[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 reflects his personal views of recent events.]
Dear friends and colleagues,
Some people may not have tracked agreements that were made in relation to CNVC’s evolution. To support clarity, this message summarises many of those agreements. It also notes what has happened in relation to those agreements.
COMMITMENTS MADE BY THE CNVC BOARD
In April 2014, the CNVC Board ratified and announced the Process for a New Future, which included the following commitments:
- Hand over of decision-making power to others: “It is implicit in this process that the CNVC Board is handing over power to others to make decisions that are likely to profoundly impact CNVC… [O]nce the Integration Council ratifies an integrated plan for moving forward, the CNVC Board is committed to supporting that plan.” “The… Board and staff of CNVC will not retain a veto.“ [Footnote 1]
- Process in event of a problem: “The CNVC Board is committed to the formal decisions needed to implement the developed strategy, where it does not imply CNVC or any of its board members breaching the law. If we [the Board] suspect this is the case we will return the decision to the relevant Working Group for resolution.”
- Replacement of Board: “If the integrated plan has CNVC continuing as an organization requiring a board, the plan should specify how members of the CNVC Board are to be selected. The existing CNVC Board will be replaced using the mechanism specified by the integrated plan.”
- Working with Implementation Council to support implementation: “Prior to the replacement (or dissolution) of the existing CNVC Board in accordance with the integrated plan, the existing CNVC Board will continue to govern the ongoing operations of CNVC… and.. will work with the Implementation Council to address implementing those aspects of the plan that involve the current CNVC legal entity.”
In ratifying the New Future Process, the CNVC Board deliberately limited the future powers of the Board, and established new procedures for decision-making, Board selection, and addressing of concerns. These changes were intended to prohibit a repetition of an historical pattern (in 2003, 2005 and 2009) in which prior CNVC Boards, without dialoguing about the issues with those affected, had unilaterally discarded prior change efforts.
- In June 2014, Katherine Singer was invited to become a member of the CNVC Board. As a precondition of this appointment, Katherine agreed to fully support the commitments the Board had made regarding the New Future Process. It was also subsequently agreed that any Board members appointed later would also be asked to make a similar commitment.
- In January 2015, the CNVC Board made an agreement: if the Board ever considered making a significant change to the New Future Process, then the Board would bring Dominic Barter back as a Board member for purposes of participating in the Board’s discussion and decision-making regarding those possible changes.
FURTHER CNVC AGREEMENTS
In January 2017, CNVC’s New Future Integration Council ratified an integrated plan, called the New Future Plan. This included a CNVC transition plan, developed collaboratively by members of the CNVC Board, Staff, and Integration Council, and agreed to by consensus. The New Future Plan, including the CNVC transition plan, is what the New Future Process design committed the Board to honoring and helping to implement.
The CNVC transition plan included the following agreements:
- CNVC bylaws will be amended to end Board self-selection. [Footnote 2]
- A new CNVC Board will be selected: The Board will consist of 5 members, with 3 members selected by the Implementation Council, 1 member selected by the existing CNVC Board, and 1 member selected by the CNVC Staff. [Footnote 3]
- Meetings to support collaborative decision-making: “Starting when the Implementation Council begins its work (currently planned for February 1, 2017), there will be a bi-weekly meeting between Implementation Council and CNVC, made up of one Implementation Council member, one staff member, and one existing board member. a. Purpose: to collaborate on financial and other decisions that go beyond daily operations.”
- Financial transparency: “During the transition, CNVC will make financial projections available on a website or equivalent for all to see on a quarterly basis.”
- Shared budget: CNVC operations and New Future implementation will share a collectively owned budget. [Footnote 4]
- Trainers will be allowed to dedicate their contributions to New Future Plan implementation. [Footnote 5]
- CNVC will receive donations to support New Future Plan implementation. [Footnote 6]
- Financial support of New Future Plan implementation will be prioritised within CNVC. [Footnote 7]
The CNVC New Future Implementation Council began its work to implement the New Future Plan in February 2017. [Footnote 8] The plan called for CNVC to take the steps described above.
CNVC BOARD ACTION AND INACTION
I believe that only one of the fourteen agreements listed above was honored by the current CNVC Board, and that agreement (#14) was honored only temporarily. [Footnote 9]
In what follows, I try to offer high-level observations to ground this assessment, without offering an unmanageable level of detail.
I feel worried that some may see offering this information as an “attack” on the Board. I do not intend it as an attack. I believe Board members were doing the best they could, given what information they had and what they believed. And, I believe it is valuable to try to reach a shared understanding of what has happened, if we are to decide how to move forward most constructively.
