Back in 2006 I decided to try and set-up some kind of organisation inspired by the various material I had been reading on participatory vision and strategy. I felt at the time, and still do, that participatory vision and strategy and the complimentary holist theoretical framework were significant enough developments to warrant a new organisation. The issue of establishing a new organisation is in itself a serious consideration because we don’t want to just go around setting up new organisations if existing ones can incorporate new developments in theory and practice. However, in my assessment, much of the traditional left (Marxist and anarchist) are a lot more dogmatic than they like to think.
So, mostly out of frustration I decided to write what would become "Our Basic Organising Framework" for what would turn into the Project for a Participatory Society – United Kingdom (PPS-UK). The original name of the organisation was something awful like ZNetworkUK only later becoming PPS-UK after good critical feedback from various people already involved in the development of participatory vision and strategy. Amongst other things Our Basic Organising Framework addressed issues ranging from purpose, values and culture to structure and participation.
Once I was reasonably happy with the framework (which, from a ParSoc advocates point of view was intended to be a very uncontroversial set of statements) I sent a copy to Michael Albert for him to comment on. Michael liked the framework and on that basis decided to invite me to a gathering ZNet were in the middle of organising called Z Sessions on Vision and Strategy (ZSVS).
At the same time I compiled a list of all the UK based contacts on ZNet (the old site) which had some kind of networking facility that allowed people to find others in their area. My thinking was that these people would be the most likely to be interested in a new organisation for a participatory society. By the time I had finished compiling the list there were over 500 people on it. I then emailed everyone on the list receiving something like 50 positive replies asking to be kept informed of any future developments.
Whilst in Boston (US) for ZSVS I visited MIT where Noam Chomsky works and asked him if he would look at the framework I had written for this new organisation. He very kindly said he would take a look and wrote the following endorsement -
I was very pleased to learn about the PPS-UK initiative. It addresses issues of prime significance with thought and care, ranging from long-term vision to actions that can be undertaken right now, all within a framework that offers hope for constructing the elements of a much better future society within the existing one. It seems to me to be a fine and promising project.
Meanwhile back in the UK I was meeting people who were offering help to build a web site for PPS-UK. The initial site was deliberately simple in style and content in order to allow for plenty of improvement as more people got involved. In addition to the Chomsky endorsement and Our Basic Organising Framework there was introductory articles on liberating theory and participatory politics, kinship, economics and community. There was also a facility for members to initiate projects and a forum for members to discuss issues and plan events etc.
Over the 3 or so years that PPS-UK has been out in the public domain we have gone from having an initial membership of less than 10 people to close to 200 people signed-up today. However, there has always been only a small percentage of members taking an active role – I would guess something like 10% of members on average at any one time. Despite the small number of active members over the years PPS-UK has, without doubt, developed and grown and is now, I feel, entering a kind of second phase of development – mostly, I should add, due to the efforts being made by a small number of particularly active members.
For example we now have a new site that has just been launched. This new site was created over the past year by a couple of members who work as PPS-UK’s IT team. The whole process for the creation of the new site involved feedback from members via the forum and face-to-face meetings. This process is ongoing with members given suggestions for changes and improvement via the new site.
One particular feature on the new site that is going to prove crucial for our ability to build a popular movement for a participatory society here in the UK is the facility that allows people to initiate local chapters where they live. Since launching the new site we already have 5 local chapters that have been set-up by members. This is a good start but it is obviously nowhere near what we need if PPS-UK is to develop into the kind of organisation we need for our ambitious project. We need more people to take advantage of this new facility on the new site and initiate local chapters.
Perhaps one consideration that we might make is that preferably those who initiate new chapters, or join existing chapters, have studied participatory vision and strategy on one of the courses taught at ZSchool by Michael Albert and Chris Spannos. This consideration would function as a mechanism for making sure that levels of understanding and consciousness are roughly equal throughout the organisation. This of course is important if we are to practice what we preach and not turn into some informal version of a democratic centralist organisation.
Another issue I think we need to address is that of the formal relationship between the various local chapters and how they are each internally managed. Our Basic Organising Framework will give us some ideas about how this might function but my feeling is that, as we enter into this new phase of development, we need to be much more explicit about our organisation. This may involve producing some kind of hand book on good practice for local chapters. This hand book would need to clearly spell-out issues regarding, for example – money and PPS-UK funds, decision-making authority and minimum requirements for local chapters membership. It would ensure that all chapters functioned along similar lines and also to give us something to refer to in times of organisational difficulties – for example, the suspension or expulsion of members.
Basically such a document would be our guide for organisational self-management. Such a document would of course be open to changes and refinements at future PPS-UK annual general meetings but in order for PPS-UK to evolve into a functioning National organisation it seems to me that we now need to develop a clearer set of ideas for local chapter organising. Once we have this guide PPS-UK can begin to function as a meaningful National organisation which in turn will allow us, in conjunction with other National PPS organisations, to make a valuable contribution to a future International Organisation for a Participatory Society.