15 Simple Rules
on How to Conduct a
Democratically-Run Meeting

(One that permits cooperative participation by all attendees in a harmonious decision-making process, while minimizing disruptions and distractions in a manner which promotes rapid consensus building, and still leaves plenty of time for making friends and having fun.)

Rule #1: All attendees are formally introduced to the assembled group, one-at-a-time, and are officially welcomed.
Taking sufficient time to have all participants introduce themselves is not only appropriate but vitally important for setting the tone for a meeting which treats all individuals with respect and dignity. Furthermore, it is an opportunity to identify individuals you may have heard of before, but have never met.
Rule # 2: The Meeting Moderator publicly commits to impartiality.
To create an environment conducive to rapid consensus-making, and to avoid unnecessary conflicts and confusion, it is imperative that the Moderator be perceived, and act, as a fair-minded arbitrator without hidden motives or special interests. It is the role of the Moderator to think about the best functioning of the group as a whole and to behave in a manner which fosters respect and cooperation. The Moderator is the final arbitrator of conflicts. He or she resolves issues of order, and is responsible for maintaining a smoothly running schedule in order to accomplish the objectives of the meeting in a timely fashion.
Rule # 3: Fully respect the person speaking.
When a meeting is democratically conducted, everyone will have an equal amount of time to share his/her thoughts with the group. Every person's opinion is to be respected, and all ideas are considered valid for consideration by the group. Every person has a right to formulate his/her ideas in a public forum without fear of being contradicted or attacked.
Rule #4: No two people can speak at the same time.
It becomes too difficult for people to understand more than one voice speaking at the same time. Only the person recognized as having the "floor" can address the group. When someone is speaking, it is the moral duty of the others to listen attentively without comment. Interruptions, debating, arguing, name-calling, personal attacks, etc. are not permitted. If there is a need to speak "out-of-turn," politely raise your hand to gain the moderator's attention. Otherwise, please wait for your turn.
Rule #5: No one person can speak twice until everyone has spoken at least once.
To insure everyone has a chance to participate, and to guard against one person attempting to monopolize the time, participants must "take turns" speaking. This rule will be enforced. If you have a strong urge to be heard, be patient. Throughout the course of the Unity Meeting, there will be at least six different occasions for your thoughts to be heard.
Rule #6: Break up into small groups to focus discussion around a well-defined topic.
The use of small topic groups is the most efficient means of allowing everyone's input on the important issues facing the group. It also minimizes distractions that too often disrupt larger assemblies.

There should be no more than 8 members in a topic group. Rules #1-5 also apply to topic groups.

Each topic group will have a "Convener" appointed by the Moderator, who will make sure that everyone has an opportunity to speak without interruption. The total time allotted for topic groups (usually one hour) is to be evenly divided among the topic group participants. Each participant is to use his/her time to speak and freely "think out loud" about the topic while another member of the topic group takes notes.
Rule #7: Take notes of each topic group participants's comments and gain approval of those notes.
At the end of the allotted speaker's time, the notetaker has two minutes to read back the speaker's comments and gain the speaker's approval. This usually is sufficient time to incorporate any additions or corrections.

Then, the next participant expeditiously takes his/her turn to speak while someone else in the topic group writes the notes.

In this manner, all participants in a topic group will have an equal chance to speak about the topic. The speaker's thoughts have also been condensed into brief notes that have received the speaker's approval, and thus represent the speaker at the plenary (assembly).

Since the Unity Meeting poses a bilingual challenge, special efforts need to be made to make sure that each topic group will have a notetaker who understands the language used by the speaker. It is not critically important that each member of a topic group understand the language of every speaker. Rather, it is more important the speaker is listened to with courtesy, respect, and full attention of the other group members. The speaker's notes will be translated later.
Rule #8: Report all participant's notes to general assembly (plenary).
At the end of topic group time, each speaker's notes are collected where they will be read out loud to the entire assembly. Reading the topic group notes is an efficient way to bring each individual's thoughts to the whole group. During the public reading, the notes are transcribed onto a large writing pad or chalkboard, in effect creating a public "reading wall." This provides an opportunity to translate these notes into both Mandarin and English.
Rule #9: Consolidate notes
As the topic group notes are read to the assembly, it becomes obvious that many ideas are repeated. These will be consolidated as the process continues until all different ideas proposed by all participants are placed on the public "reading wall."