I am not aware of evidence that the Board took action to address any of the agreements #1-13.
In many cases I do not have first-hand knowledge. Yet, the second-hand reports I have heard suggest to me that Board members made active choices that I interpret as inconsistent with agreements. I have been told by Implementation Council members that:
Individual Board members:
- expressed disinterest in changing the bylaws (agreements #4 & 7),
- opposed meetings happening with Board, Staff and Implementation Council representatives (agreements #4 & 9) [Footnote 10], and
- discouraged the staff from sharing financial information with the Implementation Council (agreement #10).
And, the Board as a whole:
- declined to appoint Board members who had been selected by the Implementation Council (agreements #3 & 8),
- did not include Dominic Barter as a Board member in making decisions to change CNVC’s relationship to the New Future Process (agreement #6),
- insisted that the Implementation Council, on its own, produce a separate self-contained budget rather than collaboratively producing a shared budget (agreements #9 & 11), and
- said “no” to requests that CNVC receive donations to support New Future Plan implementation (agreement #13) [Footnote 11].
I imagine it was likely not a conscious choice that the Board:
- did not offer trainers an option of dedicating their trainer contributions to support New Future Plan implementation (agreement #12).
Other choices inconsistent with agreements are described in the next section.
The Board temporarily honored the agreement to prioritise funding of New Future Plan implementation (agreement #14). CNVC provided financial support for work to implement the New Future Plan from the Spring of 2017 until the Board cancelled that funding, as announced in an April 25, 2018 letter from the Board to the Implementation Council. [Footnote 12]
Although the Board’s April 25, 2018 letter did not say so explicitly, the letter apparently signaled an intention of the Board to disregard all agreements that had been made in relation to the New Future Process. The letter invited the Implementation Council to implement the New Future Plan “independently and financially separate from CNVC.”
Subsequently, in email exchanged between the Board and the Implementation Council, the Board has indicated that its decision is “final.” The Board has not expressed openness to engage in discussion or group-level conflict resolution. [Footnote 13]
NATURE OF THE AGREEMENTS
I understand the agreements listed above to function at two levels, an interpersonal contracts level and an organisational level.
At an interpersonal level, many of these agreements have functioned as aspects of a contract. In 2014, the CNVC Board essentially said to members of the NVC network: “Please help us to improve CNVC. We are creating a new decision-making structure in which you, not the Board, will make certain key decisions on behalf of CNVC. In return for your choice to invest in helping CNVC, we promise that CNVC will honor your decisions.” People asked the Board in 2015, 2016 and 2017 if they were still committed to that promise. Each time the question was asked, the Board said “yes.” On the basis of that promise, members of the NVC network, who had been specifically authorised to do so by the Board, invested well over 6000 hours of their labor, in hundreds of meetings, to work on designing and implementing improvements to CNVC.
At an organisational level, these agreements include agreements about governance (#1-9), and agreements about financial management (#10-14).
The first nine agreements relate to the governance of CNVC. They are part of a framework for saying how certain important decisions are to be made, who is to make them, and how the decision-making structure is to be evolved.
Authority within an organisation is the result of agreements. Decisions in an organisation have authority and legitimacy if and only if they are made in keeping with agreements about how decisions are to be made, by those agreed to have authority to make those decisions.
Because of this, I understand each of the 14 agreements listed above as having authority. This is because the agreements were each developed in a way that was consistent with prior agreements about decision-making.
Some recent major decisions of the Board have been made in ways that were not consistent with prior agreements about decision-making in CNVC. In particular:
- The decisions to add Raj Gil and Ronnie Hausheer to the Board were, I believe, inconsistent with the agreements about how the next Board would be selected (agreements #3, 7 & 8). These decisions were also inconsistent with the agreement that new Board members would be appointed only if they were committed to honoring the commitments of the New Future Process (agreement #5).
- The apparent decision to allow New Future Plan implementation to happen only “independently and financially separate from CNVC” was, I believe, not consistent with any of the agreements listed above. This choice was particularly inconsistent with the agreement that the Board would not have authority to override decisions of the process (agreement #1) — which was the central commitment that led people to invest years of their lives in contributing to CNVC’s evolution. The way the decision happened was also not consistent with the procedures the Board had agreed to follow if it had any concerns that they wanted to have be addressed (agreements #2 & 6).
These decisions were made in ways that I understand as inconsistent with CNVC’s organisational agreements about how decision-making in CNVC is to function.
