WFH NETWORK

July 2015 / Volume 3, No. 4

Democracy: We’re in this together!

Democratic principles

 
  Image courtesy of nongpimmy at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Democracy comes from the Greek words “demos”, meaning the people, and “kratia”, meaning power, or rule. The idea of everyone having a say in what happens in their towns, cities, and villages can also be applied to organizations. A democratic organization is based on freedom rather than control or fear. A democratic organization values and increases human potential.

Instead of a few members having absolute control, a democratic organization encourages every member to be equally involved in the decision-making process. Simply by virtue of being a member of the organization – or a citizen in a society – one is entitled to be treated as an equal.

Communication in a democratic organization involves all members. Each person’s input is valued on its own and as part of the greater vision of the organization.

Applying democratic principles to organizations1
  • Members rule through a decision-making process that they’ve established by a vote
  • Ideas come from the members and are presented to the group assembly for decision making
  • Leaders are chosen from amongst the members through a free and fair election process
  • Checks and balances between the leadership and the members are established in the governing documents
  • All members are equal — they have equal rights and responsibilities
  • The organization is run with impartiality and fairness
  • Everything is accomplished in the spirit of openness, not secrecy
  • Members have the right to resign from office or from the organization

 

Applying the principles of democracy to your organization can have great benefits. A democratic organization aims to achieve productivity without being utilitarian. This means that members and their skills are not seen as a means to an end, to be exploited for the benefit of the organization – rather, they are valued as people first. A truly democratic organization will encourage members to contribute while providing them the support they need to be their best. As a result, democratic organizations have a huge potential to come up with more creative ideas, while ensuring the happiness of their members. Feeling valued and having a say in your group’s activities makes you feel like you belong!

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Transparency

Transparency is an important feature of democracy. A transparent object is one we can see through, and in terms of a government or organization this implies openness, accountability, and honesty. It requires regular and open communication within the organization, through regularly held meetings, disclosure of financial statements, clarity about corporate sponsors, and openness to financial audits and information requests. Increasing transparency is inherently about building trust and loyalty among group members.

 
  Image courtesy of mapichai at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Organizational transparency moves away from a “members only” attitude to welcoming non-member and public input. This means embracing open access to information and encouraging new membership. Transparency is important to ensuring that your organization’s activities are honest and devoid of secrecy. It also means sharing your group’s vision and plans with those who may not be directly involved in its decisions.

You must be prepared for some challenges when providing open access to information, for example, the information may be misunderstood or misrepresented by others. Discussions and good judgment are essential when deciding how your information should be relayed to the public. It is just as important to determine what information needs to be kept private – such as medical and personal information – in order to respect members’ privacy and confidentiality.

In principle, operating on trust, transparency, and member involvement should reduce the need for layers of bureaucracy. This, in turn, minimizes waste and increases efficiency – another advantage of operating a transparent, democratic organization.

Transparency checklist

The following items should be considered in your organization’s transparency plan:

  • Open board meetings: Post the location, date, and time of open meetings on your group noticeboard well in advance
  • Financial disclosure: Consider posting audited financial statements on your website
  • Freedom of information: Be aware of “right to know” rules that guarantee access to data
  • Annual audits: Have accounting and auditing firms check that your accounts are in order, and that no financial laws are being broken including tax laws
  • Annual reports: Compile information including accounts of group activities and programs throughout the year, fundraising efforts, and how those monies were used
  • Strategic plans and priorities: Distribute these key statements to group members and post them publicly on a noticeboard or website
  • Information about Board of Directors and key staff/members: Make names and contact information of these individuals available on your website, noticeboard, or newsletter

Boosting efficiency, improving member involvement, and increasing creative output are just a few of the advantages of a democratic organization. Although it may be hard to switch from a different model, the benefits of democracy and transparency are worth the efforts. Valuing members and enhancing team work through a truly democratic structure creates a more fun, supportive community that is full of potential and great ideas, and more likely to successfully reach its goals!

Reference:

1Robert McConnell Productions. Robert’s rules of order simplified and applied. 2nd ed. Indianapolis, IN: Webster’s New World. Wiley Publishing Inc. 2001.

What's next?
Spreading the word 
Your group is doing great things for its members and the bleeding disorders community, and you want people to know about it. Or maybe you have established a financial goal for a good cause and want some support. In the next Young Voices article, find out how to approach public relations and fundraising strategies.

Questions that require an answer are marked with  *
   
In your experience, is it easy to ensure that everyone has an equal say in your group? How have you overcome some challenges to equal participation that you’ve faced?