WAYS OF WORKING
HOW DOES XR WORK?
Extinction Rebellion is international. It’s national. It’s local. It’s you. Learn more about how XR is structured below and how we work together as a self-organising system.
A COMMON PURPOSE
Extinction Rebellion is drawn together by the common purpose of fighting for our three demands: Tell the Truth, Act Now, and implementing a Citizens’ Assembly.
In order to achieve our common purpose, Extinction Rebellion members share a set of common values and principles. Everything we do falls back on these values and anyone who shares these underlying principles can take action in the name of Extinction Rebellion.
COMMON WAYS OF WORKING
Extinction Rebellion is decentralised and autonomous, meaning ultimately the power to make decisions and affect change is in your hands. In order for this self-organising system to work effectively we have some common ways of working.
WA’S SELF-ORGANISING SYSTEM
INTRODUCTION TO THE XRWA SELF-ORGANISIG SYSTEM (SOS)
The following defines the SOS for XRWA groups which:
- Interfaces support/coordinates/aligns with local/affinity groups in Australia.
- Interfaces to align and coordinate with other XR initiatives at an international level.
- Is fractal and has the capacity to grow organically.
The following 3 features of this SOS mean that power is shifted out of people and into the processes of the system itself because:
- The SOS is defined by a written down rule-set: this constitution
- The rules in this constitution apply to everyone in the same way, there are no privileged classes, no exceptions
- No single person has person power/authority over another person or the system itself
To ensure coherence, coordination and consistency of the XRWA Organism, membership of any XRWA team (included in this structure) requires an agreement to work within this system. This document has been adapted from the XR UK SOS Constitution. It’s not complete or perfect, it’s always a work in progress, from which feedback can be gathered so that the system can evolve as needed. If you have feedback or questions on this document, email firstname.lastname@example.org
There are multiple parts of this system, which can be used as individual parts, and when used together create a whole, integrated system that is greater than the sum of the parts. This system is inspired by and uses some features of Holacracy® practice, and is also influenced by other methods of self-organisation. It is important to understand that this is not Holacracy and that XR is not practicing Holacracy and to clearly and consistently communicate this message.
foundations of an sos
The system is founded on the principle of distributed authority where decisions are decentralised to individuals in roles with clear mandates for those decisions. When someone has a mandate in a role it means that they have the authority to make a decision/do something; and at the same time it sets an expectation which others can have of that role-holder.
Only use group decision-making when it’s necessary and not by default! It’s perhaps the most expensive (in terms of time, and if not done well can also expend motivation too) way of making decisions and can slow things down a lot. While it’s important at times to tap into the collective intelligence of a team and/or get buy-in for decisions, it’s not always the best way to be making decisions, and there are other ways to achieve those things.
Transparency – the clearer you can be about the work you are doing, your mandate, and the mandates of other roles and all teams then the easier it will be to collaborate at scale.
This system is designed to manage the polarity between two different ways of operating, as needed in different situations being able to act quickly and be responsive to fast-changing situations when needed and integrating the wisdom of multiple perspectives and harnessing collective intelligence when needed.
Information Sharing: the organisation’s structure and other parts of this system means that information is shared in team meetings at appropriate levels of scale, and can travel between different levels of scale as needed.
TRAINING and support for how to use the system
- Don’t be put off by all of this text! It’s not actually that complicated and is easy enough to get the hang of it once you start to actually use it. If you’d rather have someone talk it through with you to help you understand it or support with how to make it work in your team you can ask the Self-Organising System team via email@example.com
- This video introduces how the structure of the system looks and works (6 mins)
parts of the system: xrwa organism structure
The structure of XRWA is in working groups (also known as teams or circles).The teams are in a structure where larger teams have sub-teams within them, and sub-teams can have their own sub-teams and so on, like Russian dolls. A sub-team is a whole autonomous team in its own right, while also being part of a larger team (this is the same structure as found in natural systems and is called a holarchy). The structure of XRWA is visually represented on using a site called Glassfrog here and our website contains emails for all working groups.
Each team has its own mandate which needs to have at least one, or any combination of the following:
- Purpose – the reason the team exists. States what it is working towards as a smaller part of the purpose of the whole organism.
- Accountabilities – define the ongoing work that needs to be done by a team, what that team is accountable for, and expectations others can have of a team
- Domain– conveys ownership. So for example, if a team owns the domain of the website, it means no other person or team can change the website without the owning team’s permission. Could also apply to things like a Social Media account, contact list, bank account, script for a talk, etc.
A short guide on writing clear and concise mandates can be found here. New working groups must be created via this process. Groups are autonomous & self-governing, meaning that it’s up to them how they achieve their mandate. The XRWA structure should be published here & updated so that everyone can see:
- the structure and how the teams fit together
- mandates for each team
- the 2 coordinators of each team
- a contact email address for each team
- any mandates for roles in a team, plus who is filling those roles.
