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We use the online Loomio group discussion and decision making tool.
Loomio came out of the 2011 Occupy Movement and you’ll find it to be far more manageable than multiple email discussions. It is now used worldwide.
To learn about Loomio you can do the following:
- Watch the 4 Loomio videos below.
- Scroll down below the videos and read the “How To Use” Loomio tips. Or Print Them
- Click here to start experimenting with Loomio.
If you are having any problems logging in, just email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll walk you through it.
LOOMIO – For Collaborative Discussion and Decision Making
Loomio is a proven online tool for collaborative discussion and decision-making. It allows discussion of any topic to be held transparently and collaboratively with all interested people able to share and modify their opinions throughout the discussion and decision-making process.
FOUR SHORT LOOMIO TUTORIAL VIDEOS – Start here.
HOW TO USE LOOMIO TIPS Printable Version Here
THREADS are where discussions and decisions happen.
How do I start a good thread?
Give it a clear, short title. This is the discussion’s topic. Use the context panel to explain the background to the topic, and clearly ask for the kind of engagement you want from your group.
How do I make a thread great?
Participate! It’s good to participate and share your thoughts with the group. Remember to be concise, be kind, and give everyone a chance to speak and be heard. Loomio should feel like a relaxed, productive space for your group to get things done between meetings.
Share relevant information: you can post links to other online content, or attach files and pictures to your comments.
Bring people into the discussion by mentioning them: type “@” followed by their name to let them know you’re looking for their input.
Stay on topic: if you notice that you are writing a comment that isn’t about the topic of the thread, but is about something else… start a new thread!
Be concise: summarise your thoughts into a paragraph or two. Long comments can be really intimidating.
️ Keep the thread up to date: make it easy for people to catch up by updating the thread context and title as the discussion progresses.
PROPOSALS are the heart of Loomio.
Anyone can raise a proposal, and they give your group members an opportunity to have their say about a specific course of action.
Here are some ways proposals can be used:
Test for agreement
When you see agreement emerge in the discussion: test it with a proposal. You’ll either get a mandate to act, or you’ll learn about the disagreements you need to work through.
Sometimes you need everyone in your group to complete an action, such as reading a document before an important meeting. You can start a proposal to remind people to get something done by a deadline.
Raise a proposal which asks for people to say “yes” if they want to make it happen. This will give you a list of people who’ve publicly committed to take action.
If you want to read more about ways of using proposal, check out this useful blog post.
When you see someone else start a proposal, give your best position:
- If you agree, great. Green thumb. State why you support the proposal.
- If you’re not sure yet, then say so. Abstain and say where you’re at.
- If you think we can do better: disagree. Suggest an alternative.
- Block is special. Use it wisely, don’t block unless you feel very strongly that a “no” is not good enough.
Vote, vote now, vote again later. Say what you think and change your mind when you get more information or insight from the group.
Every vote lets you make a short statement to explain your position. Those summary statements are an excellent way for people to catch up on a proposal if they are coming in late.
Here are some of our favourite tips for making the most of the tool, taking your group from discussing issues & ideas to forming perspectives and getting into action.
1. Make sure everyone is on the same page
Every discussion thread should start with all the context-setting information that your group needs to meaningfully participate. Use the thread context section to provide relevant background so everyone understands the purpose of the discussion.
2. Stay on topic
Notice when people are going off topic and, if necessary, create separate discussion threads for topics that diverge from the core discussion. Don’t be afraid to @mention people to keep the conversation on track.
3. Agree on process
Ensure everyone understands your group’s decision-making process. For some groups, this can be very informal and not tightly defined. Other groups find it useful to specify the level of agreement needed for a proposal to pass, e.g. 80% of members need to agree.
4. Use proposals flexibly
You can use proposals to get engagement, test ideas, and clarify an issue, even if the solution might not be apparent yet. Don’t be afraid to run a ‘temperature check’ proposal to test how the group feels about something.
5. Be specific about the decision being made
When starting a proposal be as specific as you can, so everyone knows what it means to agree or disagree. If appropriate, include information on who will execute a proposal, not just what the proposal is.
