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From the emaillist, autumn 2014:

Hi All,

A recurring conversation with many of leaders in organisations I have been working with recently has been when to apply participatory leadership and when not to. I realised I don't have clear way to teach this or explain it! I had a bash on my recent blog - check it out:
I would love to hear what models, lists, way you use to explain and teach this - either on the blog comments or on this list.
Thanks and all the best,
Great blog Tim! 
I use Cynefin too, and sometimes a decision making model that shows a scale of authority and consensus with consultative and democratic in the middle.   
In your story, I wonder if person that inspired your blog post is missing the authority of their position when they express that participatory leadership is taking over. Just a thought on the cultural vestiges of hierarchies, privilege and power. 
Rachel Lyn
Yes, thanks for the list Tim.
I relate to Chris' reference to participation be useful in the complex environment.
Thanks Tim - I agree it's a good list to work on.

My edge, I think, in this kind of space is in how to integrate 'experts' in participatory approaches.  We all know experts can disempower others, but I think there is some tendency to throw out the expert when we start a participatory approach, as if they no longer have anything to offer once we have gone to the participatory realm.

So if we are working with a system on when to be more participatory and when not, one of my questions is how can we continue to value the 'experts' in such a way that doesn't undermine the participation ?  The notion of 'expert' and 'non-expert' is another type of hierarchy for us to be considering as well as the power / organisational chart hierarchy - I think it is very easy to create false dichotomies that we either work through hierarchy or we don't or that we either use experts or we don't and if we take any kind of step back we know that's not true .... but we do seem to like dichotomies.

I haven't got a model for all contexts at all.  I guess I am saying that I think we need a bit more nuance than simply a choice between  "participatory or not".
Very interested to hear other thoughts.

Best regards


Hi Chris,

I often differentiate between expert and expertise. Bringing in knowledge, information, experience, etc. that adds to our understanding of an issue can be valuable and can help us find our own wisdom to move forward vs. the expert telling us what they think we should do. Talking about the value of bringing in expertise also seems to lower the discomfort of clients that fall into the we need an expert trap.




That’s a good distinction Jerry.  There have been several processes where we want as much expertise in the room as possible.  And diverse expertise as well.  People can be experts in various disciplines and knowledge bases all of which are important for an inquiry in which none of know how to move forward, but together we can figure something out.  

As for experts… when the pipes burst, I definitely want a plumber!

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Nice post Tim
It reminds me of the Better Together principles from our State Government here.
BT, however, is about engagement in government decision making (and government action).  I would actually describe it as specifically not 'participatory', as in 'participatory processes' and leadership, because the participants don't really have any capacity to effect outcomes except by their contribution to decision-making.  So, it's really about genuine consultation.  This isn't a clear boundary, but I use 'participatory' specifically to refer to something with a degree of shared responsibility.
Where am I going with this...?  I think I just mean to point out that there are different forms of 'participation', and I think your checklist focuses on one sort (decision making), more so than others (shared action).
So in contrast, when I am looking at a context of participatory (shared) action personally,
the necessary condition that stands out to me is that the participants (including and especially sponsors) value the active contribution of others to the envisioned results...  specifically, that they don't follow mental models by which participants are purely valued for their 'ideas'.  (I wrote a post about the 'cocreative mindset' a few days ago, similar theme.)
I think Cynefin does cover this as 'shared action' is an implicit part of a productive response to complexity - most of the time at least.
So if it feels like the post is in two parts that address two very separate questions... (it feels that way to me...) that should be no surprise.

John Baxter
This thread is timely and helpful to me. I would love examples of decision making models that show a spectrum of modes. I am working with a group within an .... that tends to think that everything needs to be a consensus. And they are growing too large and sometimes things are too complex for that. (That's my assessment anyway!)
Julie Engel
a fabulous resource I have found is Polarity Management as one starting point. I believe there is a fallacy or myth about consensus decision making and collaborative processes – that every decision needs to be made by consensus. If you really look at projects that are advancing quickly or well functioning teams, very few decisions are made by consensus but the team operates by consensus born of trust. The right decision making process at the right time is important. That also means the members of the initiative need to be clear about what decision making process the group is in at any given time. When people are asking for more input than might be warranted, there is likely something else at work, some other dynamic that needs to be surfaced. I am also enjoying the book Reinventing Organizations by Philippe Laloux, about organizations being run at a next level of consciousness.  
Might be straying from the topic a bit, but for decision-making processes specifically,I enjoyed how Falkvinge's Swarmwise treated decision-making processes, identifying explicitly how they (the Swedish Pirate Party) addressed the need to be open and support group cohesion, but agile and responsive.


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