The circles aren’t boxes to be boxed in by – projects will emerge that don’t seem to fit into the structure. If a project arises which involves work of people from multiple circles, one person should take the lead on the project (ideally with a mandate which covers it) and then create an ad-hoc project team to do the work with people from wherever relevant. This team can autonomously self-organise and doesn’t need to be represented in the structure.
By default, all resources and strategies are owned and defined by the Coordinators Circle (also known as the Anchor Circle) unless specifically delegated to another role/team/circle.
parts of the system: roles within teams
A ‘Group Mandates’ can be broken down into smaller ‘Role Mandates’ so that decisions can be made by individual role-holders rather than at a group level. It is recommended that teams define their own internal roles inside their teams with clear mandates for all ongoing work within a team. This increases clarity and reduces potential confusion about who is doing what. This template shows an example and can be downloaded to create internal roles for a team. Mandates for any defined roles should be recorded in the respective working group tab of this spreadsheet so there’s visibility about which roles exist in all groups.
Teams may choose to not define any roles. This is the least preferable option since it reduces clarity about who will do what and has the potential for more confusion. Each team should as a minimum have one or two named coordinators (internal & external) with mandates as described here.
If a team is a sub-team of a larger team, the external coordinator is a member of both the broader team and sub-team. The external coordinator can nominate someone to attend the larger team in their place who represents the sub team as the external coordinator. This means that information and tensions can flow in both ways, both into and out of all teams and be addressed at the appropriate level of scale.
Coordinators rotate every 6 months from when they start.
When a team defines roles with mandates, the authority for what is included in the mandates is then devolved from the group to an individual level. This means that whatever is in those mandates no longer gets decided at a team level, instead it gets decided by the role-holder. Suggested role mandates can be found here. In this system authority is earned; people earn the right to be a member of a team and attend meetings if they are actively filling a role and working on at least one project for that team as seen on a team’s project board (if using a project board). This prevents meetings being clogged up by people attending and sharing their views about how things should happen if they aren’t actually involved in any work.
Filling Roles: Here are a few options to decide who fills which roles. It’s recommended to do them in this order:
- People volunteer for the roles they want to fill (authority is earned by taking action).
- If there are more volunteers than opportunities to fill roles there are two options for electing someone into a role:
- The Integrative election process which is used in Holacracy.
- A 2/3rds majority vote.
- In some cases it’s appropriate for a single role to be filled by multiple people (e.g. meeting facilitator). In others it may not be.
parts of the system: decision making
We are organising rapidly, at scale, and with the best of intentions. What we are aiming to achieve has never been done before. This means we need to try new things, push new boundaries and treat mis-haps as learning opportunities, without blaming people for their decisions. Ask, is the idea/decision point “Good enough to go, safe enough to try”?
Different issues require different ways of making decisions; the following ways of making decisions are to be used for the following situations:
- Decisions to define mandates for roles within a team or for a sub-team use the process below in part 4 of this document on defining mandates, because multiple perspectives need to be integrated when distributing authority within a group into roles.
- When a role has a mandate, the role holder makes the decision about any issues covered by the mandate because the mandate conveys authority to take actions and make decisions. A role-holder may choose to get no input at all/or lots of input/or anywhere in between. One tried, tested and recommended method of a role-holder getting input into a decision they need to make is to use the Advice Process.
- For any other decisions– For any other decisions- seek consensus with some flexibility (e.g. a general vibe test). If agreement can’t be reached, decision can be made with 2/3rds majority vote.
Any decisions made by the Anchor Circle must be through this decision-making process. For more support with facilitating decision-making, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
parts of the system: defining mandates
For this type of collective decision this adaptation of Integrative Decision Making (from Holacracy) must be used. Collective decisions can be made at any formal meeting of a circle. There are no attendee/quorum restrictions. It requires a Facilitator to facilitate either of the following processes. The short version for what seems a minor or non-contentious proposal the Facilitator says:
Can I ask if there are any clarifications or objections that would prevent your consent to this proposal, otherwise we’ll go straight to a show of hands for no objection.
The longer version for what seems a more major or contentious proposal:
- A person Presents a Proposal for a new role or new sub-team, or change to an existing one.
- Whoever wants to can ask Clarifying Questions; only questions to better understand the proposal should be allowed. No reactions.
- Reaction Round: each person, one at a time gives their reaction to the proposal. No discussion or cross talk. Proposer does not react.
- Amend & Clarify: proposer can amend the proposal if they want to based on questions/reactions. They can also clarify their intent if they want to. Both of these are optional. Only proposer speaks at this step; no other discussion or feedback .
- Objection Round: the facilitator asks each person if they have any objection to the proposal (which is different to if they like it/agree to it/are happy with it). If someone has an objection the facilitator writes it down where everyone can see and then tests it. For an objection to be valid, all of the following conditions must apply:
- The objection must be a reason that the proposal causes harm; where harm is defined as degrading the capacity of the circle to achieve its mandate.
