A guide on group dynamics in people’s assemblies

This text has been prepared by the Commission for Group Dynamics in Assemblies of the

Puerta del Sol Protest Camp (Madrid). It is based on different texts and summaries which

reached consensus in the internal Assemblies of this Commission (and which will be made

available on the official webs of the 15th May Movement) and from the experiences gained in

the General Assemblies held in this Protest Camp up until 31st May 2011.


The purpose of this Quick Guide is to facilitate and encourage the development of the different

Popular Assemblies which have been created since the beginning of the 15th May Movement.

This Quick Guide will be periodically revised and updated. On no account is it to be considered

a closed model which cannot be adapted through consensus by any given Assembly. From the

Commission for Group Dynamics in Assemblies of the Puerta del Sol Protest Camp we invite

our friends and comrades to attend and take part in the meetings, work plans and internal

Assemblies of this Commission, which are open to anyone who wants to come to them and

actively participate in maintaining, perfecting and developing them.


Open Reflection on Collective Thinking


While we would like to share our impressions so far, we encourage you to continue to reflect on

and debate these impressions as we feel that Collective Thinking is an essential part of our



To our understanding, Collective Thinking is diametrically opposed to the kind of thinking

propounded by the present system. This makes it difficult to assimilate and apply. Time is

needed, as it involves a long process. When faced with a decision, the normal response of two

people with differing opinions tends to be confrontational. They each defend their opinions with

the aim of convincing their opponent, until their opinion has won or, at most, a compromise has

been reached.


The aim of Collective Thinking, on the other hand, is to construct. That is to say, two people with

differing ideas work together to build something new. The onus is therefore not on my idea or

yours; rather it is the notion that two ideas together will produce something new, something that

neither of us had envisaged beforehand. This focus requires of us that we actively listen, rather

than merely be preoccupied with preparing our response.


Collective Thinking is born when we understand that all opinions, be these opinions our own or

others’, need to be considered when generating consensus and that an idea, once it has been

constructed indirectly, can transform us.


Do not be discouraged: we are learning; we’ll get there: all that’s needed is time.




What is a People’s Assembly? It is a participatory decision-making body which works towards

consensus. The Assembly looks for the best arguments to take a decision that reflects every

opinion – not positions at odds with each other as what happens when votes are taken. It must

be pacific, respecting all opinions: prejudice and ideology must left at home. An Assembly

should not be centred around an ideological discourse; instead it should deal with practical

questions: What do we need? How can we get it? The Assembly is based on free association –

if you are not in agreement with what has been decided, you are not obliged to carry it out.

Every person is free to do what they wish – the Assembly tries to produce collective intelligence,

and shared lines of thought and action. It encourages dialogue and getting to know one another.

What types of Assembly have we used so far? Working Group Assemblies, Commission

Assemblies, Local Assemblies (in neighbourhoods, villages and towns), General Assemblies of

the Puerta de Sol Protest Camp and General Assemblies of Madrid (Puerta de Sol plus

neighbourhoods, villages and towns). These latter (General) Assemblies are the final

deliberative or deciding bodies from which the consensuses are decided in order to articulate

the different lines of Joint Action for the 15th May Movement in each city.


What is Consensus? It is the way that the assemblies make a final decision over each specific

proposal. Consensus is reached when there is no outright opposition in the assembly against

the proposal. The following format must be applied to each proposal: 1) What is being

proposed? 2) Why is it being proposed? 3) How can we carry out the Proposal if a consensus is

reached? To sum up: What? Why? How?


What is Direct Consensus? A Consensus that is directly reached without opinions against it:

Proposal > Consensus.


