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Living Agenda

The Living Agenda is the collaborative Web document using IPA at the centre of any deliberative body (commitee, group or assembly) employing the Green Rules of Online Order and Procedure (GROOP) to meet its objectives.

An example of a Living Agenda is the GPC Fundraising Committee article defining GPC Fundraising.

The Living Agenda was pioneered by Kathryn Holloway to facilitate productive resolution of policy and governance issues related to GPC fundraising and GPC Governance.

The Living Agenda protocol was later improved on by the Soylent Greens and was proposed as the basis of an improved GPO agenda protocol as of 2005-09 as Hayley Easto runs for GPO President.

What is the Living Agenda?

The living agenda revolutionizes the way committees and boards are able to draft resolutions and make decisions. As opposed to agenda items being submitted and then compiled into a wiki meeting document for a meeting on a specified date, agenda items are proposed and discussed in real time in a venue accessible to all. All relevant backround information can be accessed through linked documents or uploaded as attachments. Little more than a fixed deadline for conclusion of discussion (at which point consensus is hopefully reached) encumbers the the actual conduct of the meeting - i.e no speaker's list, co-facilitator, timekeeper, minutetaker, approval of minutes, etc. The role of the Secretary but vanishes. The role of Chair is reduced to proposing discussion topics, timeframes and extensions where required.

What this about a Wiki?

The heart of the living agenda is a tool called a wiki. Wiki is a relatively simple piece of software that effectively creates a blackboard in cyberspace where everyone who views the page has chalk and an eraser. In a wiki, everyone is a writer and everyone is an editor, and that is what is so fundamentally democratic about it. In order to write a document together as a group, someone first posts a draft and then - turn by turn amongst many people – it is written and rewritten, until the group settles down to a consensus position that most can agree on.

For our purposes, committee members will be able to cut and paste work they have prepared into the wiki, which will be immediately available for others to edit, comment on, revise and add to. Any member of the committee will, at the click of a mouse, be able to see where the agenda is at and give feedback, or even join the process.

The Living Agenda in Practice

The Living Agenda includes GPC Council and GPC Governance. Contentious issues like the suspension of elected Councillors can be hashed out in depth by members with less risk of bogus versions of events being distributed by email (which can't be edited once posted) or web comment (same problem). It replaces the Member's Zone web thread facilities which can't do the job.

Background Of The Living Agenda

Communication and grassroots democracy

Imagine we are in 1867, and examine what logistics are required to get the people in St. John, New Brunswick directly involved in the development of the Articles of Confederation. One would have had to hand deliver an agenda from Montreal to St. John, call a meeting, wait at least a month for people around the colony to hear about the meeting, read the agenda and all associated background documents, and make arrangements to be there. After the meeting, it would be necessary to send a delegate on horseback from St. John to Montreal in order to deliver amendments that, by the time they arrived, would be several weeks out of date, because other people nearby had already convinced the founders to rewrite numerous sections and amend in other ways. Multiply all this by several rounds of consultations, and years have gone by, circumstances and the participants have changed, probably so much that you had to start from scratch again. In other words, a grassroots process was out of the question. Thus we inherited a system of "democratic" government, where we elect an individual to parliament, put them on a horse, and hope they won’t decide anything in Ottawa we will live to regret.

The implications of the Internet

The invention of the internet, for the first time in history, makes instantaneous communication and two way discussion possible and affordable from any location on the planet. The remaining problem for grassroots democracy is to find a process by which to collect opinions and build consensus in a way that doesn’t take forever.

Building consensus doesn’t necessarily mean consulting everyone about everything: that would still require a ridiculously long been extremely expensive process. What we can do, however, is create an open and transparent process where people who do have things to say can quickly get involved and have their point of view shared with others. Thus we have grassroots democracy on the opt-in principle.

The Living Agenda will never be perfected

The Living Agenda is an ongoing work-in-progress. As far as software and decision making theory and political organization goes, what we have now is the result of an ongoing open source project, not just in the software realm, but also in the realm or organizational and political theory. Features are being added (and challenges found) all the time. The human side of the process is similarly always being revised. In the name of democracy, we must always be trying to increase the value of participation. Your feedback is always welcome and is the very core of the Living Agenda.

The Living Agenda is Postmodern. (warning: academia inside!)

As a text, the Living Agenda embodies the concepts of intertextuality and dialogism, as expressed by postmodern pioneer Mikhail Bahktin. Bakhtin's theories focus primarily on the concept of DIALOGUE, and on the notion that languageany form of speech or writingis always a dialogue. This notion of dialogue is not the same as the Marxist notion of DIALECTIC, though it's similar in focusing on the idea of the social nature of dialogue, and the idea of struggle inherent in it. Dialogue consists of three elements: a speaker, a listener/respondent, and a relation between the two. Language (and what language says--ideas, characters, forms of truth, e.g.) are always thus the product of the interactions between (at least) two people.

In other words, for Bakhtin, all utterances (texts or art) can and should depend on what was said before, and act as agents that provoke future responses in a chain.

Bakhtin contrasts that notion of dialogue to the idea of MONOLOGUE, or the monologic, which are utterances by a single person or entity - what you get when you try to resolve dialectics through electronic mail systems such as gpc-lists. Each person prepares sets of monologues disguised as dialogue components instead of trully collaborating. Pissing contests ensue.

Elsehwere in the realm of postmodern thought, Julia Kristeva believed authors do not contruct from their own original minds alone, but compile their text from pre-existent texts. Any text is a compilation of cultural textality. For example, this entire document was cobbled together by almost directly copying other texts, such as cutting pasting an article referring to The Living Platform(external link) written by Micheal Pilling, and an article called "Techno Music Is Postmodern" by Amanda Conon-Unda in the January 2005 Issue of Toronto based Kick Magazine(external link).

The Living Agenda is the inevitable result of GROOP

A Living Agenda is an ongoing document containing outstanding issues, resolutions and arguments, akin to a commitee wiki meeting. However, the issues do not all get resolved at one time horizon but are arrayed in a tensegrity for resolution, as changes in dialectics render standing groupthink obsolete. In other words, the Living Agenda can be seen as a dissensus that challenges irrational existing consensus.

It can also simply be seen as a prioritized list of issues that each pair of people subscribing to it, addresses when they are together. Or, most simply but also least powerfully, as a list of issues from which new wiki meetings are drawn. See also delphi.

Trolls, Dissidents and Insurgents

One of the initial fears people have over the use of wiki technology is that strange things can be inserted in pages by trolls and other dissidents and insurgents. Not being in control may scare some people, until they realize they never really were in the first place - the group dynamic is too unpredictable. Provided people don't take themselves too seriously, this will not be a problem since informal social networks quickly (or eventually) detect and revert such changes. Moderators and facilitators can turn on the page watch feature so they would get notifications of all new changes to this page. One aspect specific to the tikiwiki version of wiki software is that it does not support internal (or external) links in the comments area -which forces people to edit the page itself if they want to add links.

Thank you for being here.
now please roll the dice, pass go, re-read and edit.

see also: enacting the living agenda living project

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