A (not so) modest proposal

“Re-envisioning global governance for the 21st century.”

I am working on a proposal for the Global Challenges prize, which seeks a new model for making global decisions. Saying “the system currently in place to manage these issues — including the UN and the organizations connected with the UN — are, in their present form, not up to the task,” the Global Challenges Foundation is seeking “a governance model able to effectively address the most pressing threats and risks to humanity.”

Since this is stuff I have been thinking about for a long time, and since I am currently looking for a passion project, I decided to sign up.

Not too worried anyone is going to steal my ideas here… I mean, I’d love a share of the prize money, but I am mostly focused on getting an idea out there.

Introduction

It begins with conversation.

Person-to-person communication is at the heart of the human experience. From our origins as a language-using species, we have sought to be heard and to hear, to share our own experience, and to grow as people in connection with others. In the conflict-ridden world of the 21st Century, those bonds have frayed: in many places, they have broken altogether, with little hope they will ever be rebuilt.

This proposal aims to begin a new way forward as a world community by making open, direct and civil conversation the core value of a new system of global governance. Through the use of collaborative decision-making at all levels — from neighborhood councils to the world assembly — people with differing perspectives can engage effectively and work together to create solutions to local, regional, and global problems.

No system can ensure or enforce civility between people: indeed, a certain degree of disorder and contentiousness may be unavoidable in human society. This is particularly true when we face complex issues with substantial and often uncertain potential impacts. It is this fundamental challenge — faced by organizations small and large, across the many cultures of humanity — that this proposal is intended to address.

Principles

The system outlined in this proposal will invite civil society at all levels to agree to a minimum set of principles that will guide its institutions in all of their affairs. The most fundamental of these is the principle of consent: that no decision will be taken over the objection of any member. This is, in fact, the only prescriptive element of this proposal. Everything that follows is essentially intended as suggestions — though hopefully thoughtful and well-reasoned ones — for addressing the consequences of that one fundamental principle.

It is important to stress that consent does not imply agreement. A member may disagree with a decision but consent to it if it does not make it impossible for that member to work toward the aims of the particular body. This principle has its roots in the organizational method known as dynamic governance or sociocracy. As a system that has proven effective in numerous organizations throughout the world, dynamic governance is suggested as a starting point or model for the various bodies that will be described in this proposal. This proposal does not depend on every body adopting these precise methods, and in point of fact the principle of consent itself litigates against a “one-size-fits-all” approach. However, prioritizing consent introduces a host of challenges that can potentially paralyze an organization. Dynamic governance is a prominent example of a system that can effectively deal with such challenges, and is offered as an alternative to each organization having to “re-invent the wheel.”

The cornerstone of this proposal is the free assembly of citizens at the community level. These may be geographic (e.g. neighborhood) assemblies, faith communities, local labor unions, political party wards or any such non-governmental organization where the members are known to each other. These assemblies would be of modest size to allow for effective discussion and deliberation: any group with more than about one hundred fifty individuals would likely become unwieldy. This assembly would operate by consent, as outlined above, and would elect or choose a recallable representative to an “assembly of assemblies” at the city or area level.

The larger assembly would function in a similar manner as a free assembly of representatives operating by consent, and would itself elect or choose a recallable representative to a district or sub-regional assembly. These assemblies would elect or choose recallable representatives to regional assemblies, which would elect or choose recallable representatives to national assemblies. National assemblies would elect or choose recallable representatives to continental assemblies, which would elect or choose recallable representatives to the world assembly.

In this manner, each local assembly is connected to the world assembly — and through it, to every other local assembly on the planet — by a chain of freely chosen, recallable representatives. These assemblies, therefore, would be invited to consider the potential global impact of each of its decisions no matter how small, as well as the potential impact of its decisions on future generations. This principle would work hand-in-hand with the principle of consent: a global and inter-generational focus can be a counter-balance against any tendency to use consent as a “veto” protecting narrow individual or factional interest.

The development of this system would be in the hands of an independent grass-roots social movement beholden to no political ideology other than the ideal of free speech. The assemblies would have no political power in and of themselves, gaining influence in local, national and global matters only insofar as they are seen as representative of public opinion. It would, therefore, be in the interest of each assembly at every level to be as inclusive as possible of the greatest number of citizens.