What is Indirect Consensus? A Consensus that is reached after debating different opinions on a

proposal which did not reach a Direct Consensus. The following steps are taken to reach an

Indirect Consensus: 1) What? Why? How? 2) After the moderator asks ‘Are there any strongly

opposed opinions?’, and if there are, a queue for floor time is prepared. The Floor Time Team

and Coordinator(s) open the first round of debate. Three arguments for and three arguments

against are allowed. After that, the Assembly is asked to show its opinion again through

Gestures. If consensus is still not reached when asking if there are opinions against, the

Moderator will ask the Assembly to discuss the issue for three to five minutes in small groups

where they are sitting. After this small break a second round of interventions consisting of

Proposals for Consensus takes place. If a consensus is still not reached after these two rounds,

the following takes place: a) If the Proposal comes from a Commission or Working Group, it is

returned in order to be reworked, b) If the Proposal comes from an individual, it will be taken to

the competent Commission or Working Group so it can reach a consensus on its usefulness

and present a reworked version of it in the next Assembly, where it will once again go through

the same procedure. And so on until a Real Consensus is reached.




It is vital to remember to control our gestures and body language so that our own emotions do

not confuse matters, and to remember also that a smile is hugely effective in moments of

tension or in an apparent dead-end. Haste and tiredness are the enemies of consensus.

LOGISTICS TEAM: A minimum of three people who are responsible for the equipment of an

Assembly. They draw a Map of the Site on the site itself, organising spaces and the corridors

that run through these spaces, they are in charge of the megaphone, they provide seating for

people with disabilities or who are very tired, they provide water and shade (parasols/umbrellas)

if temperatures are high or the sunshine is direct, etc.


ASSEMBLY PARTICIPANTS: This includes all those people participating in an Assembly,

including the Group Dynamics Teams and members of Commissions or Working Groups.

Participants are the life blood and the raison d’être of an Assembly. We are all responsible for

running and building the Assembly. Our functions are: listening to the different speakers;

participating in matters that require debate in rounds of floor time, and making individual

proposals or subjective evaluations (having requested the Floor-Time Team to do so) during the

Any Other Business round (normally near the end of each Assembly).


FLOOR TIME TEAM: Two to four people (depending on the size of the Assembly) positioned

amongst the participants and next to the corridors. They should wear a distinctive symbol in

order to be identifiable easily and carry a card which says “TURNS FOR THE FLOOR” which

they lift above their heads, particularly at the end of each intervention. Their main task is to note

down the names of the participants who want to take a turn. When such a request takes place,

they ask the participant:


1) Is your intervention related to what is being discussed? (Remind the participant of the issue

being discussed). 2) Is it a direct reply to something that has been said? 3) If so,is it in

agreement or disagreement? With this information the floor-time team member determines if the

intervention should be passed to the Floor-Time Coordinator(s) or not. If the proposed

intervention bears no direct relationship to the issue at hand, the person’s name is noted so that

they may be called upon during the Any Other Business round. They will also tell the participant

about other debate forums (speakers’ corners, working groups…). Members of this team should

be conciliatory, positive, neutral and patient. They are also responsible for noting any request

from the moderator(s) to be relieved. They should try and involve people who have not yet

intervened in the debate. A common error is to omit announcing the end of the period for

requesting floor time. The total amount of floor time should be limited using common sense in

order not to allow each issue to drag on indefinitely.


COORDINATOR(S) OF THE FLOOR-TIME TEAM: Two people, in close coordination with the

Floor-Time Team, whose task is to organise the requests to take the floor that are forwarded to

them by this team before passing them on to the moderator(s). Should a heated debate be

under way, their role includes both selecting speakers so that the same message is not

repeated, as well as mediating between people with similar arguments with the aim of

presenting a unified proposal for debate. The coordinators are a filter – they do not evaluative

the content of each intervention. In order to assure that the interventions are relevant, they

should remind speakers of the issue at hand and if this does not coincide with what the speaker

wants to share, direct them to other forums (speakers’ corners, working groups…). Once the

intervention has been coordinated, the floor-time coordinator informs the facilitator who informs

the moderator so that they can call on the speaker to intervene in the right order.


