[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 post reflects his personal views in relation to events in CNVC.]
[There is also a one-page version of this message, at the bottom of this page.]
Given recent questions on the CNVC trainers list about what if any accountability the CNVC Board owes to others, I would like to offer a way of thinking about this that goes beyond superficial legalities. I think it is important to consider:
Who are the “owners” of CNVC?
I don’t mean “owners” in a legal sense, but more in a “moral” sense: on whose behalf does the organization exist? A roughly equivalent question is:
Whose needs and opinions matter in CNVC?
According to its bylaws, CNVC has always technically been a membership organization, in which CNVC’s Members elect the Board of Directors.. However, in practice, no CNVC Board has ever designated any Members. Consequently, the CNVC Board of Directors has always selected its own directors..
These bylaws suggest that the possibility of CNVC someday being “owned” by a larger group has been there from CNVC’s first days.
During the decades when Marshall was alive and active in CNVC, I believe that CNVC effectively functioned as if Marshall was the “moral owner.” His needs and opinions mattered more than anyone else’s.
Sometimes words were said about serving a larger community. Yet, I have the impression that what CNVC did in practice tended to accommodate what Marshall wanted and only infrequently responded to what those in the larger NVC community would have liked.
I was on the first CNVC Board of Directors after Marshall’s departure. Given Marshall’s departure, CNVC could not continue as it had been, with Marshall at its center. It was natural for CNVC transition to serving the NVC network, in a way that it had never fully done before.
In enacting the Process for a New Future in 2014, the CNVC Board formalized this change, making the NVC network the “moral owners” of CNVC.
In particular, ultimate decision-making power concerning CNVC was given to those members of the NVC network willing to “do the work” of deliberating about the network’s needs and considering feedback from the wider network.
In 2017, the initial set of decision-makers ratified a new governance structure for CNVC, as specified in the New Future Plan. That plan continues the understanding that CNVC is “owned” by the NVC network, with decisions being made by Partners, i.e., those from the network who are willing to invest in understanding how the organization functions, aligning with its values, and actively working on its behalf. This design was consistent with advice from organizational development experts who advised that organizations are likely to be more effective if the people doing the work are the ones who make the decisions.
The Partners would be the Members of CNVC, and so would elect the CNVC Board of Directors. The Board is accountable to the Partners who are in turn accountable to the NVC network.
Accountability of the organization to the NVC network is offered by (1) the opportunity of anyone in the network to become a decision-maker (i.e., a Partner), if they have the basic skills (such as ability to “care for the whole” and participate in conflict transformation); and (2) a core organizational commitment to conflict transformation processes shaping what happens when there are significant disagreements.
The current CNVC Board appears to me to have functioned as if ultimately only the opinions of Board members matter. The Board has offered the NVC network few details of what it is doing or what is happening in CNVC, and has been almost entirely unresponsive to questions, concerns, and intense objections expressed by those in the network. More detailed observations to support this assessment are given in an appendix below.
To me, this behavior has not been consistent with honoring the NVC network as the moral owners of CNVC. It seems more consistent with the view that the CNVC Board is the “moral owner” of CNVC.
MODEL OF RESPONSIBILITY
I have heard Board members say things like “we are responsible for CNVC” as a way of explaining their actions. I think this points to different assumptions about what it means to be “responsible.”
Consider two different models of “leadership”:
- Autocrat-Leader – This type of leader makes decisions for an organization, from a perspective of “It’s ultimately my choice” and “I know best” what is right for the organization. The only responsibility is the responsibility to follow one’s personal judgment. There is no accountability to anyone else. This model tends towards “power-over” decision-making; people may be significantly impacted by a decision without having any say in those decisions.
- Servant-Leader – This type of leader makes decisions in service to others, the “moral owners” of the organization. It is ultimately the needs and wishes of the moral owners that matter. The Servant-Leader is accountable to the moral owners. The Servant-Leader is responsible both for doing their best to care for the organization and for being accountable to the moral owners. The moral owners have a right to information about the organization and the leader’s actions and have ultimate decision-making power. The moral owners can select new leaders and/or override their decisions. This model offers protections against “power-over” decision-making and can encourage “power-with” decision-making. People have a say in decisions that affect them.
It seems to me that the current Board is operating within an Autocrat-Leader model of what it means to be “responsible” for CNVC. The New Future Process had committed CNVC to a Servant-Leader model of what it means to be “responsible.”
