1999 California Urban and Community Forest Summit
Groundrules for Plenary Sessions
By: Kevin Wolf
Ideally, participants at the Summit will be able to reach consensus on all major decisions that come before them over the course of the two days. Consensus does not require 100% support for a proposal; it means that individuals present can live with the decision because it does not violate their values, principles, interests, or major goals and mission. Reaching full consensus may not be possible in the tight timeline of the Summit and thus there is a fallback voting procedure where a 75% supermajority vote can pass a proposal. In the spirit of consensus, we will strive to clearly understand dissenting positions before a vote is called, yet in the interest of time, participants can “call the question”, cut-off the debate, and force a vote by following the specific groundrules spelled out below. Finally, these groundrules themselves are open for alternation and change during the course of the summit using the same procedure to advance any other decision.
Basic Groundrules for Plenary and Breakout Sessions
- Raise hands: During the plenary session, a volunteer will maintain the list of all who raise their hands to speak. A participant does not get to speak on a subject a second time until all who wish to speak for the first time have had this opportunity. (Note: This last caveat does not apply to breakout sessions where the average number of participants is much smaller than the 70 plus expected at the plenary session.) Two exceptions to maintaining the hand order are:
- Point of Process: Any participant wishing to speak on a point of process has the floor after present speaker completes their thoughts. A point of process is directed to the facilitator and addresses questions or suggestions on the agenda, groundrules, and for the purpose of “calling the question.”
- Point of Clarification: A participant has the floor by standing up and stating “point of clarification” after a speaker has finished their statement. Point of clarification should not be abused and must be a question to the person who just finished speaking so that an issue can be clarified right then and there. Participants using “point of process” and “point of clarification” do not use up their opportunity to speak a “first time” on an agenda item.
- Stay on Subject: The plenary and breakout facilitators reserve the right to interrupt speakers if it appears they are off subject. The agenda builds throughout the two days in a logical, sequential manner. When speakers begin discussing an issue that will be covered elsewhere in the Summit, the facilitators ask them how this addresses the subject presently on the agenda. For example, it will be easy for the afternoon breakout session to wander into the tasks involved with implementing the strategies. If this helps advance whether or not the strategy should be a priority, it is an “on subject” point. If it is because enthusiasm has brought the discussion into the Friday morning assignment for implementing the priority strategies, the speaker is off subject and the next person in the hand order will have the floor.
- Be concise: The facilitator asks for the right to invoke a one-minute speaking limit. The one-minute limit is flexible because difficult issues often take more time to explain. If speakers begin repeating themselves or others, the facilitator should invoke the time limit. Any participant can help the facilitator realize when this groundrule is being violated by using “point of process” after the person is done speaking. If necessary, participants can invoke a stricter or tighter speaking timeline through the use of Point of Process and calling the question for such a proposal. Two minutes is the maximum time given to any individual each time they have the floor through hands raised.
- Be polite: Being respectful and polite should be easy at the Summit given the mutual respect everyone should have for each other given the good work we do in our daily lives and in our commitment to urban forests and our environment. Examples of being disrespectful include crude or blasphemous language, distracting side-conversations, and slander and personal attacks. Anyone feeling that the facilitator is not enforcing the “be polite” groundrule is encouraged to use “point of process” to gain the floor and explain the disrespectfulness from their perspective.
- Calling the Question: Anyone, including the facilitator, can use “point of process” to call the question and request a formal vote on a proposal. Upon such a call, the facilitator asks for a clarification of the proposal to be voted on. Once it is clear, the facilitator asks for a show of hands of those ready to end discussion. If 51% of participants raise their hands in support of an immediate vote, discussion is over and a vote occurs. If less than 50% support occurs, debate continues. If a vote occurs, some people might end up voting against the proposal, not because they don’t support it, but because they want discussion to continue. If a proposal fails to get a 75% supermajority, discussion continues.
- Voting: Once the question has been successfully called, a vote occurs. A 75% supermajority of the number of the combined Yes and No votes cast, passes any proposal. Participants abstaining from the vote are not counted in the total. Thus, if 45 participants vote Yes and 15 vote No, a motion passes with no votes to spare. A second show of hands may be requested any time a vote is close. When facilitators feel that near-consensus is reached, they can call for a voice vote. If it is not immediately obvious that a supermajority plus has been reached through a voice vote, a hand-raising vote can be called for by any participant using Point of Process.
- Voting rights: All registered participants except the plenary facilitator are eligible voters at the summit.