Two experiments in collective decision-making


I’m interested in how to tap into the collective intelligence of a group, for example, in decision-making.

Two weeks in a row I’ve facilitated two different workshops which had the specific aim to make decisions in two separate but related areas. In both cases the needed decisions were long overdue. In one case, with several years.

So, what did we do? How did it go? And what did I do as the facilitator?

It turns out that I did very little. It went well. And we did the following…


1. Opening

The first thing I did was to remind the participants why they had been invited. I said that my expectation, or at least hope, was that we were going to be able to think together in order to reach a decision. And then I made a round and asked the participants about their own expectations. I also made it clear that it was pefectly ok to pass. Some did. One or two participants had clarifying questions, which led us to the next step.

2. Background

I had asked one of the participants to prepare and provide a background. This led to a conversation between the participants. From time to time, I stepped in and tried to summarize what had been said so far.

3. Proposals

I had asked the participant who provided the background to also prepare some proposals for the decision. This led to a continued conversation. Again, I stepped in from time to time to summarize what I had heard. I also started to act as a time keeper, especially in the second workshop, reminding the participants how much time we had used, and how much time was left.

4. Decision

In both workshops, the participants used the proposals as input to the creation of their own proposal, which, actually, became the decision.

5. Closing

The last thing I did was to ask the participants for their feedback on the workshop. What was good? And what they thought could be improved? Again, I made it clear that it was ok to pass. Some passed. Several participants agreed with what the previous person had said.


So, what are my observations and conclusions?

My main observation is that the participants took care of themselves, both as individuals and as a group. I helped the group by mirroring back what I heard, and by reminding people about the time left.

The first workshop went well. There was such a flow that we could end the meeting ahead of time. The second workshop was different. The decision was more complicated. There were more aspects to consider. One of the participants was also so out of sync with the rest of the group that I started to doubt that we would be able to reach a decision — but, to my surprise, we did. It just happened, all by itself.

Finally, I just want to mention that I’ve got the idea of summarizing what I’ve heard back to the group from the Quakers. See related posts.

Related posts:
Quaker decision-making in a secular context
Book Review: A Quaker Approach to Research
Book Review: Beyond Majority Rule
How Quakers make unanomous decisions

Related posts (in Swedish):
Kurs i kväkarnas beslutsmetod
Fördjupningskurs i kväkarnas beslutsmetod
Anteckningar från ett kväkerskt beslutsmöte

Published by Jan Höglund

Jan Höglund has over 35 years of experience in different roles as software developer, project manager, line manager, consultant, and researcher. He shares his reading, book reviews, and learning on his personal blog.

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