Daring to trust the people ~ Leeds University Union ~ 8th December 2011
Nicol Hammond (AFC Wimbledon) & Perry Walker (nef)
TL;DR – Football club consults large number of fans to create its strategy using cool participative decision-making method
AFC Wimbledon is a fan-owned and fan-run football club. Nicol, a member of their elected board, described how they consulted their fans to develop the club’s strategy using Crowd Wise, a participative decision-making method developed by nef (the new economics foundation) that aims to find consensus amongst participants.
“Crowd Wise is a participative method for taking shared decisions. It produces outcomes which the participants are more likely to support or be able to live with.
“Crowd Wise is a tested and flexible format which can be used for a wide range of issues and decision. It can work as a single event, or over a period of time; it can work for 15 people or 1500; it can be used to set priorities, allocate budgets or respond to a consultation”
Nicol explained that the trust’s elected board are responsible for the stewardship of the club. I like the choice of the word ‘stewardship’ as sometimes in students’ unions I think we struggle to find an accurate way of describing what elected officers do; ‘lead’, one word that is typically used is sometimes misleading (no clever word play intended) as it can have connotations of dominating and of being managerial which aren’t (or shouldn’t be) part of officers’ roles. Stewardship better describes the role of trustees as guardians of their union.
Perhaps interestingly for those of us who have seen unpopular decisions made by elected officers or trustee boards; this project was partly a response to a decision made by the trust’s board which was made with no consultation of fans. Despite the fact that many fans might have agreed with the decision that was made, they were angry that they had not been consulted.
The Crowd Wise method in action
The Crowd Wise method involves developing scenarios from ideas and thoughts submitted by people. In this case, the fans were invited to submit ideas which were then collated to identify key themes. The club had four themes that could be put together in a variety of combinations to create possible outcomes for the club; funding, location, ambition and ownership.
I liked that Nicol used the word ‘stories’ to describe the six scenarios they came up with. She explained that this was linked to how fans relate to the club. It reminded me of other examples of marketing and communication that uses stories to engage people.
AFC Wimbledon’s stories included the ‘sugar daddy’ scenario in which a rich buyer is found for the club who can inject money and hopefully take the club to the top level of football but also remove the fans’ ownership of the club. Other stories were far less ambitious and one continued the status quo.
All of the scenarios were written in the voice of a fictional fan, e.g. ‘Why are we focusing on X, we should be doing Y’, which I thought must’ve contributed to the fans’ sense of ownership over the process – there were no external voices or jargon.
All six stories were put to the fans who were able to rank them in order of preference (and add additional options if they felt something had been missed. The sugar daddy option was the least popular which demonstrated that, to the fans, continuing the fans’ ownership of the club was the highest priority.
Nicol repeatedly mentioned that it was important to the board that everyone was included and that the process was open and transparent. The club used a variety of methods of communicating with fans to offer as many people as possible the chance to contribute.
Initially it was intended that a second round of voting would take place with the most popular scenarios from the first round put to members of the trust. These scenarios would be adapted in light of the first round of voting, e.g. to take into account the priorities indicated by the results.
This subsequent round of voting was not required however as circumstances meant that some aspects had been achieved (such as the club being promoted). Instead, the board will be presenting a strategy based on the initial results to the members at a general meeting. This will be accompanied by an action plan that will be updated and presented to future general meetings to hold the board accountable to the trust’s members.
It was interesting to note that (so far!) no one has questioned the results of the project as the process was so open and had external facilitators. Perry stressed that for effective consultation you need to make the scope of the options clear by outlining the fixed constraints and the factors which can be decided on as well as making the results and subsequent outcomes clear to those who participated.