FACILITATING TEAM: Two or three people who back up the moderator. They are the

moderator’s “voice of conscience”. They are the only people in direct contact with the

moderators in order to help them maintain their concentration and impartiality. The Facilitators

should be positioned around the moderation space. They help the moderator synthesise and

reformulate proposals in an objective and impartial way. They facilitate the flow of information

between “Coordination” and the Moderator so that floor-time is fair and organised. They prevent

assembly participants from distracting the moderator, help the moderator communicate with

people who find it difficult to speak in public, make the moderator aware of any errors in their

vocabulary or summaries, inform them of any last-minute announcements, help them stick to

the agenda, etc. In large debates the figure of a “Direct Facilitator” may be created in order to

even more closely help the moderator to follow the norms of the Assembly.


An important way of helping the Assembly to run smoothly is to incorporate one or two people

who intervene when there are silences, over-heated discussions or serious digressions. Their

main role is to remind assembly participants of the importance of Collective Thinking, Active

Listening and the true meaning of Consensus.


ROTATING TEAM OF MODERATORS: One or more people (who rotate if the Assembly is

large or there is a lot of tension). This rotation is decided upon by the whole team of moderators,

with the greater good of the assembly in mind. The moderator can ask to be replaced. The

moderator should help the Assembly to run smoothly, should bring together the general sense

of the Assembly rather than follow a protocol, Ideally, this figure should not need to exist.

(everybody should respect everybody) The moderator(s) are responsible for: welcoming the

participants to the Assembly;explaining the nature and workings of the Assembly; presenting the

group dynamic teams and their functions; moderating positively and conciliating distinct

positions without aligning themselves personally with any of these; informing the Assembly of

the positions for and against during the process of Indirect Consensus; summarising each

intervention during the rounds of debate should it be needed; and repeating the consensus as

recorded in the minutes. The moderator also gives voice to gestures made should a speaker not

have noticed (it is recommended that assembly participants wait for a speaker to finish their turn

in order to express agreement or disagreement so as to avoid swaying the speaker).

Furthermore, the moderator is responsible for ensuring an atmosphere propitious to the

exchange of ideas and for establishing a positive tone. Should the need arise they might also

release tension by reminding participants of the value that any debate adds to the 15th May

Movement and by motivating participants in general. The moderator can also be replaced via

consensus of the Assembly as a whole. Anything spoken off microphone should be relayed to

the Assembly as a whole in order to foment transparency.


INTERPRETER TEAM: One or two people who translate oral interventions into sign language

for the hard of hearing and vice versa. Their vision should not be impeded by standing in front of

them. If the members of this team are in direct sunlight, the Logistics Team will assign two

people to shade them with parasols.


MINUTES TEAM: Two people responsible for noting all interventions which do no have a script.

In the case of consensus resolutions the minutes team can ask for any resolution to be repeated

word by word and subsequently ratified by the Assembly. Normally one team member writes

down interventions by hand whilst the other uses a computer in case what has been written

needs to be cross-checked. If the members of this team are in direct sunlight, the Logistics

Team will assign two people to shade them with parasols. At the end of the Assembly, the

minutes taken by this team should be read out to avoid any confusion.



LOGISTICS TEAM: Its purpose is to prepare and organise the Assembly area before it takes

place in order to make it more efficient and functional. The logistics person(s) are in charge of

agreeing on and marking out the area (within their possibilities) together with the other teams.

The Moderators’ Area is a rectangle marked out with chalk (or coloured tape stuck to the floor)

in front of the assembly area like a type of ‘stage’. Between this area and the assembly area the

Floor-Time Team is visibly placed and spread out amongst the participants. Within the

Moderators’ Area, the Moderator and the Speaker (person who has the floor) will stand in the

middle, flanked by the Interpreter(s) and Facilitator(s) who will normally be squatting or sitting on

the floor when not taking part, and always within reach of the Rotating Team of Moderators and

the Floor Coordinator(s).


