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A challenging process

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On June 22nd, 2009, a new Working Committee (WC) and Auroville Council (AVC) took office, after a sometimes controversial process which lasted more than 6 months.



The process started  last year  when the Residents' Assembly Service (RAS) – a group of four people appointed to oversee the process of decision making of the Resident's Assembly (RA) – invited all those with an interest in the topic to sit together to discuss possible ways to form the next Working Committee (WC) and Auroville Council (AVC) (the term of office of the serving WC and AVC members was to expire on 1st April).

This process led to extensive job descriptions for each team. It was also accepted that at least a few of the  future WC and AVC members should serve full-time, instead, as at present, only part-time. But agreement on the selection process could not be reached. Some favoured a continuation of the present WC; others proposed that  the next teams would be selected by former members of the WC and AVC  from a list of people nominated by the Auroville residents; a third group proposed a different selection and nomination process.

The three proposals were put before the Residents' Assembly in February. The proposal that the next teams would be selected by former members of the WC and AVC received most votes,  the proposal that the present teams would continue for another 2 years came second, but none of the proposals obtained the required majority of 50% of the votes cast to stand approved.

After some discussion, it was agreed to initiate the process which received the most votes. Members of former WCs and AVCs were requested to select one member from their group to serve as members of the Selection Committee (SC). Meanwhile the community was invited to nominate people for the next WC and AVC, taking into account their availability as full- or part-time members and their suitability for the job corresponding to the job descriptions.

The Selection Committee chosen had twice as many men as women and was diverse in terms of age, nationality, background and point of view. It originally had 13 members, but as some left or went out of station, the final decision was made by 9 members.
The community response was overwhelming: the lists of nominees for the AVC and WC contained more than 400 names. They included the qualities of character and job skills that each person was nominated for. The list intentionally did not include the number of times person had been nominated, in order to avoid problems associated with a system of voting. 

The SC reported regularly about the progress of its work in the News and Notes, and produced an extensive final report. It mentioned that initially it split up into three groups to independently prepare lists. “When the three groups met, they discovered to their surprise that there was not one name that was chosen by all three groups for either the AVC or WC. This was quite a profound experience because many of us have the idea that some people are just so obviously cut out for this work that everybody would choose them. It was then that the SC realized how well they represented the diversity of Auroville, and that if they could eventually agree on 16 names, they would probably come as close as it's possible to getting the membership that many sections of the community would feel comfortable with, even though they might not be anyone's ideal group.”

A long list of candidates for the WC was agreed by everybody and they were each contacted. Most of them refused to serve. The SC then decided to try to choose the Auroville Council. This went very smoothly and soon nine people, five women and four men, agreed to serve. It was less easy to agree on names for the WC  but the SC found people that they agreed  had the qualities and skills for the work.
“Besides the qualities and skills required, other possible parameters were also discussed: gender balance, nationality balance, age balance, continuity with the previous groups, number of years residing in Auroville. Although there was a lot of support for the idea of selecting a majority of women for both groups, it was finally decided not to use any parameter other than the capacities and qualities of character of the candidates, and their demonstrated dedication to the ideals that Auroville aspires to manifest.”
The SC concluded, “The process, although complex, has been harmonious and the final decision has been made by consensus. The Selection Committee considers that all the Aurovilians who have been selected for the AVC and WC meet the high criteria needed in order to serve in these two working groups. All are competent and dedicated Aurovilians, and we are confident that they will do the work with integrity and skill.”

After publishing the names on the AVNet and in the News and Notes, there was a 2-week feedback period. Sixty one people gave feedback. Only 11 were negative about the process followed and 12 asked for continuity of members from the previous WC. After considering the feedback carefully, the Selection Committee announced that the people selected by it would serve as the next WC and AVC for a 2-year period.

The objections, though rejected by the SC, deserve to be studied. One objection dealt with the SC's decision to make its decisions by consensus, as this process allows one person to block the rest. The SC was aware of the problem but defended its decision as being “closer to the spirit of Auroville than voting.”
Another objection was that the SC had not specified which qualities a person had for being appointed as a member of the AVC and WC,  even though each community member had been asked to specify such qualities for each nominee. The SC explained that “adding a skill label to each proposed member would be somewhat artificial,” and that the skills of communication, organisation, knowledge and vision were available within each team.
Another issue was the question of continuity: 125 votes had been cast in favour of continuity in February, yet the SC did not reappoint even one member of the former WC and AVC. The SC explained that at first they disagreed among themselves. “Later this issue lost its sharpness and everyone was ready to nominate Aurovilians who were on the previous WC and AVC if an agreement was found on the names. However the SC failed to reach such an agreement.” 

The objections raised give food for thought. While many people feel that the Selection Committee did a good job, the question remains: can we evolve a better system?

Courtesy of Carel (From AV Today, August 2009 issue)

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