GC2016 — Crowdsourcing General Conference

Just a reflection on how things are going at GC.  So far, most of our time and energy has gone to process and technology.  Our plenary and legislative processes keep bogging down in a poor application of a Robert’s Rules of Order-like amalgam of bits, pieces and fragments of a fairly straightforward process.  We are assembled as a representative government of amateurs with different understandings and levels of experience with Parliamentary and other forms of group rule.  Perhaps it is time to crowdsource General Conference.

Crowdsourcing is pooling the collective wisdom, information, knowledge and experience of the people to create their own future.  It happens on the Internet all the time — granted, to very different levels of success.  However, it couldn’t be more dismal than the results we have generated thus far.

What does our church truly want?  Ask it.  How well do we represent the will of United Methodists worldwide?  Let’s truly find out.  It would certainly be cheaper, even if it didn’t produce crystal clear results.  We gather together face-to-face because that’s how we have done it for 200+ years.  Tradition doesn’t mean best practice.

Part of our problem is that the current system isn’t asset based.  We are not elected for our gifts and proficiencies.  We are not groomed, cultivated, or prepared to represent our denomination at the global level.  We are essentially individuals who volunteer for a popularity contest held in our annual conferences.  Better known individuals have the best chance of election, regardless of their true qualifications.  I believe we might actually draw a higher level of diverse competencies if we crowd-sourced our process.

One amazing unintended consequence of Crowdsourcing is improved communication.  Clarifying and understanding are higher priorities in Crowdsourcing than in most large group decision-making processes.  Not only more information, but better information is possible with Crowdsourcing, and when it is done well, it leads to deeper listening, greater patience, higher tolerance and broader understanding.  Does it take time?  Oh, yes.  But it doesn’t have to be crammed into a ten-day time slot where as many poor decisions as good decisions are made.

Crowdsourcing is scary to people who haven’t done it for two reasons.  One, it is new and different, and we are proving unequivocally how much we hate change and learning new things.  Two, it demands trust because it is a chaotic and dynamic process that leaves people feeling out of control.  The fatal flaw in this year’s General Conference so far is the rampant suspicion and lack of trust.  This would make Crowdsourcing difficult.  Until we believe that we are all working together toward something positive instead of trying to win a fight, we will get the same results from Crowdsourcing we get currently from General Conference.

Perhaps, though, we could believe in the kin*dom/kingdom/beloved community of God and trust all of us, rather than just some of us.  Perhaps we could engage the entire body of Christ to create a future together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps we could be the church God calls us to be instead of the one we will allow.  Perhaps we could let go of control and trust God and each other.  Yeah, but who wants that?

6 replies

  1. Dan, they’re making what I call “Caiaphas Choices.” They’re putting the survival of the institution as THEY want it to be, whomever “they” are, ahead of the spiritual needs of its people. This almost always leads to decisions that rip asunder and destroy.
    The irony is that, for the most part, those making Caiaphas Choices are trying to protect and serve.
    Unfortunately, much like Caiaphas, who appealed to the greater good to justify his recommendation, they end up causing far more harm than good.

  2. Dan, I have long been a supporter and proponent of Open Space facilitation … Or at least the idea of it since I never had the opportunity to experience it in a significant way or learn how to work with it effectively. (Reading a few books is not enough.) Please help bring this process to our Annual Conference! We need a new way of working together to be the church and this seems to me to offer a good possibility. Thanks for your thoughts on the benefits if crowdsourcing as a process in the face of the abject failure (so far) of this General Conference.

  3. Dr. Dick, in reference to your crowdsourcing comments, there are unconferences called “UnCo,” both in the East (New York, next week), and in the West (California, I think) that work along these lines. Carol Howard Merritt is one of the facilitators/participants.

      • Have you attended? Maybe they could help us figure out a better way to do General Conference!

      • I have not attended yet, but I have long been an Open Space facilitator and promoter. I love the open process, and I am very curious and excited about the potential for crowdsourcing. Having had a couple good Wiki experiences, I believe we could emerge into a whole new way of conferencing and decision-making.

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