Working things out in Divisive Situations

I am not sure if people  in the blogiverse  really feel this, but every week or so I get a note from Facebook – “Wendy your followers have not heard from you for a while and they are wondering where you are.” As pleasant as it is to think people are waiting  for the next comment from me I  don’t really believe that to be the case. I suspect the reason is more FB’centric – but if you have been waiting, here I am 🙂 .

As alluded to by FB, I am not a frequent poster, although I do ponder a lot: when walking the dog, always after a contentious gallery-packed council meeting.  Recently I’ve wondered if there isn’t a better way to process the contentious issues all Councils address from time to time?  Our busy, litigious world seems to dictate and lean on use of technology, structured processes, and division of responsibilities, over flexible, albeit time-consuming, relationship building – that process of giving and getting information and developing understanding and empathy. My background is community development, training I used extensively as a recreation professional and later a consultant. I have experienced the importance of relationship building to achieve a mutually acceptable decision or goal. As a Councillor I have lived through a few difficult  decision issues. Considered against the backdrop of my training I  do wonder if there are  structures or practices that interfere with  opportunity to build these all important relationships in  contentious  situations?

Our council meetings are video and audio taped, there is good use of social media and email, Freedom of Information policies, and  the occasional story by print media. One would be hard pressed to suggest there is not a reasonable level of information out. Public information meetings and public hearings provide opportunities for information in, although, and this is particularly for elected officials, there are limitations (some legislated, some simply practice) to working with groups of differing interests to develop those relationships so critical to consensus decisions.

Thinking back to my community development days I remember how time consuming those processes could be,  as well as how  individuals and groups  at times compromised  to achieve a fair and equitable end. Could it be that decision making processes and organizational practices geared to being efficient and transparent might at times impede necessary relationship building? Is there a different way, one that is efficient with the time and resources, protects an organization from litigation, and respects the intent of administration and elected roles, that could achieve more harmonious success?

I know that as long as there are groups and organizations there will be contentious situations. I also know that things always work out better when one group or individual is not disadvantaged relative to the gains of others. I have served on a number of decision making bodies and it is unrealistic to think that one can keep everyone happy all the time. But that shouldn’t mean we don’t continually work toward processes and practices that recognize the interests and realities of all parties; that fair and equitable to all can’t be a goal.

I would like to hear your thoughts on how we (if we?) as Wolfville Council – or just me as Councillor Donovan – can  move toward a less contentious decision-making process – in situations that are contentious. Or, perhaps you think the current approach works just fine. Either way I really would like to hear from you.

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