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Be explicit about power and decision-making
Two participants smiling, wearing blue lanyards. Behind them are pieces of paper stuck to the wall with "Welcome" written in different languages in Sharpie
東アフリカ戦略サミット 2019 in Kampala、ウィキメディア 2030、運動戦略

Decision-making is difficult. Doing strategy in the open across a diverse set of different organizations, affiliates and communities is complex. Trying to establish more clarity in how decision-making will work, especially at the start of the process, can dramatically increase psychological safety and reduce friction later in the process. In an open, collaborative process, these lines easily become fuzzy. But avoiding frank discussions about how power and decision-making will work often back-fires later in the process.

  • “What does it really mean to “be consulted?’ We need to be very transparent and clear about what, how, and when.”
  • “We need to be more clear and transparent regarding the governance models for big processes. It took a while to get clarity around what endorsement / consent might mean for approving the recommendations.”
  • “It would have been helpful to clarify *how* decisions are going to be made at the outset. Decision-making is a problem across the Wiki universe. We are consensus-oriented by default, but that’s not always the best tool or process.”
  • “You need to value the importance of these conversations at the outset. And document potential assumptions and blind spots.”

In a complex project with many moving pieces, it can easily become unclear about where participants are being asked to make a decision themselves, where they are being asked to give advice or help influence a decision that will be made by others, or where they are simply being informed. When others are invited to “give feedback” without these clear boundaries and outcomes spelled out, miscommunication and frustration happen.

  • “It’s vitally important to distinguish between: are we surfacing opinions, or making decisions? People need to understand: is this just information, or am I being asking for "feedback" / my opinion? It’s important to be crystal clear in terms of what stage we are in.”
  • “When you ask a diverse group of people for feedback or opinions, it's very difficult to do synthesis afterwards and try to narrow it down. They have the expectation, mostly, that what they said will be integrated. But: the actual end result could be totally different.”
  • “Community and volunteers are asking for influence. There is lots of room for misunderstanding if they don’t get it. And this leads to a lack of trust.”
Participants working together and looking at a projector screen that's off screen. A wall of coloful cards with Sharpie writing is visible on the back wall of the room which looks like a classroom
Strategy Writing Sprint in Wikimedia Deutschland Office (Berlin), December 1st - 7th, 2019

The Movement Strategy core team spoke about the need to avoid going back and re-opening previous decisions, and instead adopt a working agreement around “disagree and commit” or “fearless advice and loyal implementation” — encouraging open debate and advice in the decision-making process, but then faithfully implementing and sticking to the decision once it has been made.

  • “We slowed down decision-making by debating and revisiting made decisions. You need to provide a clear understanding of when decisions can be revisited, and how to do that.”
  • “When the team is in the process of decision-making, anyone should come with their own advice on how to do it, in a fearless way, with no boundaries or barriers. But: once the decision is made, we should stand behind the decision, and present a united front to the outside world."
  • “This can be harder to do in the online space — how to work towards candor inside the team, so concerns are expressed, but then balancing with the need to move forward.”

Communicating the results of a decision-making process are a key part of the process. You need to not only communicate the decision that has been reached, but also the rationale behind the decision, or the advice that influenced it.

  • “When decisions are made, clarify the rationale and advice behind it. You need to explain the trade-offs, the constraints and operational realities.”
  • “Communication is not only outward-facing / announcing; it can also be about giving people a sneak peek into the decision-making process along the way, as well.”

Do you have tools, methods or ideas that you, your community or organization use for this? Add them to this section for others to see.