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A toolbox of processes for Y2K community work

For more resources for communities,
see the co-intelligence community page

Below is a list (still in progress) of processes that can increase the capacity of communities to respond intelligently to the Y2K crisis. Most are on the leading edge of organizational development, group work and community organizing. These were chosen because guidance -- written material, expertise, training, or replicable models -- exists for each of these methods, for people who wish to put them into practice. Most of these methods are quite simple (although not always EASY) to do, and are therefore good grassroots tools. This also makes them easier to communicate and implement in cases where they are being initiated from the top down. Ones that require the most expertise are often the least described here, but have references to guidance resources. Some of the simpler forms are described at length.

The impact of many of these processes can be greatly broadened and deepened by a number of factors, three of which I've listed here:

a) Servant Leadership. Often the initiative for processes such as these in communties comes from the bottom, the grassroots. In such instances, while the benefits for those involved tends to be great, participation tends to be limited to relatively small groups, resulting in minimal benefits for the community or society as a whole. On the other hand, where there is active cooperation or initiative by the government and media -- promoting the activity, reaching out to seldom-engaged populations, providing space and other resources, reporting on what happened, encouraging follow-up, etc. -- there is a dramatic improvement in community expectations, community participation, and community follow-up (both further dialogue and deliberation, and actual actions taken by citizens and officials). Another dimension of servant leadership that we should keep in mind, especially when the initiative comes from the top -- is that these processes must serve to empower -- rather than to control -- the participants and their community. Otherwise they will fail or backfire.

b) Regularity - A good process done continually or at periodic intervals over time has a tendency to generate positive effects far beyond its use in a single event. It becomes part of the culture of those using it, weaving itself into their assumptions, interactions, and expectations. A familiar example is voting. A one-time election for a leader would be better than no election for a leader. But when a society has elections every 2-4 years, that nurtures the idea that the leaders are answerable to the electorate. (Even when, as happens in our society, powerholders find loopholes in the electoral system that reduce the ACTUAL power of citizens. There remains the ASSUMPTION that the citizenry SHOULD be powerful, that something is wrong and needs to be corrected.) Furthermore, people become habituated to elections and use this method in other areas of their lives, such as their voluntary associations (clubs, community groups, etc.). In the vast majority of cases below, a group, community or society would benefit greatly by practicing the method regularly and incorporating it into the normal rhythms of their collective life. By using them as an event, we empower individuals and groups. By using them as a process, we empower whole communities and societies.

c) Complementarity - Each one of these processes has a power of its own. Those who advocate it tend to focus on that power. Far rarer are those who see opportunities to use such processes together in some synergistic way. To return to our previous example: voting is powerful and so is a free press. Either COULD exist without the other. Their combination is FAR more powerful (and empowering) than either of them could be without the other. Hopefully at least some community leaders will recognize this and weave a number of the tools below into patterns that will enhance the overall efficacy of each one. (For a vision of how one might integrate some of these appraoches, see "Raising the Quality of Dialogue About Y2K" by Tom Atlee, )

And if anyone should combine servant leadership, regularity and complementarity into a community involvement program using a number of these tools, they will have transformed the system in which they operate -- moving into a form of democracy never seen before.

I have sorted these methods into a number of categories, depending on what each process is particularly good for:

For public education

I don't have any leading edge processes for this, which includes PSAs, outreach to existing community groups, creation of videos, all varieties of media, internet services, parades, fairs, conferences, essay contests, fliers, door hangers, etc., with which most PR people or media activists know about. I include it because it is very important, it is what people think of first, and it should be part of any integrated program.

And now for the more unusual approaches.

For national, state or large community
citizen deliberation and policy guidance

I ) Citizen consensus panels - A random or demographically representative group of 12-24 citizens convened to study an issue (sometimes questioning expert witnesses) and produce policy recommendations. They are usually professionally facilitated to a consensus statement that is formally presented to media and/or officials. Details are not given here, as they require more complex knowledge than can be included in this context, but this approach is one of the most powerful methods of democratic wisdom-generation I've run across. Variations for which instructions, expertise or replicable models exist include:

a) Danish consensus conference (organized in the US by the Loka Institute based on the Danish model described at )
b) Citizen juries (organized by the Jefferson Center -- )
c) Civil grand juries (for an example of how the civil grand jury system was used to wake up a community to the demands of Y2K, see the Marin County Grand Jury report at )

For community self-organization

II ) Open Space Technology - A self-organized conference about a topic (such as Y2K) about which all attendees have passion. After an initial briefing, attendees create workshops, discussion groups or task groups according to their interests. Attendees are encouraged to let go of outcomes, welcome the unexpected, and move around to find sessions where they can actively learn or contribute.

