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Ombudsman ADR: The 6 C’s Of Sociocratic Peace Building

Thomas Jefferson is quoted as saying, “Democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51% of the people may take away the rights of the other 49%” ” (circa 1801-1809). Indeed, if you get into “our” history not all the “fathers” of our nation were in favor of a two party system. The two party process assures consolidation and massing of large polarized groups of people that can argue into perpetuity. If you look at the world, there are pockets of “democratic structures of government”, but without the two party system. One example, is the Nunavut Provence of Canada. They use a plebiscite form of government to form their new territory in 1999, successfully breaking away from the 5 party system. These First Nation indigenous people are wise indeed. Their plebiscite elected council represents all people in the territory and council members represent them in Canada’s Crown Government. They use a self governing process where council representatives “facilitate” consensus on issues the “peace pipe by the fire” way and then take their vote to the Crown and vote with the other 5 parties on national issues. Today, in America, there are “pockets” of this at the “micro-society” level where we work, worship and organize as community members. It’s a Sociocratic process without “two parties”. A Sociocracy is a system of government where all interests of all people are served equally through the process of consensus to consent. The idea of polarized two party (or 5 party) debate is removed. Indeed, the energy industry in America, by example, is experiencing this form of self government at the local level where their pipelines run through Native American lands and local American communities.

Ombudspersons can use this Sociocratic process with polarized individuals or with small groups or teams, say in study groups, committees, matrix structured teams, councils and even between any multiple entities with groups of representatives gathered to resolve conflict through the application of ADR methods and practices. The 6 C’s are used only in sequential order before proceeding to the next C. They are:

1. Communication – if there is no parity or communication is asymmetrical among members to the conflict, this very often, my experience, is the simplest form of an issue or conflict and is easily solvable through quality communication. In this discussion, if we don’t have communication and it breaks down, all other C’s abort the Sociocratic process and you start over. It’s at this first C stage there has usually been an ongoing and slow “surfacing of an issue” and emotions are the catalyst to “outing” the complaint. If sequential iterations of applying ADR methods and the 6 C’s fails, arbitration and litigation are other options and thus the “dispute” escalates to polarized “conflict” and outside the ombudsman’s purview. Key to successful communication is to hold to the 5th principle of empathetic communication: “seek first to understand then to be understood”. I find “conflicted people” often “get it” and this breaks open deadlocks.

2. Complaint – take the issue or complaint from all individuals or group members. You could have a situation where a team of 6 is split into two groups of three, three groups of two or any combination. Process the complaint with a complaint form from each individual will provide the ombudsman “perspective”. Conventional two party complaints are also successful under this Sociocratic self governance model.

3. Cooperation – as the ombudsman gathers information and identifies parties they move everyone to agree to mediate and to cooperate. This should be in line with established formal procedures of the ombudsman function or office and parties to the “agreed upon conflict” should sign off on the “cooperation agreement” or mediation agreement. I find taking the legal terms out of facilitation helps cooperation because it removes the “programmed cultural threat” of litigation.

4. Consensus – the new form of consensus building is where ALL members, stakeholders or parties involved are moved by the ombudsman to formulate their solution to the issue or complaint. Take “due care” not to fall back into the old form of “forced consensus by majority vote” of a polarized democratic process. This will leave people “unresolved” that have interest in the outcome. Consensus requires the most time and patience from the ombudsman and the capacity to utilize all methods of psychology to move people to “focus on their common interests” and over time “forget” or “re-frame” their “points of conflict”. You are seeking “unanimous consent” structured around goals or solutions stemming from the original written complaint forms. If you didn’t properly analyze the complaint or the group or parties “shift focus” to other “points of conflict”, you’ll have to start over at this step and re-communicate from the beginning the issue or complaint at hand. The very last and important key factor is the proposed, negotiated or resolved solution must be in compliance with superceding organization, corporate, government or other entity with legal authority over the parties involved. If not, it could be that changes in, by example, the corporation’s policies in relation to formulating contracts needs revised.

5. Consent – Once the ombudsman reaches the point where “rounds” of discussion result in “behavioral confirmation” ie. body language, verbal affirmations and other signals of uniformity, then you can “call the question” asking does “anyone object”. If favorable, I recommend you write their self negotiated solution out in a memo, terms of agreement, amendment to a team, committee or council charter, or other formal document that everyone signs off on. The chairman, team leader, project manager or anyone that is a party to the process can also write out the negotiated points and solution to everyone’s satisfaction, but it’s important they read and sign off on it. Experience shows verbal agreements with no historical “back up” position will not be a successful “conclusion” in the long term.

6. Coordination – is the final step where the ombudsman, after the agreement is completed, has a “closure” meeting and communicates that continued focus on the terms in the agreement and observable coordination in daily interactions is the proof that everyone really agrees. The 6th C of coordination carries the connotation “we all cooperated and came to an agreement, now we act and behave daily under our agreed terms”. If a lack of coordination in the activities of the team, council, committee or whatever “breaksdown”, they can “self govern” and remind themselves of the terms. If though, in the end, there is sometimes one person that just will not conform and this is causing harm or wasting resources towards the economic or social “good”, they should be asked to leave the group and find a replacement or if it’s several individuals, it may have to then proceed to arbitration or litigation. Ask that person(s) to cooperate and decide what they want to do.

I have used this process in what I call an “undeclared” facilitation structure when in business process applications. I mostly use it on a “preemptive” basis as I can now recognize a problem forming between “polarities” in early stages of development. For “informal” ombudsman procedures you can “name” this form of ADR however you wish, as long as it fits the group and their culture. By example, there may be, in a religious application, a religious council term for church groups you can adopt in a “community ombudsman” role or if they are perhaps a business team assigned to a project, simply call it a “dispute management” team meeting. And now, within this context, think of what might be the possibility in America with a procedure to self govern, to solve issues and disputes without feeling a need to join a side and fight from a point of narcissistic greed, ego-centric entitlement and my rights over others rights? Rather keep focus on the economic or socially desired outcome to the benefit of the many, respecting all individuals and living in peace. Hmm…


Clayton Gilman

Clayton Gilman has over 22 years experience in corporate, business and organizational development and has used "ombudsmanship" towards managing conflicts as a consultant and project leader.  His very first position that started his career was as a change management coach where the constant theme was managing interpersonal disputes internal and… MORE >

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