Here’s another call out to the global water cooler…
I live in a small community, on an island with about 4000 other people. Folks know each other pretty well and the community is fairly well connected to itself. We have to deal with a number of issues related to development, including impacts on limited water resources, encroachments on wild areas, pollution and impacts from cars and other transportation issues such as ferry marshalling and public transit. We are also in the middle of a long term process to develop vision and planning for the island as a whole and the small commercial centre.
There are a number of facilitators on our island who are fluent in Open Space, appreciative inquiry, world cafe and so on, and we use these processes from time to time to do community dialogue.
In November we have a municipal election coming up. It is a custom in these parts that elections are preceded by one or more all-candidates meetings, in which candidates typically are asked their position on a variety of issues and sometimes invited to debate with one another. I find these kinds of events intolerable, and useless for making up my mind on who to vote for. I think that complex issues require more than just a position and an ability to score points in a debate. I think a critical skill for people running for public office is the ability to work well with others, to refine and create ideas together that are greater than those retained by just one person. But how are we supposed to know which of our candidates for office has this capacity to learn and contribute in conversation with others if we are only exposed to a position-based debate?
My proposal is to host an all-candidates meeting in which candidates are given an issue to work on together and asked to come to a solution that incorporates as many positives from each person as possible. I envision this happening perhaps fish bowl style, whereby we have a round table with five or six candidates and an empty chair which can be occupied by a member of the public. People have half an hour at the table to think through and discuss solutions, ideas, and thoughts. Members of the public can wander between tables and see how people work together, and can even occupy the empty seat for a few minutes to add something to the discussion.
If we did this for two hours or so, we could have small groups dealing up to three issues. It would give us a chance to see how well candidates work with one another, and ideas that come forth from the public. It is the opposite of a debate format, with the emphasis on co-creating solutions, using the skills of listening and thinking bigger than one person’s position. I would feel more confident voting for people that performed well in this environment, because that reflects the nature of the collegial environment of municipal government here in British Columbia, and environment that can easily become dysfunctional when people simply entrench themselves in positions and refuse to budge.