6. Set proposal deadlines consciously
Think about when you need the decision to be made, and how the proposal closing time will affect engagement from your group members e.g. you might want to time the proposal so it closes before a meeting, or avoid closing on a weekend. You can always extend the closing date if need be.
7. Use blocks sparingly
You and your group can define for yourselves what a block means in your context. For most groups using Loomio, a block is used to indicate a serious objection that a person would like to see addressed. For some groups (particularly small consensus-based groups), the block is used as a veto.
8. Bear in mind that not everyone needs to participate in everything
Sometimes there’s power in simply knowing that your voice would be heard if you wanted to raise it. Using “abstain” can be a powerful way to demonstrate your trust in the rest of the group to make the decision without you.
9. Focus on the outcome
When your proposal closes, you’ll be prompted to set a proposal outcome. You can use this as a way to remind the whole group what you agreed to do together.
10. Everyone loves a well-facilitated discussion!
There are lots of little things you can do to help a discussion get to a productive outcome. Notice when the same voices are dominating the discussion and invite some of the quieter people to contribute by @mentioning them and asking them what they think. You can make a complex discussion easier to engage with by updating the thread context section with a summary of the key points.
1. Consensus Finder
If the comments seem to point to general agreement, test this assumption by proposing agreement explicitly. If you don’t reach consensus immediately, you’ll often find that a better solution is self-evident, once people have had a chance to clearly state their objections.
2. Uncover the Controversy
If there are two or more clear competing ideas, propose supporting one to reveal how the group feels about it, or if the split has been accurately understood. Controversial topics will almost always require a series of proposals to build shared understanding.
3. Series of Small Yes’s
Sometimes it helps to agree principles first, then get into agreeing the details. If the discussion reveals complexity, break down the issue into smaller parts and build shared understanding piece by piece so you can clear the parts you have agreement on and focus on the parts the group still wants to discuss.
4. Silent Majority
If there have been few comments, or comments only from a select few people, start a proposal to draw out all the voices. You may end up confirming the status quo, but by asking for explicit input, you’ll see if agreement emerges or if engagement brings up the deeper issues.
5. Engagement Check
Sometimes you need everyone in your group to complete an action, such as reading a document before an important meeting. You can start an Engagement Check proposal as a way to remind people to complete the required action within a defined time period.
6. Polarising Minority
Raise a proposal in line with what the majority seem to agree with, and reveal the fact that disagreeing parties are in the minority. Give them a chance to clearly state their objections, or to realise their position is not supported by others and reconsider.
7. Window of Opportunity
Have you heard the phrase, “speak now or forever hold your peace”? The Window of Opportunity proposal is a way to say, “I’m going to take this action, so if you have anything to contribute, now is the time.” It can be a way to discover important information or reservations before it’s too late, and to get a mandate to move forward.
8. Temperature Check
Sometimes you have a hunch, but you’re not sure if it is a good idea or not. Use a Temperature Check when you want to survey opinions, rather than advocate for a particular position.
9. Any Volunteers?
Raise a proposal which asks for people to say “yes” if they are keen to be part of making it happen. This will give you a list of people to follow up with to form a working group, which ensures the conversation will actually turn into action.
Tips for Loomio Coordinators (but worth a read by all)
Settings and general use
- Get the whole team to upload profile pictures – it really helps humanise communication.
- Make sure everyone knows they can control their email settings, so they can be notified in a way that suits them. You can adjust them on a per-group basis and per-discussion bases. Click your own name in the upper right, and select ‘Email Preferences’. The direct link is https://www.loomio.org/email_preferences.
- Make sure everyone knows they can ‘at-mention’ other group members to draw things to their attention. At-mentioning is done by typing the ‘@’ symbol and then first few letters of the person’s name and choosing them from the list.
- Be aware of information overload. Practice efficient communication, and encourage usage norms to maximise signal/noise ratio. For example:
- Don’t post ‘I agree’ as a separate comment, use the like button instead.
- Don’t sign your name to comments, since your name is already displayed next to your post and it’s extra information.
