[The following Op-Ed letter is from Bob Wentworth, who has had a close-up view of CNVC’s organisational change efforts since 2012, having served as a CNVC Board member and co-architect of Process for a New Future, a facilitator of much of the process, and a volunteer supporting the Implementation Phase. This letter was offered in relation to an invitation from CNVC’s new Executive Director to hear from certified trainers. This post reflects his personal views.]
I appreciate CNVC’s new Executive Director, Maria Arpa, asking what “issue you would like CNVC to support you in addressing.” I am not going to try to provide my answer to that question in this email. Instead, I want to consider a deeper question, whose answer might inform what it might be most helpful to have CNVC try to address.
The question I am considering is:
What are the core issues that ultimately most limit the ability of CNVC to powerfully contribute to making life wonderful?
My current thinking is that there are at least two core issues that limit CNVC’s potential. I see an absence of:
- Capacity for making organizational decisions
- Mechanisms to support the emergence of wisdom, justice and care
CAPACITY FOR DECISION MAKING
In the way that CNVC has historically been organized, the CNVC Board holds ultimate decision-making authority. It controls the allocation of resources, and has the authority to set policy. Limited decision-making authority has been distributed to others, such as an Executive Director (ED), the IIT Resources Team (IIT-RT), and the Certification Coordination Council (CCC). However, each of these typically understands its authority to be limited to a narrow set of decisions that they can make.
This means that any organizational decisions that are outside the scope of what CNVC already routinely does end up being directed to the Board. However, the Board has always consisted of a handful of volunteers with finite time, attention, and expertise to bring to their roles. The challenges of operating CNVC on a day-to-day basis have generally taken up most of the Board’s attention. Board members have historically usually been severely overwhelmed, with far more issues calling for their attention than what they can attend to. Even when the Board takes on an issue, they typically have very little time to give to it. When issues have any complexity to them, the Board’s decision-making has often been profoundly unsatisfying to observers. Usually, complex issues are not dealt with at all. And, when issues are dealt with, I believe the decisions made seldom reflect the collective wisdom of the community, nor do they typically address the full range of needs in the community.
This decision-making log-jam may be slightly helped by the presence of a part-time Executive Director (ED). However, like Board members, an ED is likely to be routinely overwhelmed, with most of their attention taken up by the day-to-day management of CNVC, with limited capacity for attending to anything else. Moreover, the Board is likely to continue to reserve to itself the power to make or veto any significant decisions, given their understandable-but-deeply-problematic story that “we’re responsible, so we have to oversee things.” And, given the Board’s chronic overwhelm and the Board’s lack of capacity for digesting complexity, the ED’s ability to make significant decisions is likely to be limited. I will be pleasantly surprised if even a very talented ED can support CNVC to address more than a microscopic fraction of the issues that concern CNVC’s stakeholders.
This is not about flaws in individual human beings. The structure is one that fundamentally provides no avenue for complex issues to be addressed at an organizational level — and even less avenue for addressing issues via high-quality decisions that reflect the wisdom and needs of the community.
MECHANISMS TO SUPPORT WISDOM, JUSTICE AND CARE
I think “justice” can be defined as a process in which the community supports what happens being more in alignment with its collective values than what would happen otherwise. I believe that CNVC and the NVC community have very inadequate mechanisms for justice. The result is that when life-alienating decisions are made, or harm is done, there is generally little recourse.
In the world in general, some models for “justice” include:
- Anarchy – People make individual choices, without any collective structures to support alignment with particular values.
- Autocratic Rule – An individual or group has supreme authority makes decisions that may profoundly affect others, without accountability to anyone else.
- Rule of Law, with accountability and due process for all – Agreements shape what happens, and all are subject to these agreements.
- Restorative Justice – When there is disconnection or disagreement, connection and collective wisdom shape what happens.
Historically, I believe CNVC has operated via a combination of Anarchy and Autocratic Rule. For trainers, there have been few agreements, and few mechanisms for coming into mutual alignment when disputes arise. Within the organizational core of CNVC, the Board has had ultimate say over what happens, with no mechanisms of accountability to anyone else.
There are good reasons why Autocratic Rule went out of favor in the realm of government. Kings and dictators have seldom reliably cared for others’ interests. Even when people in charge have the most wonderful intentions, the existence of autocratic power is fundamentally problematic. A small group has more blind spots than a group which takes into account more voices. So, decisions by a small group without accountability to others often have serious flaws not apparent to those making the decisions. And, abundant research shows that having even a small amount of power tends to reduce compassion and empathy. (Try Googling “power reduces empathy”.) Even with the best of intentions, autocratic decisions often do not reflect full understanding of and care for others.
In the realm of governments, many wars were fought to put an end to Autocratic Rule. This has happened less in the realm of organizations. However, even in organizations, autocratic rule remains problematic; it often does not lead to satisfying care for the needs of those outside the leadership. I would argue that autocratic leadership is a fundamentally flawed structural design.
