On February 11th, XRYork held an open-door People’s Assembly to vote on the group’s priorities for the year ahead.

Focus group breakout at the People’s Assembly

In the weeks leading up to the Assembly, group co-ordinators invited everyone to make suggestions for topics. These were then put to the group during the People’s Assembly to be whittled down to a final seven by focus groups of approximately six participants.

B Taylor, XRYork co-ordinator and a principle facilitator of the People’s Assembly, explains why we held the Assembly, and how code was used to enable highly democratic decision-making.

“The People’s Assembly was was a chance for everyone to get their voice heard and make a collective decision to try and avoid things just coming from ‘the top’,” they say.

Hierarchies are a touchy subject in XR – we know we need some form of authority, but constantly strive to devolve decisions as much as possible. Using a process based on the Borda voting system, we carried out a robust, impartial democratic exercise.

B, who has a Masters in Computer Science, created their own software based on the Borda voting system, in which participants rank seven different options in order of preference.

“In the Borda voting system, people write the numbers one to seven (one being their favourite) and points are assigned based on this input. Option 1 is given six, Option 2 is given five, etc.,” they explain. “There is no such thing as a completely fair voting system but this voting system is, in my opinion, the best way of conducting a vote of this size between many options.”

The more points each option received, the higher they would rank on our list of priorities. Each suggestion, previously gathered from across the group over a matter of weeks, was first explained by a voluntary speaker (often the person who suggested it). Focus groups then chose their top three most favoured suggestions, and co-ordinators collected these preferences using the tried and tested write-it-on-white-board method.

The results of the vote were as follows:
Car Free City: 131
Drax: 122
Fossil Free North: 127
COP 26: 150
York Central: 96
Outreach into the community: 66
Divestment: 101.

Going forward, our top three priorities will focus on the ongoing internal Car Free City campaign, actions to support the wider Fossil Free North movement, and preparation for COP 26 (to be held in Glasgow this November). Participants were invited to share their thoughts openly at all stages of the process, but ultimately demonstrated broad agreement to the final results via temperature checks.

“For future People’s Assemblies in which we have to come up with a clear ranking, I would personally opt to use a similar system,” says B, reflecting on how effectively the system worked.

However, they add, anyone running a similar People’s Assembly or indeed any voting exercise is free to do it however they choose. Additionally, any option that didn’t score as highly will remain a priority: no option is abandoned as a result of the process. In any case, many are inextricably linked.

“Since the vote tallying was so quick and, in my opinion, fair, I would suggest other XR groups do the same. I’d be happy to share my resources with them,” they say.

“I really believe People’s Assemblies are the best way of making group decisions. I doubt we’ll use this specific system any time soon unless we have so much going on that we need to rank things in this way,but I definitely imagine we’ll have to decide on our campaigns again at the beginning of next year if not sooner.”

The beauty of true democratic process, though, is its fluidity. This is something the York co-ordinators work hard to stress as part of every decision the group makes – even our routine temperature checks.

“If someone else has a better idea, or group consensus decides against it, I would of course listen to that,” says B.

The evening’s agenda

You can follow XRYork’s progress over the year via our website and social media sites, or by coming along to one of our weekly meetings at 7.30pm at Spark: CIC.

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