I assess these decisions (and consequently the current Board membership and decision-making processes) as being not legitimate.
BOARD CONCERNS ABOUT IMPLEMENTATION COUNCIL AND AGREEMENTS
The April 25, 2018 letter from the Board seemed to indicate that disappointment in a perceived lack of progress by the Implementation Council was a primary reason for the Board’s actions. (“To date the CNVC Board experiences the emptiness that comes from the absence of shared tangible, realistic, practical and pragmatic results.”) Apparently the Board based their expectations on an informal (non-binding) announcement letter from the Integration Council, rather than on the Tentative Implementation Schedule contained in the New Future Plan itself.
There are things that the plan called for the Implementation Council to do, that it did not do in the time frame that the plan recommended. (For example, the Council did not initiate a “fundraising weave” in the first 11 months of work, which the transition plan asked it to do.) I agree with the Board, to a degree, that implementation started off more slowly than expected. However, I disagree with the Board’s diagnosis of how significant the “problem” was, or to what extent it was valid for the Board to interpret this as a predictor of failure. I believe that the situation would have benefitted from transparent dialog about any concerns among those with different information and perspectives. No such dialog occurred (from the perspective of any New Future Process supporters who I have spoken to).
As far as I know, the Board has not offered any public explanation as to why it has chosen not to honor the agreements I have listed. However, I can imagine that some people may have a story that “the Implementation Council didn’t honor some agreements, so it is okay for the Board to not honor agreements.” Even if it were that case that the Implementation Council failed to honor important agreements (which is not something that I agree has been established by any fair consideration of the facts), I would disagree with the logic of such an argument.
As I understand it, the 14 agreements listed above were not simply agreements between the Board and the Implementation Council. The agreements were both:
- Contractual agreements between CNVC and the many people (not just Implementation Council members) who volunteered their labor to contribute to CNVC within the context of the New Future Process; and
- Governance agreements, within CNVC, about how CNVC has agreed to make decisions, and evolve its leadership.
I would want everyone, Implementation Council, Board and Staff alike, to attend to these agreements, as a way of serving life.
I am concerned about what is happening in CNVC because I value:
- Integrity, in regard to organizational governance, and caring for contracts and agreements.
- Integrity, in living NVC within our organisation: Using power-with rather than power-over. And transforming our own conflicts using the tools of conflict transformation that we teach and CNVC promotes.
- Care for human beings who contribute their life energy to the organisation.
- Making decisions in ways that are informed by collective intelligence of the people impacted, rather than relying on the sometimes-mistaken assumptions that arise when dialog is absent.
- Having an organization that inspires me as much as the practice that it promotes.
- As you think about this situation, please hold everyone involved, Board members and those affected, with tenderness and care.
- I invite you to join me in supporting a life-serving outcome in emerging in regard to this situation. Please consider filling out this volunteer survey.
I don’t want the survey to be the only strategy for something happening. I also don’t want it to lead to the impression that “I don’t need to do anything because someone else is doing something.”
- I invite you to consider the possibility that there is something that you could take the initiative to do to move this situation forward.
I have enjoyed receiving private communications about these topics, for the sense of support and companionship they have provided. At the same time, it feels lonely and vulnerable to be the only voice speaking publicly about these issues.
- I invite you to express publicly to this list what comes up for you in relation to “all this,” if you can imagine that it might contribute caringly to the aliveness of the public process — the process of engaging with the situation we are collectively in, and moving towards making life more wonderful.
 The phrase about the Board and staff not retaining a veto is from the CNVC Board’s cover letter announcing the Process for a New Future.
 Text from CNVC transition plan: “The CNVC Board and the Implementation Council will amend the bylaws to reflect this new way of functioning… Board and Implementation Council or their delegates collaborate on all matters relevant to the transition including in particular on developing new CNVC bylaws for stage 2, which include the element that members = Transitional Partners.” “The… intention is for CNVC to operate as a membership organization, with all Partners automatically being members of CNVC, with the ultimate power in the legal entity being in the hands of Partners.” The existing CNVC bylaws specify that, if there are any “members of CNVC,” then it is they who elect the Board. So, these changes would end the practice of the Board selecting its own members without accountability to anyone outside the Board. (Principles for amended CNVC bylaws were agreed on between Board member Jan Carel van Dorp and Integration Council member Bob Wentworth in January 2017, and were reviewed by a lawyer.)
