Social media supporting the deliberative assembly

The expression “social media” generally refers to web-based services, such as Facebook, Delicious, and Digg, and technologies, such as wikis and forums, that facilitate discussion and information sharing based on user participation and user-generated content.1 2 Many non-profit organizations can benefit from using these new tools, not only in their marketing and other public-facing activities, but also in their internal deliberative processes.

At the heart of every non-profit organization is a deliberative assembly or two: a board of directors and/or an active and democratic general membership. Supporting these assemblies are the usual gamut of officers, committees, subcommittees, etc. The rules that govern the proceedings of these assemblies have hundreds of years of history, but that doesn’t mean new ideas can’t be productively used. In fact, there are some key ways that non-profits can use social media to make their internal governance processes more efficient and more effective.

First, the assembly has to join the world of the static web, if it has not yet done so. Most or all of the records of the assembly can be posted online and made accessible to members and/or the general public. This would include notices of meetings, agendas, minutes, by-laws, policies, rules, proposed motions, reports, and supporting material. There is no reason, other than privacy and secrecy, that this information can’t be made conveniently accessible in an online format. Many associations go this far, and then stop—but this is only the beginning.

The next step is to add the ability for members (and maybe others) to comment on and debate the items posted. These discussions can be an aid to the crystallization of opinion,3 and can make the actual meetings go more efficiently if done well. Ideas can be fielded, questions answered, and time-wasting proposals identified. This discussion cannot replace voting at the meeting, nor should it be used as an excuse to cut off legitimate debate, but the advantages are nevertheless quite strong.

The next stage, beyond mere commenting, is collaboration. Using tools such as wikis and content management systems, committees and other para-deliberative bodies can fluidly propose, amend, and refine their reports and recommendations, without having to meet in person and go through the tedious amendment process, while at the same time maintaining an electronic record of their activities, and having extremely good visibility of their work product. The Wikimedia Foundation uses this process to develop the very successful Wikipedia website.4

Still further along the continuum, we encounter the idea of an asynchronous electronic deliberative assembly meeting, wherein the participants actually make motions, debate, and vote by e-mail or using some kind of web interface. This is a new and relatively untested area of parliamentary procedure, but some non-profit organizations, such as the Debian Project, have done it successfully for years.5

Some of these ideas, to be implemented fully and faithfully, might require amendments to the by-laws of the association in question, or at least to the standing rules or special rules of order6. The assistance of a professional parliamentarian might be helpful, especially where members do not have the necessary knowledge of the rules, nor the time needed to acquire it.

  1. Parr, Ben. “It’s Time We Defined Social Media. No More Arguing. Here’s the Definition.” 08 Aug. 2008. 28 Nov. 2008 <>. []
  2. SEM Glossary.” Search Engine Watch. Incisive Interactive Marketing LLC. 28 Nov. 2008 <>. []
  3. RONR (10th ed.), p. 524-525 []
  4. Wikipedia.” Wikipedia. 28 Nov. 2008. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 28 Nov. 2008 <>. []
  5. Constitution for the Debian Project.” v1.4. Debian. 07 Oct. 2007. Debian Project. 28 Nov. 2008 <> []
  6. RONR (10th ed.), p. 2 []

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