This method allows otherwise hidden issues to emerge and get dealt with, and ensures that any topic raised will have someone to deal with it. It is not the best method for relaying information or controlling outcomes. But for involvement, shared exploration and community self-organization it has few peers. For example, it is tantalizing to imagine what would happen if a town organized an ongoing open space conference on Y2K, with the sessions well advertised in the media each day. Citizens could come wrestle with new issues as they arose, while making progress on ongoing issues.

Open Space can be done AFTER information dissemination activities. For example, you could have morning presentations by experts, followed by an afternoon of open space sessions. When time is short, one can try a modified open space process: a certain number of rooms/spaces are made available for sessions and anyone who wants to hold one announces it and makes a sign on which they stick a space-assignment post-it note. Then they post their sign on a wall as the next person announces THEIR session, etc., until all the rooms/spaces are filled or there are no more proposed sessions.

In another powerful, simple variation created by Doug Carmichael (see "Y2k week X week 65" at ), a facilitator helps the group make a list of Y2K community issues and then makes those into breakout sessions, asking for a volunteer to convene each one. The two tasks of each session are to get contact information on everyone who comes and to schedule a time when they can meet again. Those meetings are then announced in the local paper. In short order, the session convenors become leaders of community preparedness task forces.

Resources for full-blown Open Space include:

III ) Multi-sector collaborations - people from government, business, civic groups, non-profits, the media, utilities, religious institutions, and so on, come together to work on a shared problem, like Y2K preparedness. This is probably the closest thing we have to a proven, universally-appropriate "Y2K best practice" in the process realm. For a general description of long-term collaborations, see . Two specific Y2K-appropriate forms are:

a) Future Search Conference - a gathering of 30-64 stakeholders -- a cross-section of the community plus a few important outsiders -- who explore and record their shared past and the forces at work in their collective lives, and then imagine desirable futures and how to get there. Differences are acknowledged and set aside, and work groups formed.


b) Official sector roundtables (often confidential) - An example from Hawaii ( ): After urging from the local Y2K community preparedness group, the Mayor of Kauai called a meeting of county, business and industry leaders as well as "citizens' representatives" from the local group. Since the meeting took place behind closed doors so that all concerned could speak without fear of litigation, it brought out sobering facts about the community's state of preparedness. The Mayor has continued the closed door meetings so that all factors of society and commerce on Kauai could be in close contact with each other.

IV ) Listening Projects - Citizens go door to door asking significant, open-ended, engaging questions about an issue like Y2K and accepting whatever the person says. It might look like a poll, but the object is consciousness raising, relationship-building, and engagement -- not public opinion monitoring. A peace group doing a listening project started their interviews by asking people what was wrong with their brochure about a local navy installation, noting that their promo hadn't been working very well. Respondents gave suggestions and, at the same time, learned about the naval yard. Some spoke very passionately about what they learned and were invited to get involved; some even became local organizers. The main developers of listening projects -- Rural Southern Voice for Peace -- caution that the best results come with training (which they offer). For more information contact RSVP, 1898 Hannah Branch Road, Burnsville, NC 28714, (828) 675-5933, fax (828) 675-9335, email:

V ) Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) - Citizens can discover, map and mobilize assets hidden away in all the folks who live in their community, as well as in associations and formal institutions, and bring those resources them out of the closet and into creative synergy with each other, with dramatic results. Asset-based community development has provided leaders and institutions in all sectors with an approach that is relatively cheap, effective and empowering, and that avoids paternalism and dependence -- an approach that can be supported by all parts of the political spectrum and initiated at any level of civic life. The classic book on this subject is John P. Kretzmann and John L. McKnight, Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community's Assets (Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research, 1993; $15 from ACTA Publications [800] 397-2282). McKnight is adamant about not putting attention on the community's needs, deficiencies and problems since it strengthens them and leads people to see themselves and others as clients or victimes rather than as assets. However, such attention may be advisable during Y2K preparations to map, as well, where people with specific problems (e.g., disabilities) live, so that neighbors can help them prepare and cope -- without overlooking the gifts that those "needy people" have to offer, as well. See also the Asset Based Community Development Institute .

