Center for Respect of Life and Environment (CRLE)
Thomas Berry Award & Lecture
Center for Respect of Life and Environment (CRLE)


Towards A New Production Ethic

Tools: Time frame for a 90 minute exercise

Consensus Formation, the Ninety Minute Model

Value and Restricted Potential of the Model
The "Ninety Minute Model" has potential mainly in an audience already deeply committed to various values of family farming. This removes the consensus formation from a negotiating activity to an exercise in making explicit and consistent values already deeply held and pursued. Consequently it has the potential of getting significant work done in an hour and a half.

This activity is definitely worthwhile because it enables the community which holds those values to define itself in an authoritative way, the authority deriving from the common agreement. The consensus by no means compels others outside the community to agree to the values, but it does enable them to know what that community itself believes to be its values. If the community cannot state its values, confirmed by an explicit agreement, why would it expect others to know what its values are, let alone support them?

The authority bearing consensus is one of the values which the Soul of Agriculture pursues since so much of the public and so many policy makers have no where else to turn in finding an answer to the question: Why is family managed farming worthwhile to protect and augment.

Winning Sponsorship and Support
Organizers of this activity may encounter a special difficulty in getting conference planners and knowledgeable and committed speakers and discussion leaders to volunteer time and energy to this activity-in this friendly environment-because it seems like "preaching to the choir" until its policy-impacting potential is pointed out clearly. When that is seen, the value of sponsoring a Soul workshop or panel is quickly accepted.

The Model
It seems at least plausible that a strong statement of the values of family managed farming and the ethical commitments needed to sustain those values, in a friendly group, could be hammered out in a relatively short period of time.

Plan and act as if, in 90 minutes, you could get most of the audience to agree that we have a basis for a short statement on the values of family farming which could be further polished by continued communication, possibly by e-mail, between all willing to participate in the final polishing. And the same might be done (with less confidence--in my opinion) with a statement of the ethical commitments corresponding to the values.

1. Preparation: Two or three panelists will spend a month or more just listing for themselves a range of values (goods, benefits, advantages) which family managed farming actually or potentially has a superior ability to produce or protect, goods that would be sorely missed if family farming disappears, goods that industrial, absentee centralized management would be unlikely or with grave difficulty able to produce.

Try to make the description of those values one line each with maybe one line to support it. E.g. Family managed farms have a natural potential to care more for the environment. (support: because they and their children and neighbors must live in it, and are likely to love its beauty and health.) Fill one page (maybe two) with brief value statements. The draft consensus document Creating a New Vision of Farming, which the major Soul of Agriculture meeting (November 1997 in Minneapolis) created the content for, has examples of such one-line value statements under "First Task, Values" and this page has them listed at #4 below, with a handy downloadable format for use with an overhead projector at #4b. Values are grammatically nouns and, therefore, not statements at all. But typically the value will be introduced in a complete sentence such as "Family managed farming tends to produce more and better employment in a rural communities where it is the dominant production unit." One can shorten that to: "Vigorous family farming produces employment in rural communities where it flourishes."

Make enough copies for your audience and a transparency of use on an overhead projector.

2. Presentation: Each speaker will have 5 to 10 minutes to go over their list with the audience which will have copies of the list. At this point only brief questions and clarifications will be invited. When all presenters are done with clarifying their list of values, the floor will be opened to the audience with the encouragement by the chair that this is their chance to add, subtract, critique and amend any of the value lists. The panelists will dialogue with audience at this time

If there is evidence of passivity in the audience, the chair may try to stir things up by going over the overheads and asking for a floor vote (show of hands) on content, on wording, on priority. Dissenters will be asked to suggest changes, which would gain their assent

After 20 minutes the chair will indicate that the gathered suggestions (gathered on a black-board or paper easels and on tape) will be worked on by the panelists and submitted for consideration and added polishing by consulting with the sign-up (and e-mail) list being collected during the panel.

The three panelists will again take their turns at the overhead projector presenting their lists of moral principles (ethical commitments) needed to sustain the values. Some examples of principles can also be seen in Creating a New Vision of Farming at "Second Task, Ethical Principles" and at #5b below. Use the same format as for the values presentation. After all are done, the floor will be opened again for the remainder of the time.

3. Polishing: After the panel, panelists and chair will convene briefly to divide the work of trying to reconcile the gathered suggestions etc. If need be, the materials can be put in some fairly manageable form and sent to a regional or national Soul of Agriculture coordinator along with the audience e-mail list.

4. Comments on This Model: This web-site's DISUSS page is partially devoted to collecting your comments on consensus formation activities. We need to learn by doing, by our mistakes as well as our successes. Hence if this format seems destructively restrictive, please let us know. Send comments to [email protected] for inclusion in DISCUSS. We do need a model of consensus formation which can work efficiently in a friendly group. This may not be the model, but it is worth a try.



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