- The objection must be created by the proposal and not exist already.
- The objector must be certain the harm will happen and give a reason how they know this, or if they aren’t certain, they must give a reason why it’s not safe enough to try.
- The objector must be able to explain how the proposal will limit them from achieving the mandate of one of their roles.
- If there are no objections, or if there are objections but they are not valid, then the proposal is accepted and recorded in the record of mandates
- If there are valid objections which meet the criteria above, then you move to Integration where the proposal gets adapted so that the objection no longer exists and the original intention of the proposer is still met
- After Integration you move back to another Objection Round for the integrated proposal.
- Once there are no further objections the proposal is accepted and it is:
- If any changes are being made to mandates, all circle members need to be given reasonable notice of meeting time & date of the meeting.
parts of the system: policies
A system which only has authority distributed into roles/circles could easily create chaos and fragmentation if there is nothing to constrain the distributed authority with and which creates alignment when needed; to prevent everyone just going off doing their own thing. A Policy is a specific expectation which either grants or restricts authority outside of the mandates of roles/circles.
For example, if someone is giving the XR talk in a community, there needs to be something in place which restricts how much they can change the talk, if at all, while still keeping it as an XR talk. This restriction could be done by this policy: ‘XR talks may only be given as XR talks if they follow the format as defined by x role’
A policy that is created within a circle applies to all people/work/roles within that circle and any sub-circles within it, but not outside of that circle. For it to apply outside of the circle that created it, it would need to be agreed in the broader circle/s.
A policy can only be decided in a circle using the same decision-making process as to create/amend roles in Section 4 above (together the mandates of roles/circles and policies is called Governance).
parts of the system: meetings
Minutes: it is recommended to keep minutes and meeting outputs of each team as a cloud based document, recording any Action Points all in one place so they can be reviewed if needed.
Project Board: it is recommended to have a table at the top of your team’s Minutes which shows all the projects that team members are working on. These can be used for project updates, and people can update this at any time, either inside or outside of a meeting
- All circle members are entitled to attend meetings of that circle, but there’s no obligation for them to do so.
- There is no required quorum or number of people for a circle meeting to happen, it happens with whoever shows up unless otherwise specified in a policy that a certain number or mix of people are required to be there for a meeting to be quorate. However, reasonable notice is required to be given to all team/circle members before a meeting happens by whoever schedules the meeting.
- A circle member may invite someone who isn’t a member of the circle to attend a meeting to process a specific tension and the guest may only participate for the processing of that specific tension.
Feedback and evaluation
If you have any tensions about how things are working in XRWA that could be resolved by changes to the Self-Organising System, please add them to this tension log so they can be processed by the relevant roles.
Feedback about anything in here or about how this Self-Organising System is working in XRWA, or any questions about how to apply this to your situation, then please email the XRWA Self-Organising System team at email@example.com
This policy creates a boundary for membership around working groups, with particular reference to the Ways of Working.
- Defining the purpose & strategy of XRWA, or defining the processes by which these are decided.
- Defining mandates of all roles/teams/circles in the XRWA Anchor Circle and policies.
- Deciding on the use of resources between roles/teams/circles in the XRWA Anchor Circle where not decided elsewhere.
A Manifesto for Self-Organisation
These are notes from Homo Deusby Yuval Noah Harari (the sequel to Sapiens), which have informed the development of this constitution and may be relevant to other social change movements. He says that the main factor that makes Homo Sapiens the most powerful species on the planet is our capacity for large-scale, flexible cooperation, which other species apparently don’t have. We behave and cooperate differently at different levels of scale:
- At smaller scales:
- People havedirect relationships with each other and so how people organise, structure the social hierarchy and cooperate is mediated through these relationships.
- Group sizes of around 150 people is the upper limit of a human’s ability for intimate, direct relationships with others.
- Research shows that a moral sense of equality is important in these relationships, even in chimps.
- And at larger levels of scale:
- Beyond around 150, something beyond direct relationships has to be the foundation of how people organise, structure themselves and cooperate
- One of the key influencing factors about how people organise at these larger levels of scale is shared beliefs in an imagined order – the shared stories/myths/assumptions we hold about ‘how things work in the world and how we organise to get stuff done together’.
- Large groups of people have been ruled by small elite groups because the elite groups have been able to organise themselves well enough so that they can rule and dominate the larger groups, which haven’t been able to organise themselves at the larger scale.
- Small groups who can organise have stepped into the power vacuums left after revolutions to replace the ousted elite with another small dominating group.
- If people can develop the capacity for self-organisation at larger scales, this is the thing that could shift the power dynamic and overturn the dominating rule of elites.
- Self-organisation at levels of scale beyond group sizes of 150 needs to have some kind of system to create order and the conditions where people can self-organise and work together towards shared purposes.