A Board being “responsible” does not necessarily lead to the way of operating that the CNVC Board has adopted. It is a particular model of “responsibility” that has this result.
Following the Autocrat-Leader model might not have been a conscious choice by Board members. Perhaps they fell into that model by default, without imagining the possibility of following a different model? I fully trust that the Board has done its best to be “responsible” as they understood that term. I wish it had chosen the Servant-Leader model of what it means to be “responsible.”
Following the Servant-Leader model was an essential aspect of the New Future Process. That CNVC had committed itself to the Servant-Leader model was my understanding as one of the Board members who committed CNVC to the process. I regret that apparently this understanding was not successfully transmitted to those who subsequently took on the role of being Board members.
Given the Board’s apparent adherence to the Autocrat-Leader model, there are no mechanisms for the Board to be accountable to anyone else. In the absence of such accountability, I believe the Board has effectively privatized CNVC, as if CNVC were the Board’s property. I don’t think that was the Board’s intention, but I think has been the practical effect of the Board’s choices.
CHANGE IN OWNERSHIP
In April 2018, the CNVC Board published a letter that effectively rejected the Implementation Council’s role as decision-makers within CNVC, and rejected the New Future Process and Plan as governing documents of CNVC. In coming to this decision, they did not consult CNVC’s “moral owners” in the NVC network.
Although it is unlikely that the Board thought of it this way, the Board’s actions had the effect of a “coup.” By a “coup” I mean “a change in governance by means outside the agreed rules of governance.”
The Board did not follow the active agreements about how decisions were to be made within CNVC. Nor did they honor the implied agreement that those in the NVC network were now CNVC’s moral owners. (Whether or not what the Board did was technically illegal is a topic that could be debated. However, from my perspective, the agreements in question were not made into formal legal documents only because we never imagined that the Board would ignore them to a point where legal enforcement might be needed. At a “moral” level, I believe what happened was thoroughly inconsistent with our collective agreements.)
I believe that like any group that has ever enacted a “coup”, the Board did what they did because they believed it was “necessary”, and that the system that they were displacing posed a “grave threat.”
This interpretation stirs some tenderness in me for the difficult position the Board saw itself in. I certainly sympathize with the importance of attending to a “grave threat.”
At the same time:
- Nearly everything the Board has written about the New Future Plan shows evidence of profound misunderstandings about what was planned. I think the Board might have been right about “grave threat” if what had been planned had matched the Board’s beliefs — but it didn’t. How implementation was intended to happen had an extremely different risk profile (involving far less risk) than what the Board seemed to believe. However, I am guessing that the Board was so extraordinarily alarmed by what they believed was happening that perhaps this explains why they have not been open to any conversations that could shed light on their misunderstandings.
- The coup seemed to be a coup not only against the representatives of the NVC network (in the form of the Implementation Council members) and against the community-developed New Future Plan, but also a coup against the premise of the NVC network as CNVC’s moral owners.
I think the Board was tragically misinterpreting the dangers of what was happening. Yet, even if there had been danger, I so wish that the Board had found ways to continue to honor the NVC network as the moral owners of CNVC.
If they saw an “emergency”, I wish they had asked the moral owners what they wanted to do about it.
It is not too late for that to happen. Even now, we could allow a community-led process to decide what happens next. We might, for example, convene a randomly selected “Wisdom Council” and empower them to decide what to do about CNVC’s governance, based on their investigations and dialogs with stakeholders.
I feel grateful that the Board hired an Executive Director who is asking trainers for input about CNVC’s priorities. However, I worry that the premise will be that it is ultimately entirely up to the Board to decide how and if CNVC will respond to that input, in a continuation of the Autocrat-Leader model.
It seems to me to be critical to establish “Who is the moral owner of CNVC?”
Once this is established, it seems to me to be equally important to ask, “What model of leadership and responsibility are we going to follow?” and “How can we systematically ensure that the leadership of CNVC is accountable to the moral owners?”
Ultimately, for the moral ownership of the NVC network to be re-established, I believe either:
- the NVC network must be given the power to select CNVC Board members, or
- there must be another major change in the governance structure of CNVC (e.g., in accordance with the structure agreed to in the New Future Plan).
I trust that CNVC Board members are doing their best to serve the community. I hope they will support the Board as an institution becoming accountable to the community. I hope that the community will insist on this, and support Board members in being able to embrace such a change.