Not only does this process permit everyone's input, it allows the assembled group to see the range of brilliant thinking the group possesses.

Once all the topic group notes have been posted on the public "reading wall," and if time permits, the Moderator can conduct a quick voting process designed to eliminate ideas that have none or very, very little support. (See Rule #11)

If time runs out before the next topic group discussion is scheduled, then the assembly breaks into small groups (under the Moderator's guidance) for the next scheduled topic while volunteers complete the process of posting notes on the "reading wall."
Rule #10: Repeat the process of convening small topic groups, notetaking, and reporting to plenary until all topics for the day are addressed.
At end of the process, the assembly will have a fair representation of the complete range of ideas expressed at the Unity Meeting. The consolidated notes for each topic have been posted for public review in Mandarin and Chinese and logged into computers for the publication of printed handouts for the beginning of the next day's session. This provides plenty of time for each participant to consider all opinions, and possibly change positions on some topics.

Please note: to assure the safety and protection of some of the participants who may not be able to freely express themselves otherwise, names or other identification (other than nominating Steering Committee members) will not be used in association with any of the consolidated reports from this point on).
Rule #11: Consolidate topic group reports into "Generalized Agreements."
At plenary (general assembly), a "multitiered" voting process is conducted to narrow down the range of ideas presented during the topic groups. The Moderator conducts this voting process, where each item is read out loud and the assembly is asked (by a quick show of hands) if there is support for this item. If there is not, it is eliminated from further consideration. This is repeated for all posted items.

The voting continues in cycles of progressive elimination until only items of substantial support remain. At each stage (voting cycle), participants are permitted to change positions and to vote for, or not vote for, each item.

During this process, it usually becomes readily apparent to the assembly that some items have substantial support, some items have partial support, and other have less support. Since the Unity Meeting is based on the premise of attempting to achieve agreement among all participants, the process rapidly focuses only on the items which demonstrate great support while continuously eliminating items that show insufficient support.
Rule #12: Confirm Agreements
It is generally helpful to hold a topic group discussion about participant's thoughts on the remaining items to consider before formally confirming them. However, if the remaining items clearly demonstrate widespread support, or if time is limited, this topic group can be skipped and the group remains in plenary (assembled as whole).

Once an item achieves 2/3 approval of participants, it can be considered as a confirmed agreement. If time permits, a vote is undertaken to see if the item is able to achieve unanimous consent.

If time permits, other items which show majority approval but not 2/3 strength can be considered for confirmation. Generally, one or 2 proponents may briefly speak in favor of the item in question. A quick vote is then taken and if the item achieves 2/3 approval, it can be considered confirmed.

The body of confirmed items can be considered a "Generalized Statement of Agreement." This Statement does not need to be a perfectly crafted composition. An itemized list of simply worded sentences is sufficient to proceed.
Rule #13: Empower a committee to oversee implementation of Agreements
This "Generalized Statement of Agreement" becomes the guiding principles of the Unity network, which wil be established as a result of the Unity Meeting. After all, these are the items upon which the Meeting has agreed. A voluntary Steering Committee (created by the same process as all other topics) is empowered to act only upon the items in the Generalized Statement of Agreement.

The "Generalized Statement of Agreement" can evolve later on into a formal structure (mission statement, constitution, bylaws, etc.).

The Steering Committee is to implement the Generalized Statement of Agreement until when the next Unity Meeting is held. Committee members are considered the temporary, or provisional leaders of this network until they are either confirmed or replaced at the next Unity Meeting.

In the same sense, the Generalized Statement of Agreement is considered provisional until the next Unity Meeting.
Rule #14: Public Commitments
To reinforce their commitment to adhere to the Generalized Statement of Agreement, all members of the Steering Committee must publicly state that they will support and assume responsibility for the fulfillment of each and every item in the Generalized Agreement. No Steering Committee member may act in the name of the Unity network unless it directly involves an item described in the Generalized Agreement.
Rule #15: Set a date for next meeting
No successful meeting concludes without establishing a date to reconvene.
Rule #16: Make allies and leave in good cheer.
The success of great movements depends on overcoming differences and achieving common ground. If the process used at this Unity Meeting proves useful for you, please spread its democratic principles by incorporating it in other organizations in which you are involved.

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