In the realm of governments, I think most people consider the Rule of Law, with accountability and due process for all, to be a vast improvement. People feel safer to live and to get things done. Yet, conventional legal systems also have deep flaws. That’s why so many in the NVC community, including Marshall, have advocated for Restorative Justice — justice that is rooted in dialog and collective responsibility for addressing conflicts and figuring out what to do.
EXAMPLES OF NEED FOR WISDOM, JUSTICE AND CARE
In the absence of an effective system to support wisdom, justice and care, situations arise in which needs are sometimes profoundly unmet and there is little balance in whose needs get cared for — yet, there is no effective recourse for those whose needs are unmet. Examples of this include:
- Trainer conduct leading to harm to workshop participants – Recent discussions on the trainers list have raised serious concerns about the lack of any systemic approach to addressing negative trainer impacts, particularly in relation to sex between trainers and participants.
- Treatment of certification candidates and those who would like to become certification candidates – At a 9-day intensive in France this year, an opportunity was offered to talk about the impacts of power differences. Over multiple days, trainer candidates and those who experienced barriers to becoming candidates shared story after story of extreme pain about experiences with Certified Trainers and Assessors. While the certification system is different in the French-speaking world, I have also heard stories from non-French-speakers about intensely painful experiences regarding certification. They have reported experiencing a lack of any satisfying mechanisms for having their concerns be addressed.
- Treatment of those who invest in supporting constructive change within CNVC – Every major change effort in CNVC in the last 20 years has led to the painful disenfranchisement of those who worked to support change. There has been no recourse available.
INTERACTION BETWEEN DECISION-MAKING AND JUSTICE
In the absence of trustworthy mechanisms for justice, it is perhaps understandable that we settle for an organization with little capacity to make many decisions. Sometimes, no decision is better than a bad decision. Without mechanisms for justice, there is little protection against decisions happening that result in needs being deeply unmet.
If CNVC is to more powerfully contribute to making life wonderful, it needs to have the capacity to make significant organizational decisions. Along with this, I see it as essential that there be mechanisms to support accountability and bringing decisions into alignment with collective wisdom and care for all.
RELATION TO NEW FUTURE
On paper, CNVC has already transitioned to a model combining increased decision-making capacity, the Rule of Law and Restorative Justice.
In 2014, the CNVC Board (which I was then a member of) enacted the Process for a New Future. I understand this document as having changed the decision-making structure of CNVC. To address the inherent limitations of the Board, decision making was split. The Board would continue to make operational decisions to manage CNVC. A set of decisions about strategic changes to CNVC would be made by Working Groups, made cohesive by an Integration Council, and then have their implementation be managed by an Implementation Council. The Board would not oversee, approve, or have the power to veto any of this, after approving the initial appointments of Working Group members. If the Board had serious concerns, they would submit their concerns to the decision-makers within the process. If issues concerning the process arose, the Board also agreed to bring Dominic Barter back to the Board to participate in deciding what to do.
I believe this constituted a Board-ratified shift in CNVC’s governance away from Autocratic Rule towards non-hierarchical decision-making and Rule of Law, with an intention that disputes would be addressed restoratively.
In 2017, the process led to the ratification of the New Future Plan. The New Future Plan defined the new decision-making structure of CNVC. It established a model in which there would be many fully empowered decision-makers, with all decision-making being subject to restorative conflict transformation processes in the event of significant disagreements. It defined how a new CNVC Board would be selected, and specified steps the CNVC Board would take to support implementation.
I understand the New Future Plan to have established CNVC as an organization with an organizational design offering vastly increased decision-making capacity, with a system for “justice” involving a combination of the Rule of Law and Restorative Justice. I further understand the New Future Plan to be the current “law of the land” in terms of how CNVC has agreed to make decisions and conduct its affairs.
In practice, CNVC seems to have returned to Autocratic Rule, without regard for agreements to do otherwise.
My understanding is that the CNVC Board saw what they interpreted as evidence that the Implementation Council could not be successful in implementing the New Future Plan. (I believe that a culture gap and multiple tragic misunderstandings were factors in the Board arriving at their conclusion.)
The Board apparently gave up on the Implementation Council around 6 months before the Board’s actions brought further progress to a stop. In that interval, many critical implementation tasks were completed. Because of this extensive ground work, I believe it would be possible to complete implementation of the decision-making and “justice” portions of the New Future Plan within around 6 months after implementation was resumed, if the Board consented to do its previously-agreed part.
So, doing what CNVC has already agreed to do would be one way of addressing the core concerns I have raised.
Whether or not that happens, I believe that addressing the issues of decision-making capacity and mechanisms to support the emergence of wisdom, justice and care are critical to CNVC’s future.
My request is that you consider the core issues that I have identified as you think about what you would like to ask Maria Arpa (CNVC’s new ED) to prioritize.
I welcome hearing about any way that this message contributed to you.