Mayvin Associate Consultant Sue Belgrave explores Brexit as a Large Group Intervention.
Trying to find some calm amidst the turmoil which has engulfed us, I found myself looking at the EU Referendum through the lens of the questions which I would ask when considering any large scale participative event. I have found it an illuminating exercise.
1. What was the purpose of the Referendum ?
Overt: to ask the British public if they wanted to be in or out of Europe.
Covert: to silence the Eurosceptics in the Tory party and UKIP.
This is not looking good. Purpose is where it all begins and ends, covert purposes always come back to bite you. Participative processes are a potent alchemy to be handled with care.
2. Where does the participative event fit into the decision making process? Was it part of data gathering or actually a decision?
Not sure – it was technically an advisory referendum but was presented as binding (out means out). This is not looking good either
3. Is there a commitment to act on what emerges, whatever that is?
Yes, no, maybe.
4. Is there clarity about the question which was asked?
Well the question was clear but no one seems to know what the answer means, i.e. What does “out” mean? That’s not looking good either.
5. Was a shared database created so that people could make an informed decision?
This was a very complex issue for a binary choice. There was a lot of data, much of it contradictory and presented in a less than helpful way. There were many challenges around whose data could be trusted: certainly not the experts e.g. the governor of the Bank of England!
There was a database; I am not sure that it was shared in the sense that people could use it to support their decision making.
So, I guess the answer is no.
6. Was it positive and future focussed?
No. That was easy!
7. Were processes in place to ensure that everyone’s voice was heard thereby creating community and connection?
The voting process meant that people had the chance to speak, i.e. vote, but it’s not clear yet whether voices have been heard.
There were no processes to limit the impact of those who shouted loudest, who had an agenda which may or may not have been aligned with the purpose and whose voices drowned out those who were quieter. So that’s a no; in fact it may be worse than ‘no’ depending on what happens next.
8. Was the whole system in the room?
Given that it is rarely possible to involve absolutely everyone I guess that’s a qualified yes.
9. Is there a clear plan of action as to what you will do after the event to ensure that the energy and momentum is maintained and that people see the value in their participation ie things change as a result?
That’s another resounding no.
So, that’s nine questions which I would use to a help an organisation decide whether or not to go ahead with a participative event and then to help ensure any event would be effective.
I would say that if the answer to the first three questions is not positive, I would discourage any organisation from going forward on the basis that there simply isn’t enough clarity for such a potentially high risk event.
However, we are where we are and depending on how we all react over the next few weeks and months, good may yet come of this.
What I would say now to an organisation which has ‘unleashed the potent alchemy’ and therefore what I now say to anyone who is listening is:
- We need to understand the data that is emerging
- We need to listen with humility to each other and to take time to work out how to respond
- This is a time to move towards people, not away from or against them
- Sit with the uncertainty however uncomfortable that is
- Speak to what unites us and not to what divides us
- Hold on