I have been a member of many organisations and community groups, who all claim to be democratic. I say, claim, because in reality they do not tick many democratic boxes, and for some or other reason, the members within the group either don’t know what it truly means to be in a democracy, or they choose to ignore it. I really don’t know which one is worse.
So, let’s look at a procedural democracy:
- A number of people come together to form an organisation or association and wish it to be run democratically.
- There has to be more than one member – or it won’t need a democratic process.
- Rules are laid out, which are binding upon the members.
- A process and agenda for decision-making is clearly laid out.
- Decision-making about rules have to include everyone with membership as they are the ones whose interests will be affected by the decisions.
- No single member’s demands, request, opinions or ideas are superior to the other members within the group. If one person shows to have more influence, then a democracy does not exist.
- There has to be equal and adequate opportunity for all members to put forward questions, ideas and suggestions on the agenda.
- Every member should have the opportunity to express their reasons for endorsing outcomes and act accordingly.
- Each member’s choices expressed, must carry equal weight.
- The organisation needs to ensure that enlightened understanding is not reserved for a few, but that all members know what they want (opportunities need to be made for everyone to explore options and gain the necessary knowledge they need to be informed about democratic procedure within the organisation)
- It is the responsibility of elected leaders to ensure that every member knows how their participation in decision-making can make things better for the organisation and for themselves.
- There has to be an emphasis on education in all areas of operation, rights, rules and participation.
- Members should be the ones to decide what they want to decide and how they want to decide these things. Only members know what is important to them and what the organisation needs and so they are the ones who must control the agenda of the organisation.
- The people ARE the organisation, so the people are sovereign.
- The organisation needs to have a clear picture of the conditions under which the members may delegate their authority.
- Inclusiveness is key to the democratic function of an organisation.
- One of the most important characteristics in a democratic organisation is the continuing responsiveness of the leadership to the members of the organisation. This is a ‘make or break’ element and vital to success.
Now that these points are laid out I can see why so many organisations fold, run out of money, have internal conflict and generally do not come near to the targets and goals they originally set out to achieve.
I feel strongly about democracy – I know it is not perfect – it has many flaws. But I also know that it works, especially on a small scale in a community group. It empowers members and promotes self-realisation of the individual. When people are given opportunities they flourish.
Democracy, it seems, brings out the best in people and when you have a group of people growing, learning, inspiring, motivating and engaging within an organisation….well, can you see the potential? Limitless!