by Lisa Praeg
Strengthen youth leadership – Open election of class representatives as initiative
Do you remember the last time you participated in a democratic election? What did you feel when you put down your vote? Have you been elected, or was someone elected for whom you didn’t vote?
A reflection with a class of students using a secret ballot election revealed contrary behavior and emotions on the individual level and on the group level. Students stated that the secret ballot promotes honesty on a personal level on the one side, but fosters mobbing, discontent, and peer pressure on the other side. The negative effect of secret ballots was underlined by the outcome of small group work. The behavior that was experienced the most within groups during and after a secret ballot was exclusion, followed by no justice and nonsensical votes.
This article is about how to strengthen youth leadership with a different way of voting with the example of nominations of the class representatives. Keep on reading for more inspiration and an innovative practice example for participatory decision-making methods in schools!
The open election – a feeling of hope and empowerment
The open nomination, a sociocratic principle, is a gift to the world! It creates a balance to the experiences of secret majority voting or selection by top-down authority.
The qualities of the open nomination are collective wisdom rather than hierarchy, transparency rather than the unspoken, and the aim of the group rather than the aim of individuals.
The arguments for a nominated person are spoken out loud, as well as the aim and responsibilities of the new role, which are defined transparently by the team or circle. Rather than voting for our best friend or ally, or the person who persuaded us the most, we are invited to truly think, which person is most suitable in terms of competences for the job. This group wisdom is brought to the table in two counseling rounds.
You will not believe the impact it has on group behavior or individual emotions if you count and can clearly see whether one is nominated or not. May you once in our lifetime experience this and see the transformative impact of this little, but significant change of action of only writing arguments and not counting votes.
To sum up the open nomination, a consent decision-making process leads the group to a final nomination. The result is that the nominated person feels the true support of the group for her or his new responsibility. This support empowers the person to lead and to be followed when necessary.
This is what I experienced in 2015 at the association “Tankstelle Bregenz”. I was pretty impressed how every one of the 12 people shared, one by one, their nomination for the two helping circles that we needed at that time. They not only shared simply a name, but underlined their nominations with decent arguments. As I was only part of the team for three months, I was deeply touched when I also was nominated. I did not expect such a deep dive into honest and encouraging feedback about my engagement and my character as I thought people would hardly know me, and I least expected to be nominated.
This overwhelming experience of people sharing their thoughtful nominations was then followed by an even more beautiful experience. The second round followed and people started to change their opinions. It took me a few minutes to follow the process to realize, or better to say to witness, how proactively the individual nominations came together into a co-created proposal. This proposal was written down on a flip chart so everyone could see it. Then we were asked one by one if we could consent to this. I didn’t understand at first what they meant by consent, so they asked if I felt any objections to the new members of the helping circles, or if I thought that these people could not fulfill the goals of the helping circles. No one had an objection. So the final act was to celebrate! Not even then did I understand what I just experienced.
Want to learn more about generating proposals together? Check out this short video here!
What happened that afternoon was peace in my heart. I could finally feel hope and enlightenment. All these years of experiencing fighting, disrespect, and egocentric teamwork, I was not happy, but didn’t have a solution on how to solve it. I felt a deep calling to resolve such pessimistic team work.
And guess what, friends? This afternoon was the hour of birth of a whole new era in my life. It did not only lead me to become a sociocratic trainer and consultant, but also gave birth to a burning question:
‘How can as many young people as possible experience the sociocratic open election in order to feel hope, empowerment and leadership by the group?“
Seeding behavior change
Before I tell you the answer to this question, I would like to tell you another little story.
In 1991, children in the kindergarten of Vorarlberg, the west state of Austria, were taught why and how to recycle. They then taught their parents at home how to recycle garbage. You can’t say, “No” to a 4-year-old when he tells you why and how to recycle. Simple as that. This had a major impact on how people started to commit to recycling in Vorarlberg, and we are still doing it.
So this was my inspiration to teach as many young people collaborative methods. And where do children experience elections? At school! In Austria, every class meets to vote for their class and school representatives at the beginning of every year.
The election of the class representatives is a great possibility for real life collaboration training.
“It is time to free our schools from the top-down nature of instruction and make them a place of democratic decision-making. The mindset of sociocracy can make a contribution here, because inclusive action has priority over exclusive decision-making. In the process of developing another step towards a democratic future for my school, I got to know and appreciate Ms. Praeg as particularly competent, flexible and solution-oriented.”
– Dir. Tobias Albrecht, headmaster NMS Schendlingen, Austria
Imagine if each child experiences even one or two such open elections during their time in school. And now imagine if we could advance this training by teaching different nomination methods that strengthen positive group experiences? The initiative “Sociocratic elections of class representatives” is only a kick-starter to inspire the use of different decision-making methods.
In the last 4 years we have had great success! We published step-by-step guidelines on how to facilitate open elections. And it even got translated into 8 different languages by the SoFA community! We had many online and live training sessions with teachers, and also workshops in schools with the students. The inspiration is spreading and spreading around the globe. We are seeding the future of more wellbeing within the classroom, a deeper solutions-focused and co-creation-based teamwork, and a more consistent politics that creates a good life for everyone.