Democratization of Decision-Making — Implications for Access to Justice Institutions

Tom Friedman in the NY Times, argues that both both companies and counties, the old top down decision-making and leadership systems are obsolete.

The main driver, I believe, is the merger of globalization and the Information Technology revolution. Both of them achieved a critical mass in the first decade of the 21st century that has resulted in the democratization — all at once — of so many things that neither weak states nor weak companies can stand up against. We’ve seen the democratization of information, where everyone is now a publisher; the democratization of war-fighting, where individuals became superempowered (enough so, in the case of Al Qaeda, to take on a superpower); the democratization of innovation, wherein start-ups using free open-source software and “the cloud” can challenge global companies.

He goes on to urge a different kind of leadership, one that leads by vision rather than by command:

“As power shifts to individuals,” argues Seidman [the C.E.O. of LRN and the author of the book “How.” ], “leadership itself must shift with it — from coercive or motivational leadership that uses sticks or carrots to extract performance and allegiance out of people to inspirational leadership that inspires commitment and innovation and hope in people.”

The role of the leader now is to get the best of what is coming up from below and then meld it with a vision from above. Are you listening, Mr. Putin?

This kind of leadership is especially critical today, adds Seidman, “when people are creating a lot of ‘freedom from’ things — freedom from oppression or whatever system is in their way — but have not yet scaled the values and built the institutional frameworks that enable ‘freedom to’ — freedom to build a career, a business or a meaningful life.”

I would like to think that, in the state and national leadership organizations responsible for access to justice, we are starting to see this kind of thinking taking hold.  In one sense it has always been true that this is a community that has resisted traditional forms of leadership.  What I hope is happening is that we are getting beyond an environment of resistance to seeing the creation of groupings, events, and ideas that will now light up the beacons around which distributed leadership can gather, focus, and move forward.

Some possible examples of positive signs:

  • The continuing spread of the Access Commissions, and their steady expansion into a broad view of leadership and mission (from an initially limited fund-raising role)
  • New SJI investment priorities that reflect broadly accepted needs at the state level and can support idea-driven innovation
  • LSC’s plans for a Technology Summit which could create the intellectual framework for next generation leadership
  • The DOJ Access Initiative quietly acting in strong support of state based initiatives that bring multiple players together
  • The work on outcomes research and delivery system mapping which create a set of common understandings that allow consensual and collective leadership to come together and operate
  • The continued expansion of the technology infrastructure in access institutions, which can provide platforms for additional delivery innovations based on common understandings.

So maybe we need more dialog within the Courts, legal aid, the Commissions, and the national organizations about such motivational leadership, and how such leadership can  facilitate of action.  I would note that motivational leadership is much more than giving speeches about how important access is.  Rather it is about taking visible, engaged, transparent, and motivating steps showing how action can change things, and it is about building institutions in which those who want to change things can do so on their own or in small groups.  It means breaking down hierarchical barriers to innovation, and perhaps most important of all right now, finding ways to prevent budget woes from inhibiting bottom up flexibility and action.

Interestingly, it is encouraging that most of the already-tested low cost innovations highlighted in this article I wrote early in the economic crisis with Frank Broccolina seem to pass this test.  They are facilitative rather than command-driven.  To be specific:  Educational programs for judges make it easier for them to be innovative.  Unbundling rules similarly help attorneys innovate.  Staff training on what court staff can do  allows for innovation in access.  Forms allow for a wide range of experiments in pro bono, court and attorney services, and the like.  Library partnering opens up a whole range of options for leadership.  Finally, Justice Corps simply shifts lives.

Lets build more such possibilities, and lets challenge the national organizations to think explicitly in those terms.

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About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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