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This content was posted on  18 Jun 20  by   Brent Cooper  on  Medium
Convergence for Consensus Building

How We Come Together as the World Comes Apart

8-Breaths of Process Architecture, Mary Alice Arthur


Change is inevitable but hard nonetheless. There are growing pains and transitional traumas, whether the process is intentional or not. But it doesn’t have to be so difficult; we have maps and mediators to guide us. Many have prepared for this sort of challenge, but we still have to choose it. Against my idealism, I often hear the phrase “you’ll never get everyone to agree”, to which I respond; “have you tried?” It is a constant effort to change ourselves and each other, but I think we’ve been doing it mostly wrong.

Convergent understanding requires resources, structure, and most importantly, will. What we see instead is a long drawn out contest of ideas, most of which are bad. The research on consensus building suggests that it works given the right conditions, which I believe we can create. The process pictured above illustrates a group activity that integrates divergence, emergence, and convergence into a practice to steward and sense-make a transformation for concrete positive outcomes and solidarity.

Emergence is an ongoing process of coming into existence and ‘bringing to light’, but it also is punctuated by beginnings and endings, ebbs and flows, divergence and convergence. I’ve crystallized my lament that the Emerge network has been purposefully directionless and apolitical in The World That’s Emerging, and that its now time to embrace the process of convergence to come together, which will empower us to achieve a paradigm shift to solve the meta-crisis. And I’ve constructively criticized Integral, the IDW, and Game B previously. Moreover, I’ve laid a fair bit of theoretical groundwork for convergence in The Meta-Convergence Continuum, but here I will expound the version of convergence that we can actually practice, involving block-removal, conceptual change, conflict resolution, consensus building, and coordinating action.

Politics is the process of which we collectively negotiate and deploy the power to govern, and thus its unavoidable when addressing the meta-crisis. The way to transcend politics is not to eschew it but to realize that everything is political and to build consensus around what needs to be done (in selfless fashion), not to be ignorant and let personal (dis)interest, cultural reactions, and exclusive groupthink (see Groupthink vs. Consensus, also Consensus Decision Making) dictate ideological persuasion and policy.

In order to save the world (and various intellectual communities) we/they need to learn how work through differences and converge on universal values and attractors so our diverse work and lives dovetail with common purpose. Given change-makers and thought leaders proclivity for post-it notes and colourful diagrams, I will introduce the 8-Breaths of Process Architecture (H/T Kaa Faensen) first which will provide a structure for group collaboration, and then I will unpack more consensus building tools from there.

– Breathing Together (Conspiring for Consensus)
– On Being a Team Player
– Convergent Conceptual Change
– Interlude on the Rude and Crude
– Calling in the Critics
– Practicing Paradexity
– You Can’t Handle the Truth and Reconciliation (or can you?)

Breathing Together (Conspiring for Consensus)

8-Breaths of Process Architecture

We are always flowing through these types of processes, but the purpose of exercising this particular one here is to reset and go through a structured process together, start to finish, and to learn convergence. This will require many people to play key roles. The first breath is The Call, led by a caller who is “a person who deeply holds a question, a problem, a challenge”. That’s me, but there will be other callers who can add different threads of this initiative.

The Call invites the early adopters and co-hosts necessary to get things off the ground. The process advises a ‘wise action’ for this step, which is: “Focus the chaos of holding the collective uncertainty and fear — step into the centre of the disturbance”. I think we have this in spades, with the challenges I’ve issued to Game B and Emerge, plus my willingness to be a lone voice in the wilderness, and my initiative to propose solutions. I’m putting out a call, and this step will be complete when it is heard and people come forth, some of whom already have.

The second breath/step is To Clarify. This is about defining purpose and fostering engagement. It invites callers and hosts to collectively articulate the principles, group needs, and desired outcomes. Once clarity is found, we can move to the next step. The third breath/step is the Invite, behind the scenes prep where we design the form and structure of the process, deciding “the art” of inviting people, and finding the right level(s) of complexity. A venue is chosen (Zoom, obviously, with a future physical event) and the host team “holds space” to come together to formalize the details. This is where we maximize the room for flexibility, the end of divergence, before entering the “groan zone” of emergence.

The fourth breath/step is Meet, host a group for conversation, following the purpose and the questions that have emerged. We ask ourselves how to best serve the container to “allow collective wisdom to emerge”. The circle expands from stakeholders to participants and we make meaning together. When that is accomplished we move to the fifth breath/step, Harvest. Collective meaning-making is the practice, where a multiperspectival view emerges and goes beyond what one person is capable of. The fruits of the prior meeting are consolidated, to see what patterns are revealed and learn how to deepen the process, keeping open possibility.