To one side of the Moderators’ Area sit the Spokespeople of the Commissions and/or the

Working Groups who will be intervening in the different parts of the Agenda; on the other side

an area will be provided for the Floor Coordinator(s) who will always be within reach of the

Facilitator(s) and as far as possible from the Minutes Team (who will always sit near the

Moderators’ Area in order to be able to request a repetition, summary or text that has been

presented) in order not to distract their attention from the conversations which take place before

each turn to speak, making their job easier.




The following gestures have been agreed on in order to permit the expression of common

opinion during assemblies:


1) APPLAUSE/AGREEMENT: Upraised, open hands moving from side to side.

2) DISAGREEMENT: Arms folded in cross above the head.

3) “THAT HAS ALREADY BEEN SAID”/”GET TO THE POINT”: As if requesting a substitution in

sport, revolving upraised hands.

4) “YOUR INTERVENTION IS TAKING UP TOO MUCH TIME”: Crossed arms. Forearms come

together and move apart as if they were the hands of a clock so that palms touch above head.

5) “DIFFICULTY HEARING INTERVENTION”: Cupped hands to ears or hand moving up and

down as if to indicate, “turn the volume up”.

It is advisable to remind participants of these signs at the beginning of each Assembly. It is also

advisable to inform participants that is more useful to display disagreement once the person

speaking has finished in order not to condition their intervention, whenever possible.




We use Positive Speech avoiding negative statements which close the door to constructive

debate. It is a less aggressive and more conciliatory type of communication. It is useful to open

a debate with the points that unite before dealing with the points that separate. Examples:


1) ‘Don’t touch that dog or it will bite you’ could be phrased as ‘Be careful with that dog because

it could bite you and neither of us would like that.’

2) ‘If we don’t reach a consensus here all efforts will go to waste’ could be phrased as ‘It’s

important we reach a consensus in this point or we could end up losing strength as a group and

nobody wants that to happen.’


We use Inclusive Speech which makes no gender distinctions. It is clear that force of habit can

be hard to break, but it is convenient that between all of us we mutually remind ourselves to

remember this.




What is the Agenda of an Assembly? What is it for? The Agenda is a summary of the topics to

be discussed during an Assembly. Its function is to make sure no important issue is left out, to

establish an order in the type of interventions and to make it possible to calculate how much

time each part of the Assembly should take. The agenda is drawn up by the Group Dynamics

Team and the Moderator of any assembly should be familiar with it before opening an assembly

as it is a basic guide to that assembly’s contents. The Group Dynamics Team does not have

jurisdiction over the contents of the Agenda; its members merely organise the issues to be

discussed as reflected in the consensus reached by the representatives of all participating

commissions in preparatory meetings. The agenda contains an outline of what issues are to be

discussed in the Assembly and as such should be read out loud at the beginning of the

Assembly so that the all present are aware of what is going to take place. Experience will help

improve the design and relevance of each Assembly agenda. We recommend setting time limits

for each Assembly depending on the number of participants and the issues to be discussed, in

order to avoid loss of concentration and unfruitful assemblies.


**Schematic, practical example of an Assembly Agenda**


1) Welcome and Positive Presentation. The Assembly is the effective celebration of the power

of the people.

2) Summary of the consensuses reached in the previous Assembly and all outstanding issues.

3) Presentation of the Group Dynamics Team for the Assembly in question. The roles of each of

its members.

4) Explanation of the concept “Assembly”. We do not “vote”, we reach consensus.

5) Explanation of the concept “Consensus” (direct and indirect). Explanation of the process used

to reach an indirect consensus.

6) Examples of how the mechanics of the Floor-Time Team and Facilitators during an


7) Reminder of the gestures used in an Assembly and suggestions of how to express oneself

verbally in concordance with the 15th May Movement style, as approved by the General


8) Reading the Agenda out loud.

9) The turn of the Commissions and Work Groups without specific proposals for the Assembly,

only information which does not require consensus. It is advisable that a spokesperson from

each Commission or Working Group attends the preparatory meeting for the Assembly in order

to help organise the list of issues to be discussed.

