What does toilet paper have to do with power dynamics and social change?

Dave Boyle, founder of the Community Shares Company, explains

As an AFC Wimbledon supporter, Boyle witnessed first hand the negotiations that played out when the club became fan-owned in 2002. Board members ridiculed the notion that decision making could become so devolved that fans might vote on the club’s brand of toilet paper – a notion at the time even he ‘had to agree that was just plain silly’.

But the thought stuck. Surely power should be in the hands of those who are affected by the decisions? “Hell, it’s their backsides the damned stuff will be used on, so why the hell shouldn’t they choose it?” What was in the fan’s decision making power, if not this?

Boyle identifies a ‘conception of power as a finite resource, that if I share it with you, I have less and you have more’. Many organisations may pay lipservice to the zeitgeisty ‘democratised economy’ but ultimately fail to truly give members ‘a palpable sense of power and control’.

In many models of community or cooperative ownership “the rights given to members over governance; attend the AGM, stand and vote for the board; are actually responsibilities” Yep, with power comes responsibilities. But power shouldn’t ‘feel like a chore’.

Rather than seek members infrequent views on set-piece issues, a compelling USP for community ownership would be to give members the opportunity to both be involved in important decisions as well as smaller and more personal ones. Crucially ‘the more people exercise their decision-making muscles, the stronger they get’.

In his Power to the Punters session at Losing Control, Dave Boyle will explore:

-How organisations can leave decision-making power in the hands of their members or customers
-How to make membership a real and vital thing that bestows members real influence on things that might excite them, as opposed to theoretical power over things that don’t.
-How organisations can give their members something better than a boring AGM to make it worth their while.

Dave Boyle is the founder of the Community Shares Company and co-founder of Practical Governance. Get more info on all the sessions here