We’re networking and meeting with others who are doing things in the area of Participatory Democracy.

On November 24, 2010, we had a conference call with Kai Degner, Mayor of Harrisonburg Virginia, USA, a small town with a population of 47,000.


Kai started being interested in participatory methods 4 years ago while at Madison University. He was then involved in 300 discussions in a Dialogue Project called the Orange Bond Initiative. He is now part of the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. Since then he has used Open Space (OS) for planning events for Non-Profit organizations such as a 2-day conference on water quality. He also used OS for his campaign as Mayor of Harrisonburg. In 2008 he was elected as Mayor of Harrisonburg. Since then, he has hosted several OS events mainly on issues regarding sustainability such as: homes for poor, renewable energy. He feels that OS contributes to helping people with similar ideas know about each other and get organized together to make things happen.

The Summits

Every year he hosts a Mayor’s Sustainability Summit which requires from 80-100 hours of work, 2-3 months in preparation, an out-reach team of 5-8 people who are each connected with at least 3 related organizations and potential partners. This event has also become an attractive news story for media with 200 people attending and more than 30 topics covered. Since 2009 he has hosted up to 20 minor summits on specific sustainability subjects and in total has gathered more than 1200 people. The themes include: health, interculturalism, strengthening local business, families in crisis and justice. He uses OS and World Café formats. The duration of these summits is 4-6 hours including an action piece. Reports are sent out or uploaded on their website. For him, the most important result achieved is the paradigm shift in participants — the attendees are a resource rather than only an audience.

Financing of Events

City planning employees attended training on OS and World Café (WC) and this has quadrupled participation at their events. He has also introduced OS and World Café to other municipalities in his area. In Harrisonburg a mayor’s job is only part time. The rest of the time Kai is a consultant facilitating OS and WC events for organizations and other municipalities in the area. Because of his situation, Harrisonburg does not finance municipal summits. The money comes from local business who are interested in the theme and are invited to rent an exhibitors table.

His Strategy for Success

According to Kai, the greatest challenge with these events is keeping the organizing team motivated and generating the greatest attendance. His most effective strategy for success is to meet with his team and together they ask themselves: What organization would be offended if they did not participate in this event and would compromise the results? Which organization could benefit from the event? Could any other organization come with you or would like to have a table at the summit? Outreach is most important before sending out the invitation. The invitations should include information on the opportunity and what they may gain for themselves as they share what it is they are working on. The theme is also important. It should be more focused for a smaller audience and broader for a larger audience. The venue is best when it is close to restaurants where people can easily and quickly get food and continue discussions or the restaurants could be used for breakout groups.

With regards to having a speaker or presentation at the beginning he felt that there may a danger. The Mayor’s presence at the first event was important. As mayor he was able to get people’s attention.

Next Steps

Kai is now moving forward by organizing meetings with councilors.

Other Contacts

He recommends that we check out the yoosk.com website where political leaders are asked questions.

Web Links

These links show the use of Open Space in Harrisonburg.


Joanne Mantha, Pamela Schreiner and Maya Bobrowska


Peggy Holman spoke about OST at the OD World Summit in Budapest last week. When asked “What are the three most important ways that our practice has influenced the field? she responded:

Open Space Technology made explicit the notion that everything is self-organizing. OST offers a pathway for productively working with the dynamics of self-organization.

OST re-defines the role of the facilitator.  No longer the expert in the front of the room, but “totally present and completely invisible”.  Rather than a facilitator who intervenes, the OST practitioner opens a welcoming space for self-organization to emerge.

OST provides a profound invitation to people to work from passion and responsibility.  Or, as I usually say it, to take responsibility for what they love.  Not just during an OS event, but as a life practice, when we pay attention to passion and responsibility, the good of the individual and the good of the collective are both served.  This seems a contradiction.  Some have told me that they thought this behavior was selfish. Just the opposite is true.  It takes people to a deeper place.  When we operate by taking responsibility for what we love, we touch the part of us that connects to a deeper stream from which we all draw. In practice, when we each bring our full-voiced selves, a differentiation occurs from which novel patterns that draw from all facets of a system emerge. In the process, individual passion helps us discover our fit as a greater whole.

The Political Compass provides a 4-quadrant model that goes beyond the simple left-right categorization that considers only economics. It also has a social scale from authoritarianism to libertarianism.

The region-specific examples of political compass include the Canadian elections of 2008. See http://www.politicalcompass.org/canada2008 .

A chaordic organization is one that operates in balance between chaos and order. Order is based on our learnings from the past. Consequently, creativity and innovation come from chaos – from our ability to hold the chaos. If we have too much order, moving into control, we lose the ability to create the new. We simply keep on recreating the past. Yet most organizations profess the need and/or desire to be creative and innovative. Nature operates in a chaordic fashion. A chaordic organization can be considered akin to a nature-based organization.