The sixth breath/step is to Act, perform wise actions that emerged during the conversation and harvest. This is where we refocus the purpose, making sure we’re on track, embodying the principles, and sustaining the self-organization of the project. The “seed of community” is born here, and connectedness is felt, leading to “wiser actions”. The seventh breath/step is to Reflect and Learn, by “capturing” what we’ve learned. Have our results matched the need and purpose set out in the beginning? What are the next long term steps? We are near the end, processing the process itself, feeling that convergent consensus between the core team, stakeholders, and participants.

The eight breath/step is Holding the Whole, which is tending to the group cohesion and honouring the sacred purpose behind it all, listening for a new calling question arising to be realized. At the end it is stressed that the process is not linear but cyclical, and each breath also exists in the others. As the PDF suggests and illustrates better, the breaths have overlap, intention and harvesting matter throughout, and the whole process has other features not apparent in the steps. For example, a “Threshold of Longing” precedes all of it, a desire for the “call” and this group growth experience, and a “Threshold of Memory” is passed through at the end, saving and passing the legacy on. The “groan zone” is preceded by a “fear of letting go” and bookended by a “fear of acting”.

One more interesting distinction is the yin/yang relationship between Stewarding (grandmothering) and Senseing (grandfathering). The Stewards provide inspiration, inviting, witnessing, creating and holding space to help people find their gifts and roles, curating the vision and structure of the whole essentially. The Sensemakers/Senseis practice building capacity (for capacity), co-creating trainings, dojos, learning villages, working at lower levels of action in the process. New relationships and wiser, more informed action results. I am proposing a potentially provocative and intimidating call at the beginning for a more profound metanoia at the end.

Now I’ve laid out the abstract template of the process architecture, we have to fill it with content. Before we get to the “critiques” to be processed, we will keep things open and frame the idea of consensus convergence itself. So we will go through the process in order to explore “convergence” and “consensus” themselves, both as concept and practice, creating a metamodern convergence collaboration (can include debate, dialogue, and deliberation too).

Through the process to which I’m inviting you we will workshop a toolbox of techniques that achieve what I described in the introduction as “block-removal, conceptual change, conflict resolution, consensus building, and coordinating action”. And beyond this, we will also necessarily explore the edges between postmodernism and metamodernism, psychology and sociology, and capitalism and socialism, and into specifics through demystifying contentious topics like social justice (particularly racism), ideology, and politics.

On Being a Team Player

The article ‘Getting people on board’: Discursive leadership for consensus building in team meetings (Wodak et al, 2011) is about the business context and how CEOs can effectively lead meetings, so perhaps we should be skeptical, but it is still useful. As the CEO of Antifa (kidding), I will be leading this process like a boss, but in the most egalitarian way possible. The authors identify five discursive strategies of leadership to drive decision making: 1) Bonding, 2) Encouraging, 3) Directing, 4) Modulating, 5) Re/Committing. Bonding helps form group identity and incentivize consensus building and decision, thus it is an important first step. However, too much accommodation and insulation can lead to groupthink and quasi-decisions reached quickly that don’t maintain integrity. Strategy 2 & 3 are akin to emergence and convergence, and are therefore particularly relevant.

Modulating is about managing expectations and threats, balancing the previous two steps, and it functions through appeals to common knowledge, searching for the right mix of urgency for a strong actionable consensus. Re/Committing, the last strategy, is the move from consensual understanding to collective decision. According to the article, leaders make speech-acts that affirm important links between “commitment to action and their organizational/professional/personal identities”, thereby internalizing motivated action in the members.

After the meeting, people then go off in their separate ways to work but can and should be galvanized to autonomously execute the consensual plan, acting as a team. The article authors conclude that egalitarian leadership over an authoritarian hierarchy leads to a more robust consensus. This may seem like a no brainer, given the self-evident value of everyone being heard, and some degree of democracy practiced, but still requires focused leadership and appreciation of how the context and form of the meeting mediates participation level and outcomes. The egalitarian leadership style is what makes it a more durable and longer lasting consensus, and this is consistent with the 8 Breaths of Process Architecture above.

