas from the discussion. Looks for wavy hands to signify agreement.
There are three main phases of an Assembly: Input, Deliberation, and Integration (feeding back). Setup can be broken down further into Introduction and Input which can be of varying lengths depending on the purpose of the Assembly.
Start on time. Introduce and explain the hand signals so that they can be used throughout all parts of the assembly. Lead Facilitators introduce the Assembly agenda, including where the results of this assembly will go. Talk through the three pillars and ask for help from the crowd to remove any barriers to engagement that may be identified, and read out the Inclusivity Statement:
‘We value all voices equally in the assembly, as the aim is to hear the wisdom of the crowd gathered here and not to have the assembly dominated by individual voices or groups. We recognize that confident speakers are not always right and that those who are not confident speakers will often have the most useful ideas or opinions to put into the discussion. This is why we value all voices equally and we ask you to do the same. We do not tolerate any call-out, abuse, or shaming, and should conflict arise in this way, there is a conflict resolution in place to resolve this. We welcome all people but not all behaviors.’
This can be as simple as the Lead Facilitators framing the question for discussion and why the assembly has been convened or asking the gathered crowd for suggestions as to what they would like to deliberate on (known as People’s Choice). Or it can involve a longer and more in-depth Input section such as a live panel of experts, or video input. People’s Choice Lead Facilitator asks for suggestions from the crowd on what they would like to discuss, and the Assembly Notetaker records them. Ideally looking for three or four suggestions maximum or the process can be very long and drawn out! The crowd is then asked to vote using the ‘Temperature Check’ method. The Lead Facilitator reads them out one at a time and looks for the most ‘Wavy Hand’ signals to show the overall preference. Invite people to take the microphone for two minutes maximum and share their feelings about what has brought them to join the assembly or action that day, to share what is in their heart. In an open public assembly, this section can be drawn out as long as people volunteer to speak. It opens the space for people to connect emotionally, but shouldn’t be used as a ‘soap box’ on the issues about to be discussed. Ideally, ask for a woman to speak first and allow as much time as necessary for people to build up the courage to come and talk. Be strict with timing but ensure that people speaking are supported and made completely safe in their sharing. Ideally work with two facilitators so that one facilitator ‘guards’ mic and keeps stack, whilst one sits in front of the speaker with timer and gives ‘round up’ hand signal as they approach 2 mins.
(5 minutes intro, 25 minutes deliberation, 10 minutes note feedback)
- Lead Facilitator clarifies discussion topic or question, including making clear how many points are to be fed back from each ‘breakout group’ (usually between 3 and 5 depending on the size of the assembly).
- Lead Facilitators divide the assembly into ‘breakout groups’ ideally of between six to eight. Facilitators need to try and ensure this is roughly the size of each group and encourage people to sit in groups with people they don’t already know.
- Each Breakout Group has one facilitator and one note-taker as explained above.
- Clarify the duration of deliberation (discussion in breakout groups) phase and stick to timings throughout an assembly as many people who are attending have work or family responsibilities that have to be respected.
- Recap hand signals here.
- It is good practice for the Facilitator to restate the discussion topic or question and for the note taker to write it down. This enables people in the group to refer back to the original point for discussion to make sure the group stays focused and on the subject. It is also good to start by going around the group and stating names, and making space for anyone to highlight any barriers to engagement that they may have that the small group can work together to try to workaround. Breakout Groups discuss the topic for 25 minutes. 10 minutes to end of Deliberation Phase.
- The lead Facilitator calls time for the end of the discussion time. Notetaker feeds back their summary of the discussion to identify the key points and agree with the group that the points they have recorded as most popular are an accurate representation.
FEEDING BACK (Integration Phase)
Lead Facilitator calls assembly note takers to the front of the Assembly. Each Note Taker:
- Feeds back key points
- The crowd uses wavy hands to indicate support
- Assembly Note Taker records the points that get the most overall approval from the entire assembly, or just records the points as they are fed back. It’s nice to do this on a whiteboard or a large piece of paper so that the assembly participants can see it. Assembly Notetaker feeds results of the Assembly to wherever they are destined to go, such as central online results, or sent to Coordinators, etc. This is determined prior to the assembly and will have formed part of the framing of the process in the Setup phase.
- Appreciation for Facilitators and Note Takers
- If there is a need to vote on something you can do a ‘Temperature Check’. The Lead Facilitators reads out the different options to be voted on and the members of the assembly cast their vote using ‘wavy hands’ for the option they like the best. The Assembly Note Taker and Lead Facilitators watch for the most wavy hands and that gets taken forward.
- ‘Shout Outs’ are an invitation for those gathered to call out brief notifications such as upcoming actions or events. These should be short and arranged with the facilitators beforehand if possible. This should take no more than 10 minutes.
- Lead Facilitator to summarise the results of the Assembly if necessary, and thank everyone for participating.
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