Tiny House
More About The National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation • Join Now!
Community News

Consensus process being used at Occupy Wall Street demonstrations

Many of us have been watching the Occupy Wall Street protests with great interest.  NCDDers have been especially curious about the processes this intentionally leader-less, self-organized effort is using to make decisions.

If you follow the Occupy Wall Street blogs and streams, you see a lot of reference to the consensus process, and to facilitators and moderators.  Yesterday Tom Atlee brought an article to our attention (via the NCDD Discussion list) that shares some details on the People’s Assembly process the demonstrators have been using.

The article, titled Quick guide on group dynamics in people’s assemblies, was published on TakeTheSquare on July 31, 2011.  Check it out at:


Where else can people learn about the group processes being used by demonstrators?  Please share the links you’ve found most helpful.

Sandy Heierbacher on FacebookSandy Heierbacher on LinkedinSandy Heierbacher on Twitter
Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

  More Posts  

Join In!

We always encourage a lively exchange of ideas, whether online or off. Questions? Please feel free to contact us directly.

  1. I’ve managed to stop by the Occupy San José camp site a few times this past week and I’m impressed with the overall quality of listening, both during the general assemblies as well as throughout the day.

    I was handed a print version of another facilitator quick guide. I’ll share it as soon I manage to obtain the digital file.

  2. I attended a meeting today (10/21/11) of “Occupy Cape Cod” where they handed this 1-pager on “Reaching Consensus” rules for the meeting.

    Based on my observations, it was too confusing for most people. And its use by the others (i.e., “8 Hand Signals”) was very visually distracting to those of us in the back, including whoever was speaking at the time.

    After the meeting, a lady told me that she attended a meeting at Occupy Boston that used the same sheet, and that it was similarly confusing to the crowd there.

    Despite the convenors’ best efforts, the meeting was not run well. Too many people grew restless and disregarded the ground rules because they wanted “action, not talk”. I’m afraid that this may be more representative of meetings nationwide than what Tim observed in San Diego.

    If true, then the movement needs real help in collaborating and coordinating its message and efforts. However, judging from previous efforts that connected (at least, initially) with Americans’ frustration (e.g., CoffeePartyUSA and NoLabelsUSA), I am hopeful but not very optimistic about long-term prospects for Occupy (unless they get A LOT more help in organizational development).


    • Correction: I meant to say “what Tim observed in San Jose”.

    • Thanks for sharing these thoughtful comments, Stephen. Did you see Tree Bressen’s handout on consensus? I’d be curious about whether you think our field should be promoting that resource widely, as an aid to Occupy organizers. It’s up at https://ncdd.org/rc/item/6044 (I’ve been trying to promote it).

      The link you shared leads to a message on Scribd that says “The document ‘Rules of Discussion – Occupy Cape Cod meeting (10/21/11)’ has been deleted.” Do you have another link you can share so people can take a look?

  3. Hi Sandy!

    It seems to me, both from some time “on the ground” at Occupy Boston, as well as from everything I am reading on the net, that situations are continually evolving.. there are clearly needs for support, evolving challenges, and opportunities to contribute, with regard to the ‘process arts’ as with anything else.

    For me, it feels like a ‘balancing act’… appreciating what is already happening, AND, offering constructive suggestions for ‘ways forward’…

    Tom Atlee just posted two very pertinent posts… one is an article by Michael Albert at http://tom-atlee.posterous.com/from-occupy-to-self-manage-a-very-thought-pro . Michael’s article is based on a lot of extensive interviews with people in Spain, Greece, and elsewhere, who have been doing General Assemblies for quite some time now, and have seen the challenges that come up over time… I see it as a great piece of “action research”, asking people themselves for their own ideas about what would be helpful, and then compiling it.

    Tom’s other recent post with some ‘suggested ways forward’, was co-generated with someone who has been spending a lot of time with OccupyEugene, and offers some very interesting ways to address the challenges described in Michael’s article (though I don’t believe it was written in response, but rather before they had seen Michael’s article!) Anyway, that one is at http://tom-atlee.posterous.com/occupy-weekly-sparks-demands-visions-actions.

    In closing, I would encourage people who are in a position to do so, to visit your local Occupy site, and get involved… you don’t need to “live” there, to become involved to whatever degree you choose, and to contribute on a regular basis…

    Most of the Occupy sites have facilitation work groups, which handle issues regarding the General Assembly….

    Some camps also have “internal coordination” work groups, since one of the things that people are discovering is that the large public assemblies are not always the most efficient way for the work groups to coordinate logistical issues with one another…

    and in some camps, there are also work groups addressing needs in general communication and conflict resolution, where the skills of dialogue practitioners would be relevant…

    and, part of the general format, is that anyone is welcome to start a work group… (you don’t need to sleep in a tent to do so, just commit to the work…) So if you don’t see a work group that you feel you can contribute to, you can start talking with people and find others who see a shared need…

    In some ways, it’s not so different, from “consulting” to any other project… the same maxim applies: people don’t care what you know, until they know that you care…

    Of course, in other ways, it’s very different…

    with all best wishes,


Post Your Comment!