- If the topic has been discussed before, use the search function to find the related discussion and add your comment to the end of that, instead of starting a whole new one.
- Loomio is just one tool in your communications toolbox. Ask yourself:
- What is the message?
- Who is the intended audience?
- What’s the best channel for this?
- Clarify to yourself: Why am I seeking input on this decision? What would be the ideal kind of participation, and the outcome I’m ideally hoping for?
- Be honest about constraints. If the decision is one that needs to be made by a certain person or small group, frame wider participation as input and consultation. Some discussions are real group decisions, while others result in recommendations – differentiating these is important.
- Challenge yourself to be as inclusive and open as possible. Some discussions need to be behind closed doors, but others can be opened up. To reach the goal of collaborative culture, everyone needs to work on moving in that direction when possible.
- Discuss decisions that really matter, and see them all the way through. If a discussion fizzles out, it may mean the topic wasn’t very important, key information or people are missing, or the real decision is being made elsewhere.
- It’s okay to use Loomio as a way to solicit feedback or just discuss a topic, even if you’re not sure it will lead to a specific decision. It’s great for transparency, and often surfaces important issues that can lead to decisions after all. Be aware of how open ended discussion evolves toward decision-making.
- Give all the background information someone might need to meaningfully participate. Frame discussions in an open way, not jumping to solutions too soon. Leave space for generative thinking at the beginning.
- Remember that as a leader you have a strong voice – refrain from sharing your own opinion until others have had a chance to give input and use your voice to clarify and amplify the group’s input.
- Make sure proposals are specific, so that if people agree or disagree they know what that means. Don’t try to include multiple things in the same proposal, because someone might agree to one part but not another. You can have sequential proposals under the same discussion topic to keep the context all in one place.
- If appropriate, include information on who will execute a proposal, not just what the proposal is. Sometimes a great proposal that everyone was in support of will still languish after being approved if clear responsibility/agency is not communicated.
- Use proposals to get engagement and clarify the issue, even if the solution might not be apparent yet. Taking a stab and proposing something inspires people to articulate why exactly they disagree, which often leads to another proposal that’s more successful. A proposal failing is not a bad thing, it’s a normal step in the process. And sometimes you might be surprised by getting quick consensus on something you thought was going to be complicated!
- Use blocks sparingly. They can be very powerful, so save them for when they are absolutely needed. Each group can define for themselves what they mean in their context, but traditionally it’s something so serious that you’d consider leaving the group if it went ahead.
- Set proposal deadlines consciously (e.g. not ending on weekends). A very long proposal time can signal the expectation of deeper conversation and giving people time to change their minds, but sometimes people won’t participate until the last minute anyway. You can also set a shorter time and then extend before the closing date if needed.
- Not everyone needs to participate in everything. There’s power in simply knowing that your voice would be heard if you wanted to raise it. You can abstain and say “I trust the rest of the group to make a good decision on this.”
- Model behaviour that others can learn to emulate, to be more inclusive and engaging, and help decisions progress constructively:
- “@Jane that could be a good idea, why don’t you raise a proposal so we can see if the rest of the group agrees?”
- “We haven’t heard from @Bill and @Ngaire … what are your thoughts?”
- “It seems we might be getting off topic here. Should we start another Loomio discussion about that and bring this back to the original topic?”
- Be aware of “bike shedding” a.k.a. Parkinson’s law of triviality. It’s very common for groups to spend the most time on the least important topics (‘What colour should we paint the bike-shed at our new office?’), because they are the easiest things to have opinions about.
- If someone is expressing distress, not participating constructively, or is in a minority opinion and seems to care strongly about the topic, it’s a good indication that a face-to-face or phone conversation might be helpful. Supporting in the background so online discussions can be productive is a normal part of the process. Loomio can often help identify where this energy is most needed in the team.
- When appropriate, instead of raising a discussion or proposal yourself, quietly shoulder-tap someone else and support them to facilitate, to share a sense of leadership. Team members feeling empowered to start their own discussions is a sign of a democratic culture.