10) The turn of the Commissions and Working Groups with specific proposals for the Assembly.

If a direct consensus is not reached, the floor is opened to debate. Remember: there should be

a maximum of two rounds of debate to defend each position (in groups of three speakers)

and/or find a point of agreement. If the debate becomes heated, a period of common reflection

can be opened and if after two rounds no consensus is reached the issue can be adjourned to

the following Assembly. Opinion > Debate > Resolution or Adjournment.

11) IMPORTANT NOTICES. Citations, general interest information, latest news, etc.

12) ANY OTHER BUSINESS. During this round, there is no opportunity for debate. The

information is not to be ratified at this point, rather taken up by the pertinent working group or

commission. Important: if it is necessary to cut short this round because of lack of time or

tiredness, announce this and tell those who have not had a chance to intervene in this round

that the subjects they wanted to mention will have priority in the any-other-business round in the

next Assembly.

13) Conclusions and notification of time and place of next Assembly.

14) Message of motivation and reminder of common purpose. Now is the time to use

memorable words, which may be in verse, a piece of good news, a highly-charged quotation or

a short text, etc.

15) Closure and acknowledgements.





What is horizontal organisation?


It is a type of social organisation which implies equality for everyone participating in a group or

society. There is no hierarchy and it is the opposite of vertical organisation in which some

people make decisions and others obey them.


The method used to take decisions in a horizontally-organised group or society is through



What is an Assembly?


An Assembly is a gathering place where people who have a common purpose can meet on

equal footing. It can be for:


* Information: the participants share information of mutual interest. They do not debate the

content of this information.

* Reflection: to jointly think through a subject, situation or problem. Information must be given,

but there is no need to arrive at an immediate decision.

* Decisions: when the group must reach a joint conclusion or decision about a subject it has

been involved in. To reach this, the two previous steps (having information and reflecting on it)

must have been taken in order to build a consensus.


What do we understand by consensus?


A consensus is a collective construction of a solution to or a decision on a common interest.

It is not drawing up a proposal which includes each and every individual need, but is rather a the

synthesis of all the individual opinions which give shape to the best way to achieve reach the

group’s common interest.

It implies:


* Being very clear about the group’s common interest.

* Being aware that anything collective is the sum of all the individual knowledge and input; to

this end, each individual’s opinions must have been be communicated, listened to and


* Realising that it [consensus] is a commonly constructed end, rather than a function in itself.

*Realising that consensus involves a process and that time and the necessary steps must be

provided for it.

The necessary steps are:

* Creating a relaxed group atmosphere which encourages participants to listen to, respect and

support each other. climate which listens to, respects and has complicity amongst its members.

* Making sure that the task which will to be worked on is crystal clear.

* Sharing the information of each individual or sub-group so it can be properly taken into


* Considering all points carefully.

* Identifying and using points which are clearly fall on common ground in order to begin building

the proposal.

* Gradually drafting the proposal through collective thinking.

* Celebrating your achievement.

What do we understand by collective thinking?

It is like a synthesis of individual talents and ideas, not an eclectic summary of what is best but

rather a synthesis of all. Individual talents placed in the service of common good, creating

through differences, understanding differences as elements which enrich our common vision or


It implies:

* Feeling that one is part of a whole.

* Letting oneself ‘blend into’ others.

* Not considering others to be opponents, but rather components of the whole group and in

equal conditions.

* Respecting opinions not through obligation but rather through desire.

* Having a positive attitude to be able to see what unites, rather than what separates.

* Going for instead of going against.

* Thinking in advance that others’ contributions will enrich the process.

* Not reacting immediately, allowing what others say to sink in first.


This document is the result of the experiences of the Group Dynamics Commission for the

Assemblies of the Puerta del Sol Protest Camp, and contains only suggestions. We encourage

you to add to it, to improve it and to share it around so we can all learn to participate in an



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