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June 11, 2008:

DAY 21 ON nFoG WATCH: No supporters. One article from synod stated clerks forwarded to me illustrating even more problems. It's not mine to post -- you'll just have to take my word for it. It is likely to be public soon.

Question: How much should you worry about process?

I received a question, "I am a commissioner assigned to committee #16, worship and spiritual renewal. We are one of the two "extra" committees created to try out the consensus model. What advice do you have for me and others on committees 16 and 17 about how we spend our time, prepare, and engage our committees?"

Great question.

Here are a couple of thoughts:

1. It is difficult to tell you how to prepare for a "consensus" committee with no real business.

  1. Committee 16 could wrap up the actual business assigned in a matter of about ten minutes -- with full discussion having been completed. Committee 17, Youth, is more nebulous because it is a think tank. The problem is that it appears both will have the option of making recommendations to the plenary that are business not properly before the Assembly.

    For what it's worth: any recommendation that involves business not properly before the Assembly (that is, as an item submitted pursuant to Standing Rule A) should be objected to as untimely and out of order. Otherwise, it would be like allowing commissioner's resolutions to be submitted as new business through the end of committees on Tuesday.

    Ordinarily, commissioners and advisory delegates should be reading the material and then doing an evaluation ahead of time -- that is, now:

    1) What is the impact or consequence of approving this item? Does it achieve its desired objective?

    2) Is this the best way to achieve the desired objective?

    3) If the objective sought is not desired, what are the steps needed identify and raise up the appropriate objective?

    4) If clarification or correction is necessary, what are the steps to get

    For Committees 16 and 17, the normal preparations do not apply because, ...well..., in the case of Committee 17 the whole thing is set up as a process to get to an objective (as opposed to the other way around).

  2. Preparing for business not already assigned may be overkill. For example, I do not know that I would spend a whole lot of time preparing to interview the individuals who will be nominated and who are standing for election as stated clerk. Yes, I would love to see that business go to one of these two committees. However, it would require a 2/3 majority vote to suspend that Standing Rules during the very first business meeting of the Assembly. That's kind of a tall order. It's not impossible, but it is somewhat improbable.

    If it were to happen, some of the questions and resources I've already posted would be available for use and review. You can bet I would be running to a printer to get something out that could be used as a resource; others would as well.

  3. The only other thing to do now is to make connections with resources and people who will be in San Jose and who will be able to help you out in the process. If you do not know who to contact, send me a note and I will put you in touch.

2. Remember that process is designed to serve substance.

Relax. You are not going to become a certified parliamentarian overnight. You need to know what the processes are because they are the tools you will use to accomplish goals. You do not need to be a masterful prodigy of Robert's Rules. Being clever with the rules does not guarantee you will achieve the result you are seeking. It is better to use the tools to help your committee or the Assembly to move towards a clear discernment than it is to try to gum up the works. Keep your eye on the prize.

As I have mentioned, I am not a fan of the consensus process, committee of the whole or quasi committee of the whole. That said, there is no point in acting like a bunch of procedural Earl Weavers (for Orioles fans), Lou Pinellas (for Cub fans), or Bob Knights. Throwing chairs across the committee room over a procedural call will not win friends with anyone. So, as you think about process and what should happen, you should mentally prepare yourself for adapting when things do not go the way they should. No committee is procedurally perfect. If you get stuck on what a bad decision the umpire made on strike two, you are likely to have the bat on your shoulder when strike three comes along.

Complaining about the process is like complaining about the ref's calls in the NBA. Bad calls will be made, but you have to play the game. Ultimately, the substance is what concerns you so, if your first avenue is not available, think about another.

3. Prepare to ask questions.

First, there IS such a thing as a stupid question. A stupid question is one that is designed to obfuscate, confuse, or derail the process. It wastes valuable time and makes the person asking look petty and mean-spirited.

Outside of that, questions are important. If you do not understand what you are discussing, ask. If you do not understand what the impact of your vote would be, ask. If you do not understand how to do something, ask. You can be sure that someone else will be grateful because they do not know either.

If you are in a committee using a consensus process and you do not agree with the rest of the committee, it is fair to ask, "I would like to accomplish this, how do I do that?" It takes a strong person to stick to a contrarian's position, the pressure and tendency will be to go along to get along. This is why asking questions is so important. "When will I have the opportunity to raise this issue?" "If I do not agree with the direction the majority is pursuing, how do I make clear that it is not a consensus?"

Let me repeat something I wrote earlier: relax. It is important to get a handle on the tools, but not to get frozen like a deer in the headlights. It goes quickly and you will not get everything right -- I guarantee it. So, prepare the best you can, pray the best you can, and look forward to having a great time and meeting a lot of wonderful people.