For group/community reflection and "issue exploration"

(see also II: Open Space, above)

VI ) Listening circles (a.k.a., talking circles, council, wisdom circles, etc.) - A process originally borrowed from tribal council circles, which now appears in many forms. Participants' communication is mediated by a held object, often (but not necessarily) one with some special significance to the participants. An aesthetic hand-sized stick or stone works well. In the simplest versions, the circle's convenor holds the object, welcomes people, makes some brief remarks about the process and spirit of the circle, and then makes his or her personal statement. He or she then passes the object to the person on their left who speaks (or can remain silent for a few moments), and then passes the object on to the next person (on THEIR left) -- and the object proceeds around the circle, with each person who holds the object speaking while the others listen. The object can travel around the circle many times with great benefit. Unlike ordinary conversations, there is no cross-talk or discussion, per se. In the most fruitful circles, all present "speak the truth from their hearts," briefly and deeply sharing what they think and feel. There is no way to command this quality of participation, of course, but participants can agree on the spirit what they're trying to do, the convenor can model a certain way of being, and the circle process, itself, often invokes a reflective spirit.

There are many variations, among them:

For more information, see:

VII ) Dialogue is shared exploration towards greater understanding, connection, or possibility. Many forms of communication fit this definition. And many forms don't, including arguments, posturing, holding forth, defensiveness, bantering discussions and other forms of communication where we don't discover anything new or connect with each other.

Dialogue's spirit of exploration is useful when we want to understand something or someone better. Dialogue is often needed to reach sufficient shared understanding to come to a decision together. However, in decision-making situations, dialogue (inquiry) often needs to be balanced with getting things nailed down in due time. Many grassroots groups develop strong disagreements over this, and it is wise to create separate opportunities for both the exploratory and the get-it-done energies to dominate.

Here are some basic guidelines for dialogue which can be discussed and agreed to by a group and posted around a room to remind participants:


VIII ) The World Cafe is a process in which a large group can have the intimacy and engagement of small group dialogue without losing the broader understandings and connection possible in the full group. It evolved out of conversations and experimentation one evening at the home of consultants Juanita Brown and David Isaacs, with their friend Nancy Margulies.

A World Cafe is set up with space for groups of 4-8 people to sit in circles, preferably around circular tables (although you can do it with no tables at all) and ideally with flowers, candles, paper tablecloths and marking pens (for writing notes on the tablecloth).

A host/hostess welcomes participants and tells them (or reminds them of) the topic -- a question worth asking or statement worth exploring -- something of real interest to those present. He or she explains that after a set period of time (usually 30-45 minutes) people will be asked to bring the conversation to a close and move to new tables. S/he encourages them to record on the tablecloth (or note paper) any ideas, insights or questions that emerge.

When the first round is up, the host/hostess rings a bell or chime and says, "Each table should decide who will be its host or hostess. That person will remain at the table for the whole session. In a minute I will ask the rest of you to get up and move to different tables. When everyone is seated in their new places, then the home table host or hostess can welcome the new people and share with them key ideas and questions that emerged from their table's earlier discussion. Then the others can share what occurred at their original tables."

At the end of the second round, the presiding hostess/host asks everyone to return to their home tables to compare notes with their original companions. At the end of this third round most people in the room will have heard the ideas generated by the others in the Cafe.

In longer Cafe's, people can just keep moving from table to table.

For more details and variations of World Cafe, see

IX ) Study Circles are voluntary, self-organizing adult education groups of 5-20 people who meet three to six times to explore a subject, often a critical social issue. Each meeting commonly lasts 2-3 hours and is directed by a moderator whose role is to aid a lively but focused dialogue. Between meetings participants read materials they were given at the end of the last meeting. These materials are used as springboards for dialogue (see VII above), not as authoritative conclusions. The materials are usually compiled by the sponsor or organizer of the particular study circle; but groups who want to form a study circle on a particular topic can create their own materials or get ready-to-use packs from organizations like The Study Circle Resource Center (see below).

By encouraging people to formulate their own ideas about issues and to share them with others, the study circle process helps overcome people's lack of information and feelings of inadequacy in the face of complex problems. They can be sponsored by civic organizations, activists, businesses, unions, churches, discussion groups and governments


Two excellent Y2K study circles are:

INTRODUCTION: "Speaking of Y2K...A Guide to Open Dialogue and Creative Action for Communities and Neighborhoods" -- free from
Can also be purchased from the Harbinger Institute as a little booklet by mail ($2.50-3.50 depending on quantity). This two-session study circle can help create do-it-yourself spaces for people with different points of view to come together to create stronger understanding and action over the long term. The Harbinger Institute sees Y2K as a social opportunity -- a catalyst for building our ability to engage with each other and work together.

