Agora Ekklesia

Definition

Agora Ekklesia group decision-making method defined by the following key elements in an assembly format:

  1. Support for fundamental human needs, non-business exchange, volunteering, social hobbies and group decision-making.

  2. Quick surveys on the background of face to face deliberative event.

  3. Private discussion, no official public discussion.

  4. Option of a secret ballot and other voting methods for proposals that have enough support in surveys.

  5. Publishing accepted proposals on common website licensed as creative commons and free software with open source code.

Problems and Purpose

Max-Neef (1991) classifies the fundamental human needs as freedom, participation, creation, leisure, understanding, identity, protection, subsistence, affection [1]. Agora Ekklesia is a decision making process designed to fulfil those needs for participants in an assembly setting. The aim is to retain focus on these fundamental needs rather than other challenges that arise in political decision-making such as scalability, the digital divide, media influence or non-participation.

Freedom is realized through minimizing chances for any kind of oppression and remaining friendly, economic and transparent. Participation is achieved through sharing of opinions in a  private discussion, including taboo and storytelling. Creation is satisfied through iterative brainstorming processes. Leisure is supported by providing comfortable settings, games and number of activities that can be organized in or by the assembly. Understanding is enhancing through keeping discussion private, where there may be less pressure for rhetorics and oversimplification. Identity may be supported by working together as an assembly. Protection is provided as assembly and its projects support creation of social ties, that are helpful in case of misfortune. Subsistence is not the main focus of the assembly, but it may be supported in some projects, for example projects like community gardening may provide subsistence for some. Affection, whilst not a central focus, may be supported through interaction between participants, and with organisers, during the assembly.

Despite having clear aims in supporting the above fundamental needs, it is not clear from the information available how the process is actually designed and implemented to support these needs.

History

Agora Ekklesia was trialled in Hradec Králové, a small village in the Czech Republic in approximately 2016. It is not clear what the overall aim of the trial was. The designer of the process, Michal Štěpánek, noted that timing and execution of the event were poor. The assembly was organized by a newcomer to the village who was not trained in facilitation and did not have a favourable reputation in the community. There is very little information and no official reports of the event available at this time so it is difficult to corroborate what happened exactly.

During the first event of the trial, seven people including Štěpánek, also including two people who were opposed to the event taking place, apparently connected to the local mayor who did not attend. Nine proposals were submitted for consideration by the assembly, although it is unclear what the proposals related to. Due to low participation and underdeveloped proposals, these were not elaborated any further. 

No participants attended the second meeting and the third meeting was postponed by Štěpánek to concentrate on other projects.

Participant Selection

Participation is open. Agora Ekklesia was trialled in a small Czech village where participation was open to all. However, only seven people attended the first meeting and nobody the second. It is unclear how the organisers recruited participants.

Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction

Agora Ekklesia appears to follow a stepwise process. At the first meeting, ideas are registered and published to enable spontaenous brainstorming in an informal setting. Ideas are organised into polls which are used to rank proposals and ideas. Approved proposals are then shared with the group at the assembly.

Citizens are encouraged to talk in pairs and small groups. For those who are willing to play, social games may be used to establish new pairs or exchange partners. Pairs may talk about the proposals on information boards or their own ideas. Individual citizens may search public websites with accepted proposals from other assemblies and may translate and register them as local proposals. The facilitator plays a minimal role in the assembly.

Later meetings are more complex. Ideas are collected in multiple ways such as through a Facebook group or face to face. Proposals are developed in a relative spontaeneous manner, as soon as an idea has significant support. So that a backlog of ideas with low support doesn't build up, these are discarded at an earlier stage. The minimum decision rule is 50% for supporting a proposal, although higher thresholds can be implemented.

Opinion polls used to determine support for proposals include a range of possible answers rather than a simple support/reject option, such as 'yes, it is perfect', 'good idea, but make it more detailed' or 'no, I will dissent' and 'no, I will fight it'. Following this, a public vote or secret ballot can be used. A vote is used when the opinion poll shows support for a proposal is nearing the decision threshold. Votes and polls should be carried out in real time and results published online within minutes.

The aim is that throughout the iterative process, proposals are improved and refined, abstract ideas become more concrete and develop into detailed plans.

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

Secondary Sources

[1] Max-Neef, M. (1991) Human Scale Development: conception, application and further applications, New York: The Apex Press, available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20130319153338/http://www.max-neef.cl/downlo...

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