In Consensus Building: How to Persuade a Group (Caillaud and Tirole, 2007), they highlight how the process begins with key insiders and spreads outward via ripple effects. This paper is in the context of a sponsor on a proposal, in order to maximize group cohesion and get project approval. That specific example is less relevant here, where I am trying to foster intellectual convergence, consensus building, and paradigm shifting, but there are many useful insights still. The paper highlights persuasion strategies of a) “selective communication” to distill specific information to certain recipients, and b) “persuasion cascades” to leverage support up the chain of command and horizontally across networks. Support spreads if a qualified majority are in favour at the end of communicating the project.

Convergent Conceptual Change

The article Learning by Collaborating: Convergent Conceptual Change (Roschelle, 1992) lays out some brilliant findings on how we collaborate on conceptual change through conversational interaction. Convergence is the crux of the problem for collaboration on conceptual change, as it requires people to come together before they know what about, and to create some common ground. There needs to be some shared concepts constructed, such as through “conversational turn-taking structures to negotiate meaning.” But that meaning is not contained in the situation itself, or in the interaction.

Actors need external information relevant to the context, and then conversational interaction can enable shared meaning incrementally. The article uses science learning as an example where students approach “increasingly sophisticated approximations” through ongoing meeting and refinement of partial meanings and shared knowledge, but for our purposes we are more interested in converging on social facts and theories, big ideas and bigger critiques.

The article proposes a convergence process to analyze students’ conceptual change, the four primary features being:
1. Meso-level of abstraction for a “deep-featured” situation
2. Interplay of metaphors in relation to each other and the situation
3. Iterative cycle of upgrading situated actions
4. Increasingly high standards of evidence for convergence.

The first two features are about how the change occurs via the situation and metaphors. The latter two features are about the convergence mechanism to incrementally increased shared meaning. The article provides an enormous amount of background research citations that are ignored here for simplicity’s sake, but in short “…the analysis argues that convergent conceptual change is achieved incrementally, interactively, and socially through collaborative participation in joint activity.” The author explains that clear presentations of meanings and concepts is key for convergence, in what I would call “priming” or “briefing” of established definitions and critiques. All of this is complementary with the process of ‘normative incrementalism’ that I explored in my article Social Paradoxes and Meta-Problems.

Interlude on the Rude and Crude

Let us pause for a moment to consider how any conceptual convergence, let alone consensus building, can be possible then without conversations, not to mention the exchange of ideas through any other means. Not that they don’t have conversations, but how they do is precisely the problem with Game B, Emerge, Integral, and the Intellectual Dark Web, as well as the general atmosphere they generate, sliding into moderate or reactionary trends, lacking true intellectual diversity, with a fair amount of redundant arguments or disinformation circulating as well. It is as much about the conversations they are not having, with certain people (like me), and certain topics (black elephants).

As I have documented elsewhere, there is a fetishizing of public conversations and collective intelligence, but it has been relatively ideological, one-sided, and without understanding critique. There is no effort at consensus building, which again I must stress requires certain conditions, resources, and commitments to be successful. The lack thereof has led to the continued generation of dangerous polarizations, bifurcations, and no sense of political progress, which I have objected to. Sociological analysis is deflected by anti-intellectual tendencies, which is what we have to overcome through a collective learning project in this convergence framework.

With the above in mind, the readers’ nerves and skepticism are probably creeping back in. It’s too intense and threatening. We can’t just jump into such complex and contentious arguments, no. This is why it requires the process laid out herein, with the opportunity for learning, integration, transformation, and good faith with knock on effects. But it also implies difficulty for those challenged, and exercises in humility like dynamic subordination, ego vulnerability, willingness to be wrong, and consent to mediation. Most fundamentally, it requires an Emotional Intelligence that is presumed to be present but actually seems lacking. The key difference between me and others in this regard is that I don’t claim to be superior, and am not selling life or sensemaking advice. So we may all have to level up, but the hypocritical gurus are not the one’s to lead it.

Not only have I been emotionally abused, including gaslit, armchair psychoanalyzed, and mocked and shamed for disability and lack of influence by prominent ‘thought leaders’ and random reactionary followers, they claim to be spiritually evolved or intellectually superior, making their whole enterprise a bad joke. And then on top of all this I am then accused of self-victimizing and seeking attention. On top of that I am told it is not relevant to the topic at hand, but it is in some ways central and should be addressed rather than suppressed. What’s interesting about this though is not just the weakness it projects on their part, but how they are threatened by true critique, such that the insults often come before any good faith.

