CHINA / Regional


Growing Participation for Co-operacy
Updated: 2006-10-09 14:12

An Interview with A New American-Chinese Struggling to Contribute to A Harmonious China.

In last autumn, among tons of new books emerging in the market, four low-profile, but considered very important ones by some readers, showed up in China's major bookstores. They are about a concept rarely heard of by Chinese: "facilitation." Translated into Chinese as "Jian Dao," which literally means "to constructively guide", it introduced to Chinese readers a full set of principles and skills about how to practice participation and therefore improve the quality of cooperation in all kinds of organizations, be it business corporations, NGOs, schools or government agencies.

At the one year anniversary of publishing the facilitation books, China Daily website interviewed the chief editor of these books, Dr. Jason Jixuan Hu, who migrated from China to the United States in the 1980s and now is coming back running a small company WINTOP Consulting Group in Shanghai, providing facilitation skill training to corporate clients.

China Daily website: Why do you consider facilitation skill training so important for China?

Hu: Because I think it is the most important key to the next step of China's development. China has tons of problems waiting to be solved in its development path. Every problem needs to be solved or resolved or dissolved by a group of people working together. Facilitation provides basic also advanced ways of working together, in any kind of organization. Domestic companies need it to improve their group efficiency, MNCs need it to enhance their cross-cultural integration, NGOs need it to improve the effectiveness of their front-line social workers, and even government agencies could use it to advance their "government capacity."

CD: So is it a general management skill or a leadership style?

Hu: Actually, facilitation means participatory management and we call it "Roundtable Leadership." In business corporations it helps to develop a culture of cooperation and synergy. If used in the political area, it leads to a new type of political system named "Co-operacy" by a well-known facilitator from New Zealand, Dr. Dale Hunter.

CD: "Co-operacy"?

Hu: In Chinese we translated it as "He Zhi" - to cooperatively govern. The word is coined to describe a new emerging paradigm of collective or consensus decision making as distinct from democracy and autocracy. It contains beliefs, values, methods, processes and techniques of facilitation that enable collective decision-making to work successfully. I think it is also a future organizational/political/social system for human societies based on improvements in the current Western style democracy. Autocracy is based on the belief that the best decisions are made by the best leader. Democracy is based on the belief that the best decisions are made by the majority. Distinguished from both of these, Co-operacy is based on the belief that the best decisions are made by involving everyone affected by the decision.

CD: So it is a new type of democracy?

Hu: It is a much improved type of democracy that China can immediately adopt. Some people think that the traditional Western-style democracy might not be suitable for China. Indeed if what happened to George W. Bush's election happened in China, 650 million people would feel very unhappy for losing the candidate whose policies they like. In democracy you always have losers. In co-operacy, everyone wins through reaching a consensus under a set of commonly held values: equality, harmony in diversity, cooperation to achieve win-win solutions, and the best decisions are from those people affected by the decisions.

CD: Would you call this a socialist or a capitalist institution?

Hu: It's both and it's none. Actually it's high time that we thought out of the box of those old conceptual frameworks. I would say it will be the embodiment of "an Open Society," an ideal promoted by Karl Popper in the early part of the last century and later put into practice by George Soros through his famous foundation work which is very significant for the future of human society. In the business world, the same concept has a different name "Learning Organization," which is widespread in many corporations in China and well received by Chinese leaders already. The key is to develop a continuous learning capacity within organizations or societies. The concepts of socialism and capitalism are not useful anymore because there are so many types of socialism and capitalism being practiced in this world, your audience does not know which one you're talking about when you use these terms.

CD: So to practice facilitation eventually leads to co-operacy, learning organization and open society or harmonious society?

Hu: Exactly. And only an open society containing learning organizations could become a "harmonious society" that the Chinese Communist Party hopes to create. It is a new way to lead the people, via "Roundtable Leadership", and the skills can be learned. Harmony is a more challenging goal than the traditional Chinese ideal of "peace under heaven," because you could have that kind of peace where many people felt oppressed, but harmony has to be generated through increased participation. The government system needs to develop more capacity to foster harmony, and facilitation will play an important role in this process, since participation and facilitation are two sides of the same coin - the former is a status or principle and the later is an approach or skills needed to enable the former. We can even say that co-operacy is a necessary condition to build a harmonious society - when the decision process involves people being influenced by that decision, there will be more understanding, more execution incentives, and more sense of ownership of the decision.

CD: Since facilitation could be so important, what exactly it is?

Hu: President Hu Jintao in China's history first spoke of the concept of "Political Civilization." Facilitation helps to raise political civilization up to a new level better than Western democracy. That is from political sense. From organizational sense, it helps to create collective wisdom, unity and synergy. Why, because in any organization, whether a business corporation, or a cultural/social organization, or a political party, you always need to build your organizational consensus (mission, vision, strategy, plan, etc.) among the members of the organization in someway. The important issue here is what method you use to form that consensus. In ancient times people reached consensus via violence, in autocracy people reach consensus by following the most powerful leader, in democracy people reach consensus by voting and electing their representatives, in co-operacy people reach consensus through the "technology of participation," that is, facilitation skills widely used in various groups. I would say that the level of political civilization is determined by the methods that are used to reach consensus and to make decisions. What exactly it is? Facilitation is a collection of skills in communication, (how do you speak, how do you listen, how do you respect others), and a number of methods of reaching consensus among a group. The consensus could be a decision, a solution to a problem, a mission or vision for an organization, or a strategic plan for the next period of time. We have nine two-day training courses to teach a full set of these skills and are currently offering them to corporate clients. Now we are preparing to offer these training programs to government clients as well.

CD: Sounds like you are continuing on a significant journey. Could you say a few words about how you decided to take on this task?

Hu: In my learning history I have been deeply influenced by four great mentors at genius level. The first is Professor Qian Xue-sen, whom I call "Uncle Qian" for family reasons, from whom I learned scientific rationality and a contributing spirit. The second is Mr. Nan Huai-chin, to whom I became a student in 1986 and from whom I learned inheritable values in Chinese culture and China's true history. The third is previously mentioned Mr. George Soros, an action-initializer who sincerely practices what he believes, from whom I built up much more understanding of Karl Popper's philosophy and enriched my knowledge in cybernetics. The latest one is John Sperling who was introduced to me by Mr. Soros. Mr. Sperling founded the largest education and training enterprise in North America, the Apollo Group. If you put these four mentors together and consider what kind of influence they could generate on me together, you'll see that my choice of taking on this effort to help transform China into a more open and more harmonious society is simply natural.