SUSTAINABILITY: The Year 2000 Problem: An Opportunity to Build Sustainable Community - A Guide for Y2K Study Circles -- free from
Brings focus to the maze of information about Y2K and helps participants work out what the the year 2000 problem means to them. Has lots of inspiration and ideas for building neighborhoods and communities that not only prepared for Y2K, but more sustainable and better places to live.

X ) CLD Town Meeting
XI ) scenario exploration (a la Doug Carmichael)

For group decision-making

· consensus (including color-coded straw polls) (distinguish from unanimity)
· strong majority (66%, 75%, 80%)

For conflict work / exploration of differences

· dynamic dialogue
· Y2K Widening Circles exercise (Joanna Macy)
· conflict exploration circles
· fishbowl
· values barometer
· mediated dialogue
· nonviolent communication
· alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and negotiation

For emotional processing/sharing

(see also listening circles and nonviolent communication, above)

· Y2K open sentences practice - Joanna Macy
· John Steiner's approach
· story sharing

Meeting techniques

(see also listening circle and scrip circle)

· reverse agenda
· brainstorming
· positive, negative, interesting (deBono)
· chime and stone

Community resilience, economic and material methods

· Local complementary currencies
· "Hayboxes and Other Energy Efficient Cooking Methods"
· Etc. (this could be LONG)


· Commitment chunks (people commit to 3-4 meetings/weeks/blocks and then review how it was)


Creating Community Anywhere by Carolyn Shaffer and Kristin Anundsen (Tarcher/Perigree, 1993). "The most comprehensive book I know of about the community movement." -- M. Scott Peck. Building community with friends, family, support groups, neighborhoods, co-workers, cyber-companions, shared households and visionary communities. Excellent guidance on conflict, decision-making, celebrations, communication and dealing with community evolution and "shadow side."

Future Search by Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff (Berrett-Koehler, 1995). A how-to book for finding common ground and co-creating the future of organizations and communities.

Democracy and Technology by Richard Sclove (Guildford, 1995). Shows how technologies support and undermine democracy, and asks: "What role should democracy have in the development of technology?"

Open Space Technology by Harrison Owen (Berrett-Koehler, 1997). The how-to manual for one of the simplest, most powerful self-organized collective processes we have.

Facilitators Guide to Participatory Decision-Making by Sam Kaner, et al. (New Society, 1996). A brilliant, very understandable guide to facilitated consensus process, organized so that pieces can be copied and used by the group.

The Joy of Conversation by Jaida N'ha Sandra (Utne, 1997). The Utne Reader-sponsored guide to co-creative salons of all types. Excellent writeups on study circles, listening circles, etc.

Study Circles by Len Oliver (Seven Locks, 1987). The history and practice of small-group, democratic, adult education and social learning.

The Quickening of America by Frances Moore Lappé and Paul Du Bois (Jossey-Bass, 1994). Powerful examples and new theory about how Americans are "doing democracy."

Necessary Wisdom by Charles Johnston (ICD Press, POB 85631, Seattle, WA 98145; 1991). The dance of opposites into creative co-evolution; building living bridges between us, where we come alive together.

Leadership and the New Science by Margaret Wheatley (Berrett-Koelher, 1992). How to relate to organizations as natural systems.

Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher and Willima Ury (Penguin, 1981). The classic introduction to principled negotiation.

Heart Politics by Fran Peavey (New Society, 1986). One of the most creative inquiries into what it means to live a life trying to change things for the better, sensitive to the interconnectedness, mystery, beauty and quirkiness of life.

Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community's Assets by John P. Kretzmann and John L. McKnight (Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research, 1993; $15 from ACTA Publications [800] 397-2282)

The Spirit of Community: The Reinvention of American Society by Amitai Etzioni (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1993). The kick-off of the communitarian movement.

The Power in our Hands: Neighborhood-Based World Shaking by Tony Gibson (Jon Carpenter, UK,1996). How-tos and stories for those who want to make a creative difference in their communities.

Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age by Michael H. Shuman (The Free Press, 1998). The title says it.

Self-Reliant Cities by David Morris (Sierra Club Books,1982). The classic visionary text on the relationships of American cities to energy. This and many other books on that topic can be found at