Everyday Democracy: non-hierarchical organising in South Korea

I hosted a kind of Open Enspiral workshop in December 2016 that felt really effective so I wanted to share the format. It was called Everyday Democracy, situated at the end of a conference about young people in East Asian politics, the day after the Korean president had been impeached after massive civil unrest.

My opening provocation was like: sure we’ve fired the president, now let’s fire the boss. I positioned Enspiral as a group of people who want to practice democracy every day, not just on election day.

I had planned to run a few immersive democratic experiences, but in discussion with my cohosts, decided that the original design might push people too far out of their comfort zone. So we co-designed a format that felt beautifully well suited to the people in the room.

I’d guess we spent more than 15 person-hours in prep time, which really paid off.

I had an interpreter with me so Korean to English translation was simultaneous. Anything I said in English was consecutively translated into Korean so we had to factor that into timing. Presenting in short stop-start bursts is good for clarity, though it made it harder to keep the energy up.

Here’s the runsheet:

Check in (30min)

Everyone standing in a circle: share your name, how you’re feeling on scale of 1 to 5, with a brief explanation of why. 1–5 scale makes it easy to participate. Standing check-in makes it short and gets the energy up.

Intro (10min)

Explain agenda in context of conference, introduce me and my cohost Sunkyung from C. (So good to have a second facilitator so we can take turns hosting and resting, plus a couple of extra helpers for logistics.)

Enspiral (20min: 10min in English + 10min in Korean)

Everyone sitting in a big circle while I explain Enspiral with 3 slides:

  1. Members/Contributors/Ventures
  2. Cobudget
  3. Loomio

Not trying to give enough detail for people to copy Enspiral, just to give an example of a radically democratic organising system to help people imagine the direction they could take their projects/organisations.

10 minute Q&A for clarification.

Small group discussion (40min)

Split into groups of 8 (number off around the circle). Rearrange the room to have each group sitting around small tables with post-its and pens on hand. 40 minute discussion, noting down key points on post-its:

  1. Introduce youself: why you came today?
  2. Utopia: 1 or 2 people share a story of a really excellent collaborative experience.
  3. Reality: discuss why these experiences are not common in our daily working life.

Feedback + sharing (20min)

Stick post-its on the wall under headings Utopia and Reality. Roam around and see everyone else’s responses. Couple of people share striking stories/moments. Themes:

  • Utopia: Listening, cooperation of individuals, self understanding, trust, harmony, 1-to-1 emotional sharing, tolerance, celebrated failure, abundance, transparency, psychological safety…
  • Reality: no safety, revenge, punishment, rigid structure, age, gender, rank, endless discussion, top down, minds over hearts, fear, ignorance, efficiency obsession, selfish, unilateral decisions…

I noticed reading & writing allowed for much greater sharing than if we had just asked for volunteers to share verbally.

I summarised: post-its show huge alignment; we have a shared intention for how we want to work, and we all know the obstacles to this. Now let’s treat the two categories as a design brief, how to make your Reality a little bit more like your Utopia?

Six Circles (20min)

As there are common goals and challenges, I suggested there are also common design patterns that help groups to function more like the Utopia scenario.

I shared my 6 circles as suggestions of interventions that participants might try in their projects or organisations. These are 6 patterns of organising that bridge between Reality and Utopia.

This needs a post of its own… coming soon. In the meantime, here’s a 20min talk I did elsewhere on the 6 circles idea.

Check out (30min)

I think these kinds of events are 10x more impactful with a good check-out circle, where you can appreciate the depth and breadth of the different experiences of all the participants.

We checked out, with the prompt: after all this great conversation, what’s one action you’re going to take on Monday?

We heard lots of “I’m going to introduce one of the 6 circles into my project” or “I’m going to have a conversation about hierarchy with my workmates” or my favourite: “I’m going to check with my wife to see if I need to be more democratic at home.” — perfect! 😂

After officially closed the workshop, about 15 people stuck around for an unscheduled bonus meeting to plan their next steps together. They’ve formed a kind of “nonhierarchical organising” study group who’ve been meeting regularly since December. I’m heading back in mid-March to see if I can support this burgeoning movement for everyday democracy.

Stay tuned!


If you want an Enspiral person to come host a workshop like this in your town, send me a message. 😍