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Making democracy work


Democratic control

The objectives of the system of association are to define and sustain the organization necessary to achieve the purpose of the enterprise. Also, sustaining member democratic control, upholding the practice of mutual and beneficial ownership, as well as all the other foundation practices, which are essential to the system.
The overall system of association involves the application of subsystems; these include those for:
  • Membership and member development.
  • Ownership.
  • Democratic control, including leadership development.
  • Cooperation.

Member engagement

The real value of membership to the enterprise lies in the opportunity to exchange information, both between the membership and the enterprise and between members. This is not by any means limited to using formal democratic processes. Informal exchanges can often be most valuable, and these can take place in informal situations and at all levels of the organization’s structure. Even so, all the formal processes for information exchange need to be supported to ensure the integrity of the system of democratic control.

Selecting effective leaders

It is imperative that members of co-ops have the capacity to identify and select leaders who are both dedicated and competent. Democratic elections need to result in the selection of authentic leaders, but this only happens where adequate communication and education is a continuing process. This requires that members and their representatives find and develop leaders who are passionate about getting a better deal, as well as running an organization that will always treat all members fairly, being both fair and honest in their dealings with all stakeholders. Also, understanding that one of their main tasks as a leader is to develop the people that they lead. Good leaders help everyone to work smarter. A set of practices forming a complete system will help members find and elect the kind of leaders they need.

Democracy in practice

Sometimes, many of the people managing co-ops are disparaging about the impact of democratic control on the enterprise. The detractors of democracy often ignore the reality, which is that democratic decision-making can often improve both the quality and accuracy of decisions. Sound decisions are made when competing arguments are considered before arriving at a consensus, or if this fails, by resorting to a majority decision. The process of decision-making is usually enhanced when a mix of talents are brought together, and a diversity of experiences enters the equation. This includes those differences that arise from personal identities, such as gender, cultural heritage or race.

Diversity can help provide useful differences in the problem-solving approaches used, adding value to the process. Increasingly, scientists, professionals, and other people facing big problems collaborate in interdisciplinary teams, and when people are diverse, they regularly outperform groups of the smartest conformist individuals. More creative decision-making will help to lessen the impact of uncertainty, complexity, and change. This is regardless of whether our enterprises are small or large.
Democracy collage
woman speaker
Gender equality
democracy needs balance
Balancing the rights of the individual and the group
A ballot box
Free and fair elections

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Updated: April 2021 © Edgar Parnell 2021

Cooperatives and all other types of self-help enterprise
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