This is of course a common charge towards social justice activists, minorities, and poor people; that they are the cause of the problem. It seems that some developmentalists remain underdeveloped in some these ways, ironically. And the ones who claim to be the most emotionally mature seem to flail the hardest against their cognitive dissonance, hiding behind a facade. They tend block under critique instead of accepting invites to converse. Moreover, they are more likely to tone-police as a method of controlling the discourse so that no change is required, while also fomenting tension with unprompted insults. All of this has to cease in order to atone and start consensus building and convergent conceptual change.

Calling in the Critics

The article Consensus Building: Clarifications for the Critics (Innes, 2016) addresses some of the common criticisms in order to dispel skepticism and suspicion about how the process works. The author argues that most critiques are uninformed about the theory and practice underpinning consensus building. This shouldn’t surprise us because as I say at the top many scoff at the idea without any curiosity. This is in part a defence mechanism for people who are averse to such change or growth. But with the right framing, it is irresistible.

Innes grounds her consensus building in “interest-based negotiation and mediation.” Our memetic mediator friends should take interest, for they have excellent skill sets but lack the epistemic clarity and confidence to truly be effective. Critics of consensus building often reject it based on cases where practitioners and theorists did not meet the conditions for authentic dialogue, but the research shows desirable outcomes in the cases where they are. Typical critiques include a race to the bottom effect, power differentials determining outcomes, agreements being tenuous, and healthy tensions being slackened in the process.

Let us not delude ourselves that this is going to be easy. Innes writes, “consensus building is time consuming and requires skill and training.” That is what the first sessions and workshops will be about, the prefigurative work to make sure we succeed. Innes suggests these approaches only work where there is “uncertainty and controversy” (again, we have those in spades), and where all stakeholders are incentivized and motivated to mutual reciprocity. On these grounds, I can think of no good reason anyone would object, yet many have already decided my work (and my person) is not worth it. These will be the hardest to persuade, but it is such an exciting prospect, they would simply confirm all my critiques by choosing to sit this out.

Drawing on past research, Innes lays out the 8 preconditions for successful consensus building:
1. Inclusion of all stakeholders
2. A meaningful task with a timely impact
3. Participants set some rules for behavior, agenda setting, decision making…
4. Process begins with mutual understanding of interests and anti-bargaining
5. Dialogue where all are heard and participate on equal terms
6. Self-organized process to question the status quo and all assumptions
7. Information is shared universally among participants.
8. Understanding “consensus” as reached only when all interests and concerns have been explored and satisfied.

So it turns out the critics of consensus building are mostly just naysayers, who very likely feel they have more to lose than to gain. The research suggests this is a mistake. In fact, the lack of research is part of the mistake itself, which is why I do good research. As I’ve been saying throughout, and in my critiques, we (these various communities in conflict) are absolutely primed for this process, and it is only becoming more evident with each passing day:

“Consensus building is called for where uncertainty is rampant, where no one has enough power to produce results working alone, where stakeholders are engaged in self-defeating and paralyzing conflict, where there are gaps in understanding and in discourses among players, where the solutions to well-recognized problems have not been developed or where old solutions no longer work. The conditions of a global postmodern world have contributed to the demand for consensus building…” — Innes, 2016

This quote sharply prods us to get to work, but also suggests solutions have not been developed, and I insist we are further ahead (collectively) than we think. All we have to do is start building the consensus, which will entail conflict resolution and unlock collaborative potential. Through my work (and research library) and that of my network and extended spheres of Emerge, Game B, Integral, all my black marxist feminist comrades, and the broader progressive movement, we have all the pieces for the Wasgij puzzle (thanks to Sanna Radelius for the metaphor) to start putting it together, together. To be sure, we want it to extend as far as possible, to really achieve a dramatic transformation, but starting with small successes.

A final note on resistance to this change, to new knowledge, cognitive dissonance, conflict resolution, and more, Problematic Integration Theory is useful. It describes how sensemaking can be particularly difficult in more complex or threatening situations. PI theory claims “that all meaning is associational”, meaning we find meaning in the association of objects (things, people, ideas) with other characteristics (causes, effects, etc.) and with varying levels of certainty. It holds that “probabilistic orientations” and “evaluative orientations” influence each other, such that the relationship between beliefs and value claims is entangled. Eg. learning you have a particular disease will influence your evaluation of it (or vice versa). More relevant, equating Bernie Sanders with communism would probably make you dismiss him, wrongly. For our purposes the alignment between certain ideas/thinkers and political values is to be deeply questioned.

