I was asked by Gillian to clarify what I meant by “Pluralism”, when I raised the matter during Septembers, Wednesday meeting. To be honest Gillian at that time I could not articulate what I meant but knew in my heart that this was important. I have spent what time I can put aside, to answer the question for my self and hence to be able to convey to others. I am thankful that my wife Pat had among our old books, something she read during her history degree “Structures of Power” by John Schwarzmantel (ISBN 0 7450 0402 4). Those familiar with Pluralism, please skip the next two paragraphs.
To understand Pluralism, it is constructive to first look at how Pluralism works in politics because many of the influences are common to all organizational structures. In our Liberal democratic system , of government by representation, approximately every 5 years we elect a new government from one of the parties offering to represent us. The Parliamentary system is one form of pluralism, in that it is a system of choice. Once elected the opposition parties take on the government, competing for legitimacy in the eyes of the electorate, in the arguments they present . Erosion or enhancement of legitimacy, plays a major factor in the successful parties chances of reelection.
Is this then the extent of civil societies only engagement in the political process, to elect representatives every 5 years? Well no, one further form of pluralism is that of groups in civil society such as Trade unions, News papers, Greenpeace, Church and The Womens Institute to name a few. All groups have some influence over the legitimacy of Government, while in office, some more than others and the greater the influence the more note is taken by Government. It is this interaction of groups when faced with Government by representation, that I believe is the pluralism we need in our organization.
It is my understanding that the term used for such pluralism in organizations whether corporations, or community groups is “Governance”. It is recognized that education of the processes of governance in small business and community groups is poorly supported by the state, the references below from Transition and London School of Economics, supported by the Joseph Rountree Foundation make interesting reading:
Does this mean we need a huge and unwieldy structure to manage our affairs? I don’t think so, the emphasis should be on a “lighter touch”. Governance would allow greater participation in the organizations affairs. Expressions of discontent would not dwell as negative energy but could find a channel through the Board of Governors and be turned into positive energy. One could ask, in a small group why cant the group resolve their differences? Unfortunately conflicts will arise, between the needs of a member and that of TT as an entity protected by its officers. Its just the nature of representative structures. The board of Governors provides a safety valve, a system of checks and balances.
In its simplest form, we would need to elect one person from each existing group, energy, car share, gardening, incredible edible, to represent that group on such a board. We could also ask a member of the public and another person, possibly from another community incorporated body to join the board. This would build our legitimacy with the wider community. The Board of Governors would meet less regularly that the directors but will have some oversight of their actions and ensure the spirit of Transition is reflected in their actions also the well being of the members and the issues raised for their attention from each group.
If there are historians or politicians who can comment on the subject providing greater clarity, I would be grateful, as this is a stab in the direction of Governance and I for one must keep on learning.