While our protocols, technologies, and experimental designs are all based in humility, equity, and anti-colonialism, the main place where people notice justice-at-work when they join our lab is in how we run our weekly lab meetings. Here are some resources to running an anti-oppressive, horizontal, equity-based meeting, including: shared guidelines (sometimes called a code of conduct), facilitation methods, training in collaboration, and consensus based decision making.
Shared guidelines for safer spaces
While there is no such thing as a totally safe space, spaces can be made safer to participate in. This requires some guidelines. Here are ours:
Guidelines for collective conversations at CLEAR
- One Diva, One Mic: one person speaks at a time. Also, if you’ve been speaking a lot or for a long time, step up into a listening role. If you haven’t spoken much or at all, step up into a speaking or communicative role. No one has to speak, but everyone is expected to communicate.
- Your Story, Your Choice: You decide which stories to share and which to keep. No one is expected to educate anyone else by sharing their experiences, traumas, or stories.
- Don’t Yuck My Yum (Yes, And): If what someone offers to the group (their joy, ideas, experiences, gender expressions) isn’t hurting anyone, don’t disparage it. Instead, affirm and add (yes, and!). One person’s yummy bit isn’t superior to anyone else’s.
- Own Your Shit: There’s a difference between intent and affect, and often harm can occur when there isn’t the intent for harm. We know people will make mistakes. All we ask is that people are accountable to those mistakes.
- We Are Survivors: While being cavalier or flippant about genocide, slavery, racism, sexism, ableism, rape, etc. can be an individual coping mechanism, it’s not an ideal fit in collectives where there are survivors. We’ll be talking about these things in a way that respects the heaviness that we’re laying on our peers, including asking for consent first.
- What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas: People often share and say things in lab because it is in lab. If you want to take something out of lab that isn’t yours– someone else’s actions, stories, ideas, or images–get consent.
These guidelines were made by consensus and over time, so all lab members buy in and what they need to participate is included. We start by asking people to recall a place and time where they felt supported, and what it was about that space that did that. We then prioritize and do consensus based decision making on the final list (see below). We use Sophie Toupin’s text, “Feminist Hackerspaces as Safer Spaces?” to prime us for this discussion.
Facilitation is a discussion method that aims to bring collective knowledge together. Rather than styles of discourse characteristic of teaching, leadership, or debate, all of which are more individualistic and based on a single main “knower,” facilitation looks to “grease the wheels” of everyone else’s knowledge. Facilitation addresses how different people in the room are more or less likely to speak, be heard, or be interrupted, and works to address those disparities. Facilitation is not intuitive. It’s a skill, and it has to be trained. We highly recommend that lab PIs take formal facilitation training.
Here are two excellent resources on how to do facilitation:
Aorta Collective Anti-Oppressive Facilitation Guide (Creative Commons license)
USAID Facilitation Skills Training Manual
One of the simple facilitation techniques we use every meeting is a round robin. We go around to everyone at the table, in order, and they have a chance to speak or weigh in on the topic. Anyone can “pass” and choose not to speak, but it also means the junior researchers, introverts, women, people of colour, new recruits, and others that may not otherwise speak have a chance to share their insights. We often do one of these at the end of the meeting to see how everyone is doing/what their main take away was. (Note: This is not a talking circle, which is a specific and sacred healing ceremony. This is just taking turns.)
Consensus-Based Decision Making
Consensus-Based Decision Making (CBDM) is a process where everyone in a group agrees to move forward on a plan of action. This doesn’t mean everyone agrees equally, but that everyone has agreed to move forward regardless of unevenness and differences of opinion. Because it is a method that aims to reach agreement despite difference, it should be carefully and intentionally facilitated.
There is a concrete, step by step process that can help a group research consensus outlined in Tim Hartnet’s book, Consensus-Oriented Decision-Making. This is the model we use, though there are others. Here is our lab’s “cheat sheet” of condensed steps in the consensus process.
Our lab operates as a collective and leverages our shared intelligences, rather than acting as a bunch of individual geniuses. However, collaboration is a skill. We work to develop this skill in a few ways.
The first step is to set ground rules, guidelines, or a code of conduct about how we want to work together. What do we think about lates and absences? How do we want to communicate with one another? How do we make decisions? How do we resolve conflicts? I teach some of this in my classes. Here is a sheet for structuring these ground rules in a rather formal way via a collaboration contract. You can also do it less formally. We’ve done it by having facilitated conversations about what we value, and then drawn practices & protocols from those values. This took several meetings, but we are damn good at collaboration. One of our most basic ground rules is: “If you are sick, heartbroken, or exhausted, go home. Work is not more important than your health.”
Another part of our training is to recognize that people have different preferences for how they maintain their energy, think, make decisions, and communicate. To address and support these differences, we use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) (a free version is here) to help us articulate how we think and work, and then use the “Types and Teams framework” to create specific meeting styles and work styles that work for all participants.
A full training manual to Types and Teams is here.
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These processes don’t mean that we don’t have problems. We have them all the time (in fact, our lab book contains a protocol on apologies for that reason!). But we work through our issues equitably, supportively, and consistently. As a result, lab members are collectively able to take on riskier work, act well together, stretch their limits and skills, and have fun doing it. CLEAR has between 15-25 members working on close to 20 unique projects, an impossible setup unless everyone is supporting one another consistently, selflessly, and in good humour. That takes structure.