 Text from plan: “CNVC Governance Weave (to fulfill the legal requirement of a board): The CNVC Governance Weave (board) will have 5 members. The membership will include: (i) One representative selected by and from the current CNVC board; (ii) One representative selected by the CNVC Staff; (iii) Three representatives selected by… the Transitional Partners [i.e., Implementation Council members].” “The CNVC Governance Weave [i.e., new Board] will begin operating within 9 months or as soon as the Implementation Council is ready.”
 Text from plan: “Decisions about allocation of resources from the common pool are collectively owned by all the weaves that exist during the transition. For example, initially, the emerging transitional configuration of CNVC and the Implementation Council share a budget because they are both entities that relate to the common pool.”
 Text from plan: “When inviting trainer contributions, trainers may assign their contributions to one of the following categories: (i) [New Future Plan implementation]; (ii)…existing CNVC operations…; (iii) Open – For either of the above.”
 Text from plan: “Regarding donations… CNVC will act as a fiscal sponsor of [New Future Plan implementation]…”
 Text from plan: “Finances: Overall principle: To operate CNVC with as much excess revenue as possible available to [support New Future Plan implementation]… Once the Implementation Council is operating, there is an overarching priority given to the NEW (i.e., the initiatives whose implementation is being overseen by the Implementation Council).”
 There were initially five members on the Implementation Council — Elkie Deadman, Roxy Manning, Elin Searfoss, Aimee Manning, Jeyanthy Siva. (Their address firstname.lastname@example.org is likely still active. But, given changes at CNVC, I am not certain.) They were selected by the Integration Council using a Sociocratic election process. Integration Council members were elected by Working Group members, who were approved by the CNVC Board. Since the Implementation Council began, Elin Searfoss and Roxy Manning have each left the Council for personal reasons.
 My understanding is that the members of the CNVC Board (email@example.com) currently (February 2019) include Katherine Singer, Jan Carel van Dorp, Raj Gil, and Ronnie Hausheer. Ronnie’s appointment to the Board was announced in September 2018, after most of the described events occurred. Cate Crombie was on the Board until the summer of 2018.
 One Board member (Cate Crombie) took steps consistent with agreement #9, that meetings of representatives of the Board, staff, and Implementation Council would occur to support collaborative decision making. For a few months in the fall of 2017, Cate participated in a series of meetings with Danielle Beenders (staff) and Elkie Deadman and Jeyanthy Siva (Implementation Council). However, this was apparently not an action that the Board as a group took or supported. I have been told (by those involved in these meetings) that other Board members expressed opposition to these meetings happening, and that this opposition eventually led to the meetings being discontinued.
 As I understand it, Board members at one point did not want CNVC to receive donations to support New Future Plan implementation, then grew receptive to the idea, then said “no” on the basis of warnings from a consultant that receiving such donations could endanger CNVC’s nonprofit legal status. The consultant’s reported advice was not consistent with my understanding of nonprofit law, nor that of others with whom I have spoken. I infer that the consultant must have been given information about the planned use of the donations that did not match my understanding of the planned use. So, I believe there was a misunderstanding involved. I understand that the Board declined to discuss the matter any further with the Implementation Council.
 The Board’s April 25, 2018 letter cancelled funding of New Future Plan implementation retroactively. The Board said they would not pay for work done after December 2017. The Implementation Council said that those being paid to work (2 Implementation Council members, and 2 support staff) had worked in good faith without having been informed that they would not be paid. The Board initially rejected a request that people be paid for this work. However, after concerns were expressed by trainers, in August 2018 the Board paid for work that had been done through June 2018.
 There were two in-person mediation sessions at an individual level, between Board member Jan Carel van Dorp and Implementation Council members Elkie Deadman and Jeyanthy Siva. I believe that when groups are experiencing high levels of disconnection, individual level processes are no substitute for group level processes. I understand from the Implementation Council members that their main hope was that the individual-level sessions could lead to an agreement for the two groups to engage in group-level dialog and conflict resolution. But, this did not happen. Progress that seemed to be made in the individual sessions apparently did not lead to improved connection at an inter-group level.
As I understand it, the Board has not chosen to participate in group-level dialog with the Implementation Council (or other NFP supporters) to openly discuss concerns, seek mutual understanding, or identify strategies that could work for everyone. This did not happen before or after the Board’s decision that was announced in its April 25, 2018 letter. I understand that, since then, the Board has said “no” to all requests for dialog from the Implementation Council. The Board proposed a meeting to “celebrate and mourn,” but apparently insisted that there be no dialog related to the Board possibly re-considering its decisions.