For more information about chaordic organizations see:

Chaordic in Wikipedia

Chaordic Organization Characteristics in the The Foundation for P2P Alternatives pages

The Chaordic Organization: Out of Control and into Order

The Trillion-Dollar Vision of Dee Hock

Chaordic Organizations by Oscar Motomura

I’d love to explore how a Chaordic Organization would look on the Political Compass. Would chaordic politics be in the Right-Libertarian quadrant? Or would it be in the centre of the 4 quadrants?

Last Saturday, I went to the ChangeCamp event in Ottawa ( http://wiki.changecamp.ca/ChangeCamp_Ottawa ) and hosted a discussion about: Participatory Democracy in our City — Shifting the morphogenic field of municipal governance.

Here are the notes from our discussion:

  • Look at government from a bigger perspective, e.g. systems thinking – and grow the organic entity of governance – don’t just deal with single issues.
  • We need an evolutionary process rather than just the back and forth that happens between each newly elected session of councilors.
  • Perhaps Open Data can make this smoother evolutionary process possible.
  • How do you engage people to use the tools?
    • Tenants often don’t vote.
    • Citizen comments need to be actioned for engagement.
    • To encourage participation, people need feedback on when their participation is not effective.
    • The messiness of policy-making needs to be part of the process.
      • There needs to be a conversation.
      • There needs to be space for people to change their minds.
      • It’s about the process.
      • All stakeholders need to be part of the research and analysis process. It doesn’t work if government starts consulting the public after all of the research is already done – because by then they are already committed to a particular course of action. And the consultation of the public is no longer really a consultation.
      • A methodology like Open Space Technology ( http://www.openspaceworld.org/ ) works better  than an executive style. However, until the “100th monkey” is on board, both styles will probably be deployed during the transition.
      • Perhaps it’s better to have a law of democratic selection 😉   — where councilors make decisions for their area, rather than single laws for the whole area with greatly differing needs.
      • Participation needs to be local and ongoing, where government feels that they are a participant who is also learning.


Last Sunday, I met with Shawn Menard and Bob Brocklebank.

We agreed that the OurOttawa goals and values are in line with what our group is imagining around municipal governance.

For info about OurOttawa see:


The 2 groups will stay in touch.

A difference that we recognized is that OurOttawa may endorse particular candidates for municipal council in Ottawa. Whereas we would remain neutral.


Matthew Taylor speaks about human nature and political values.

The era of consumer politics has run its course.

We need a radically new political discourse that makes voters take real responsibility and make tough choices.

We need to change the content of our democratic conversation.

This 10 minute animation is fun to watch.



Our next meeting is on Thursday, July 22 from 7 to 9:30 pm.


Pamela Schreiner


613 235 2742

I was very inspired by Margaret Wheatley’s quote on the website you sent: There is no power for change greater than a community discovering ‘what it cares about.’  I found that quote not only appropriate for your situation but appropriate for mine as well and for this reason I just want to share a few thoughts that may help you.

I am presently working with a community in Haïti in helping them identify their true needs including the need of governance.  I have made the decision to deliberately help them focus on what they care for instead of the problems they see and have been looking at for many generations.  My conviction is that as we focus on problems we give them more attention and end up creating more of these problems sometimes as side effects to even the best solutions.  With generations of looking at problems it is not surprising that the thought of what is cared for does not come instinctively.  It is a phenomenon I have often observed and you may have also.  The tendency is to the problem, almost always.  It takes a shift to rebalance the mind in seeing things differently to bring real change.

At first I wanted to use the Open Space Forum and then with the above in mind I decided to precede the session with an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) session.  So far I have completed the AI portion of my consultations and have noticed the shift in energy.  When I asked them what they cared for, I had to ask three times for them to shift their energy to something constructive.  My next step is an Open Space.

As communities are like individuals, they too are so used to problem solving and identifying their weaknesses that they have forgotten to shift their mind to what they care for.  I believe that AI can certainly help.  I have noticed again and again that questions on what they care for always has a mind-shifting effect, this effect is needed to open the space to a balanced discussion.

Food for thought


“It is not for the community to wait for handouts from others, in order to do what we know what must be done.  It is not for others to do what we can and should do for ourselves.  It is for us to accept responsibility for ourselves and not to refuse to do what we can do now. It is for us to become a real community that cares for each other, that is willing to take the time to donate our talents and resources, and share our wisdom, with each other.  We must be a community that cares for our children and youth, and respects our elders.  Our well being must be defined as being only as rich as the poorest among us, only as healthy, happy and secure as least fortunate among us.  We must stop feeling sorry for ourselves, and with a will to make a difference for the better, anything is possible.” Paul Maillet CENTER FOR ETHICS

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