* * *
If this message has contributed to you in some way, I would appreciate hearing about it.
APPENDIX: BOARD NON-INTERACTION WITH THE NVC NETWORK
There are a variety of choices which the CNVC Board has made (from 2015 to the present) which suggest that the Board does not regard itself as accountable to the NVC network:
- The Board ceased publishing minutes of its meetings in 2015. Nor have any meetings been open to observers.
- The Board, as a body, has typically not responded to questions and concerns from the NVC network or trainer community. Occasionally an individual director will unofficially respond, but even this is rare.
- CNVC offered no financial transparency to the NVC network or those in the New Future Process in the years before 2019. (This was despite quarterly financial transparency being one of the agreements in the New Future Transition Plan which had been co-authored by representatives of the Board.)
- The Board has continued reserved to itself the power to select Board members. (This was despite agreements in both the Process for a New Future and the New Future Plan that Board members are to be selected by a new, different process, not controlled by the Board.)
- In April 2018, the Board wrote a letter directing that the New Future Implementation Council implement the New Future Plan “separate from CNVC.” (This was despite an agreement in the Process for a New Future that any concerns about the process would be addressed to those working within the process to address, and despite an agreement that Dominic Barter would be included as a voting Board member in making any decisions that impacted the New Future Process.)
- The Board has not responded to intense objections and concerns about the validity, wisdom, and impact of the Board’s actions concerning the New Future Process.
Here is a ONE-PAGE VERSION of my above message:
In thinking about the future of CNVC, I think it is important to ask: Who are the “moral owners” of CNVC? In other words, whose needs and opinions does CNVC exist to care for?
As I see it:
- Originally, Marshall was the “moral owner”
- Marshall’s departure and passing lead to the NVC network becoming the natural “moral owners” of CNVC. This ownership by the network was formalized when the CNVC Board ratified the New Future Process.
- Recent Board conduct has had the effect (if not the intention) of privatizing CNVC, treating CNVC as if it were the Board’s property.
I think this has happened because the idea that “the Board is responsible” was apparently interpreted in the context of a particular leadership model:
- Autocrat-Leader – This type of leader makes decisions for an organization, from a perspective of “It’s ultimately my choice” and “I know best” what is right for the organization. The only responsibility is the responsibility to follow one’s personal judgment. There is no accountability to anyone else.
- Servant-Leader – This type of leader makes decisions in service to others, the “moral owners” of the organization. It is ultimately the needs and wishes of the moral owners that matter. The Servant-Leader is accountable to the moral owners. The Servant-Leader is responsible both for doing their best to care for the organization and for being accountable to the moral owners. The moral owners have a right to information about the organization and the leader’s actions and have ultimate decision-making power. The moral owners can select new leaders and/or override their decisions.
The Autocrat-Leader model often leads to Power-Over decision-making, in which those affected by decisions have no say in what happens.
The current Board appears to have fallen (possibly unintentionally) into the Autocrat-Leader model. The Servant-Leader model was implicit in the Process for a New Future, and the commitments CNVC had previously made to the NVC network.
Being “responsible” does not require the Board to act as it has; its actions are likely a consequence of the leadership model that Board members have implicitly adopted.
I believe that what has happened to the New Future Process so far is the result of the Board perceiving a “grave threat” to CNVC’s wellbeing. I think this assessment was based on profound misunderstandings. I am also concerned that the Board’s response not only disenfranchised those working on New Future, but also rejected the principle that those in the NVC network are the “moral owners” of CNVC.
The Board’s choices have not allowed the network to decide what would happen in regard to what to do about the New Future Process. It is not too late for this to happen. We could allow a community-led process to decide what will happen to CNVC’s governance.
I would like to have the NVC network be restored as CNVC’s “moral owners”, with CNVC’s leadership being accountable to them. For true accountability, I believe it is essential that:
- the NVC network must be given the power to select CNVC Board members, or
there must be another major change in the governance structure of CNVC (e.g., in accordance with the structure agreed to in the New Future Plan).
- I trust that CNVC Board members are doing their best to serve the community. I hope they will support the Board as an institution becoming accountable to the community. I hope that the community will insist on this, and support Board members in being able to embrace such a change.
Further nuances are addressed in the longer version of this message.
If this message has contributed to you in some way, I would appreciate hearing about it.