The point of invoking Problematic Integration Theory is to highlight how problematic it can be to integrate knowledge if it conflicts with existing beliefs and convictions. A distinction is made between ontological and epistemological uncertainties, the former concerned with the nature of the world and life, the latter being about how come to we know such things. The latter is our priority here, and arises “when a person is faced with insufficient information, overwhelmingly abundant or inconsistent information, knowledge of doubtful relevance to her or his interests, (etc)…” This is why facilitation for consensus building is so important, because we can foreground certain knowledge, assure faith in the process, collaboratively inform and sensemake, specifically to overcome said difficulty.

If one has invested a lot of time in some ideology or brand, it can be hard to change. These interrogations bring people up against their edges and thresholds, such that they might be torn between two relatively equal but mutually exclusive decisions. In these cases ambivalence arises, because it is difficult to collapse the choice(s). Fleshing out the details of this theory can illuminate the processes through which intellectual meaning is formed, sustained, changed, resolved, etc… The article describes a process of “chaining out” which can lead to related problems, hence why seeking integration is desirable. Proper communication is the primary resource for addressing this, enabling reframing and bringing us full circle to convergent conceptual change relying on conversational dialogue/ dialectic, as well as being a part of the 8 Breaths of Process Architecture.

Practicing Paradexity

Just when things couldn’t get any more paradoxical and complex, we have paradexity. In Paradexity: the convergence of paradox and complexity (Howard, 2009), paradox and complexity merge into this funny word. It is a result of the effects of the advance of technology, to depersonalize, saturate, accelerate, and fragment our world of experience. We might consider these features of metamodern trends, with the emerging paradigms and core capabilities to match. The paper claims relevance to how we treat each other and organize our work. Though some people already adopt the sensemaking mantle, there is still yet higher standards to live up to, which is the point of all this. For the sake of ease, I’ve condensed the key points (adapted from the article) into a table:

You Can’t Handle the Truth and Reconciliation (or can you?)

There are still higher forms of conflict resolution and consensus building to be pursued, like full-on Truth and Reconciliation commissions, particularly for the United States for slavery, genocide, the war on drugs, the war on terror, and economic injustice, among other things. What I’m proposing is at the foot of the mountain, and we have to start small but bold. Achieving it at scale is the endgame, and so far neither Emerge nor Game B has provided any hint of how to accomplish this even at the community level. Their methods leave much to be desired, one passive, the other authoritarian. This is an intervention not to be refused, for it invites everyone to a better process and outcome, and challenges them to perform at their highest level to achieve a real paradigm shift together.

Admitting you have a problem always the first step. Conflicts are automatically generated when we start with denial. Not only have I investigated and distilled the problems in these various spaces, I have developed the meta-methodologies so that critiques can be accepted easier and consensus can be built. Nevertheless, critiques have been denied without consideration. I have also been ironically been shunned by some for my insight as well as standing up for myself. It would seem I am the only person both motivated and qualified to initiate such a process, while it must also necessarily be a collaborative group endeavour. Go figure!

There is more still that is undeclared here, in terms of content and process. Again, The World That’s Emerging is a complicated one, full of tensions and contradictions we baked in, but many great initiatives too. That critique followed on a related critique of Game B, for its defensive blind spots around social theory, politics, and racism, among other things. Of course all of that was preceded by multiple deep dives onto what’s regressive and divisive about the IDW and its major proponents, which are very anti-consensus by nature. My work on The Meta-Convergence Continuum is connected to other big ideas and seeks to build and consecrate the metamodern smart city. On the meta-level, an overarching mandate is to generate trust and collaboration through Mapping Metamodernism for Collective Intelligence. Either we truly believe we’re a microcosm of it all, or we just keep playing make believe in different tribes.

Further background to be explored around consensus and convergence include Globalization and Policy Convergence (Drezner, 2001), Globalization and policy convergence: Symposium overview (Hoberg, 2001) and dozens more. These are all potential things to build consensus up to. Governments’ ability to perform their function has been eroded by neoliberalism for 50 years, as has the utility of voting, but politics is only a decrepit death cult insofar as we’ve let it become that. The Culture War has exacerbated the meta-crisis. We must reverse all the destructive trends and foster consensus around political climate change and peace building, a most unexpected turn in the middle of this post-truth fear-based apocalyptic timeline. And its precisely this moment, when we’re all driven apart, that we must seek out a truce, and start to trust again. Let’s begin.

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