For the past several days, I have been wrestling with my mind has been mulling over the keypads, and trying to see if there is something deeper going on than I talk about in the first draft. The last few blog entries answer that question, and fit somewhat neatly into the little boxes based on the three major stakeholders: participants, presenters, and sponsors. For the last couple of days, I have been thinking about one more impact that does not apply to one or the other stakeholder so neatly. And it might be the most important impact of all. It has to do with the perhaps is the most important question in any a group besides “who is a member?” That question: Who decides what we do?
Keypad questions do this in two ways, one of which is obvious, and one less so. In putting up a polling question, someone is directing group attention toward a particularly issue, framed in a particular way, and is doing so at a particular time. If you do your job very well, very few people will challenge the question and its options, especially if they are new to polling. But people get hip to the game pretty quickly. I have been to meetings where even though the questions were reasonably well constructed, and folks still squawked. People recognized that even though the polling suggests a level of democratization in process by elevating the collective opinion of the group, the construction of the question is in fact very undemocratic. Some person or people have made this decision about how to focus the group’s attention, and this decision is not run by the group. Who gave them the right to decide?
This issue of who decides the group’s process, while important, only has so much importance. But this question has echoes of deeper questions related to the level of democratic decision-making of the group: now that we have instant polling of the group, which decisions do we put to the group? Which decisions do we leave to a small set of leaders? Which members of the group do we go to for what kind of decisions?
Clearly, these ideas are fuzzy, but I think I am getting closer to why I am so enamored of polling. In theory, we can put any decision to the group in a way that is very efficient. Because we have that capacity, we must ask ourselves: how do we make decisions?
And this question is fundamental to groups functioning as groups. My sense is that the ability to instantly poll a group will force groups to wrestle directly with this question.
And that seems like certainly a very good thing.