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Building a better community: My hopes for 2024

Guest author Alison Worthington, Moruya NSW

I’m hitting the ground running in 2024, ready for more innovation and collective decision-making, more engaged and collaborative meetings and with greater confidence to work through challenge and conflict - all thanks to a fantastic 3 day training I was a part of last November.

I joined 27 Eurobodalla residents in beautiful South Durras for a 3-day ‘Going Horizontal’ training, with a focus on community governance. This training is based on 15 years of applied research in workplaces and groups seeking organisational and systems change. 

The November event was funded through Monash University's Eurobodalla Fire to Flourish program and delivered, in a first, with a focus on community governance to support NFP and volunteer groups in the Eurobodalla. Participants took up the invitation to explore practices to encourage shared leadership in our community groups and asked:


Over the first two days of training we learned an array of skills and tools we can take up as personal and collective practices to nurture a ‘horizontal mindset’ and to grow our capacity for collaboration and shared leadership. 

Day three was a day of ‘Pathways, Planning and Practice’ where we tried on the practices we would like to bring back to our work in community.

We were joined by the author of Going Horizontal - Creating a non-hierarchical organisation one practice at a time and co-founder of Percolab Coop Canada, Samantha Slade, and her colleague Paul Messer.

They joined a team of Australian and international Going Horizontal practitioners including south coast local Mel Geltch of Campfire Coop / Percolab and their Vietnamese colleagues from Dom Dom Lab, to host the training. 

It was such a great opportunity to have this passionate team sharing their experience in these domains of horizontal practice, and I was particularly fortunate to have joined them in designing the training in the months leading up to the event. I say ‘designing’ but really that felt like living and breathing the skills and tools for Going Horizontal!

The hosting team met and worked online in the lead up to the training, living the shared leadership practices in the co-design - even living in community in South Durras for a week before and during.

The systems change aspect of this work was not left on the sidelines. In framing the pattern of the training, on Day 1 we first stepped through ‘Worldview awareness’ to emphasise that the hierarchical ‘corporate governance’ systems so many of our institutions operate under is no longer fit for purpose - and perhaps never was for community work! It is but one model, albeit the one that we have become somewhat stuck with.

As we then explored the 7 Domains of Horizontal Practice, it became clear that the future of our work in community groups is in a framework that supports our wellbeing through non-hierarchical and participatory processes, rather than the vertical structures we’ve inherited from colonialist and extractive systems. Samantha Slade puts it simply: ‘The current dominant organisational structure is not aligned to human nature’.

The Going Horizontal framework showed us that when we get clear about our purpose, our roles, our structures, principles and practices in a horizontal organisational culture, we can amplify our collaborative capacity and invite greater inclusion, diversity, trust and engagement in our groups to improve team culture. We know this then helps address the perennial question of volunteer engagement and retention too! 

We also know the reality is that we don’t ‘turn’ our organisations horizontal overnight!

While there was a sense of excitement in the group about ways we can bring these learned practices back to our work in community, we were invited to start the journey to horizontal in our own personal practice - developing our own horizontal mindset.

It helps to have a colleague on the horizontal journey and it was great to have groups of people from the same community organisations at the training - I’m really excited to see how we can all bring this framework to the context of our organisations.

I personally learned a lot from exploring the domains of Purpose and Autonomy. The importance of getting clear on purpose -  the invisible leader - could not be overstated. I think we can all recall situations in group work where the wheels have fallen off and, if we were lucky, we identified that different understandings of the purpose of the meeting, project or workshop was the culprit! A horizontal organisation needs for EVERYONE to be clear on purpose, and we learned ways to get that clarity that I know will show up in Eurobodalla community groups in 2024.

Looking at Autonomy - where do I have it, where don’t I have it and where is it unclear? - opened up new ways of looking at the role/s we can play in our groups in shared leadership. We explored concepts around sharing roles, contribution clarity, inviting confident proposals from all stakeholders, and took this information into different ways to approach decision-making.

In each of the practices we could recognise elements of our day-to-day human interactions;  that we frequently function non-hierarchically amongst family and friends but don’t always translate that into our work or volunteer roles.

This training has given me the tools and confidence to do that - to start with my own horizontal practice, to try it in informal settings and then to plan carefully how to introduce horizontal practices into more formal settings, in meetings, working with conflict and collective decision-making processes.

I know we’ll see this showing up in the work our participants take into their community groups this year and that the horizontal practices learned here will bolster the work we do in community,  answering the call from the Fire to Flourish program to build more resilience and preparedness into everything we do.

The 3-day training was an incredible opportunity for volunteers in the Eurobodalla to enhance collaboration within and between community groups and we saw strong connections and commitments made to support each other in our work to bring the horizontal mindset to our networks. I can’t wait to see the fruits of this training supporting their work in 2024 and beyond!


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