Friday, October 29, 2004

Complex Decisions Made Simple, Part II

In my last couple posts, I have mused about David "Papi" Ortiz, Red Sox slugger extraordinaire. What can a community leader learn from Papi's proficiency at coming through in the clutch?

Today I complete this series with another example of high-drama community-based decision-making. And frankly, I will be glad to retire the whole Ortiz metaphor. Beating up on the Yankees was all well and good, but the recent World Series reminded me all too painfully that I was raised a die-hard Cardinals fan long before I moved to Boston. What a dilemma! But I digress.

Let's return to the action:

Our committee leader prepares to take the podium. His team has spent the last nine months drafting a critical document to be approved at the semi-annual meeting. Two weeks before the vote, the community finally starts to pay attention to the many complex issues long ago discussed by the committee.

Questions arise: Couldn't the committee have done a better job? Are we really ready to approve this document? Proposed amendments begin to circulate informally. Meanwhile, the committee is done; they are not putting another six months into this. The semi-annual meeting will be the do or die moment...

In last week's Part I of this series, I shared an unhappy resolution to this dramatic setup. Unknown to the drafting committee, a concerned faction goes underground, writes their own document, and organizes a resistance movement to sway opinion in their favor at the semi-annual meeting. (This just happened at a semi-annual meeting I attended, and it was ugly.)

In today's Part II, I share a much happier conclusion, based on a different community I am involved with.

In this case, the drafting committee organized a pre-meeting "town hall" gathering specifically to discuss the language of its proposed document. This was billed as the "last chance" to suggest any edits. The true semi-annual meeting one week later therefore became even more of a rubber-stamping ritual than it might have been (though a "no" vote was theoretically possible).

The drafting committee prepared carefully for the town hall gathering by presenting two slightly different documents for discussion. These two options gave the community a chance to participate in creating, not just approving, the document -- but in a very controlled way. And the similarity of the two alternative documents suggested the scope of changes that were still open for debate (not much).

Even with that much orchestration, the town hall gathering was still as thrilling as David Ortiz batting in the 14th inning, for those of us who had spent the last nine months drafting the document under consideration. Suggested changes did come up and it took all the skill of our committee leader to hear them and guide the meeting to a unanimous consensus. "Let's discuss this off-line" was not an option at this gathering, so attaining closure in one hour was no small feat.

The drafting committee still might have run into trouble, had an underground resistance movement decided to ambush its document at the official semi-annual meeting. Thankfully, no such ambush happened. Might it have? Not likely -- the drafting "committee" was completely open -- more of a forum than a committee. Its every meeting was announced publically, and anyone who wanted to could join in the ongoing creative process.

And now for the post-game summary. Some of the key differences between the happy and unhappy endings to our drama include:

Unhappy Ending:
Drafting committee closes membership,
Drafting committee prepares one document,
Community has one chance to discuss document, at time of official voting.

Happy Ending:
Drafting committee open to all who wish to join,
Drafting committee prepares short list of options for community discussion,
Drafting committee organizes community discussion prior to official voting process.

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