Groups dynamics are a bit 'phisy'


If you have ever felt that your comments made no difference at city meetings, chances are you were right.

Having an interest in the mechanics of communication, as well as a post-secondary education in speech communication, my instincts were cued to something 'phisy' going on at the Natural Resources Inventory Open Houses (See Lake Oswego Review March 20 - 'Orwellian Time'). A literature review of group dynamics confirmed those suspicions.

In groups, people tend to exhibit specific characteristics, known as group dynamics. Besides stimulus/response, three additional techniques are being used to manipulate public forums:

The Dialectic, attributed to Hegel, is based on Plato's dialogues of Socrates and assumes that by asking questions and drawing conclusions from the answers, that truth can be ascertained. As time evolved, it became apparent that people could be guided to accept false, as well as true, conclusions by asking questions along a preselected path. Hegel's contribution was to point out that a proposition (a thesis) typically elicits conflict and what results is an opposite proposition (an antithesis). Further, that an outcome need not be limited to the thesis or antithesis, but could result in something entirely new (a synthesis). That explanation accounted for change, gradual or radical.

The Delphi Technique was developed in the l940s by the Rand Corporation. While researching influence and public opinion on issues of national defense, it found that people could be led to predetermined outcomes through expert testimony, control of information and peer pressure. Participants (limited to experts only) typically remain unaware of the predetermined outcome and who other participants are, which minimuzes the risk that they might not cooperate if they knew. A facilitator, or change agent, then uses the resulting expert information to sway an audience by promoting the superiority of the 'expert' opinion. With this technique, facilitators can systematically squeeze out opposition, while maintaining an illusion of public consent in hearings.

Total Quality Management (TQM) is a hybrid of Hegel's Dialectic and the Delphi Technique. Where the Delphi Technique works on out-groups, TQM works in groups and seeks to transform management by emphasizing a need for continual change through round after round of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. Nonconformist participants typically are eliminated. Citizen nonparticipants, who have been led to believe they are participants, may speak but are typically ignored. Rounds are implemented until the predetermined outcome is achieved. The steps are: 1) acknowledge tradition or status quo, 2) enact a paradign shift, and 3) demand change or transformation. With top down information flow and multiple regulatory bodies (city, county, regional, state, federal) producing layer after layer of regulations, this technique allows regulatory bodies to set agendas and hold fake public forums. Because full implementation, by design, occurs years into the future, the intended outcome can be left unclear until it has become law.

During the l990s, TQM was used to implement sweeping changes in education, known as Outcome Based Education. Now, it can be observed in public hearings at most levels of government as a means for overriding public consent.

Citizen input at the Natural Resources Open Houses was insignificant as the meetings were not recorded. The facilitator blocked dissenting opinions by cutting them off and by reinforcing city staff and their paid consultant as 'the experts.' Citizens will have 3 minutes to speak at the council hearing, which has been structured for a 'yes' or 'no' outcome, where the decision will likely be 'yes' as the outcome has been predetermined at other levels of government.

The mission statement of the city in l986 read, 'We value open, honest and effective communication. Honest interaction with both the public and fellow employees creates an atmosphere of trust, promoting a higher quality of public service.' Obviously there has been a deviation from that path.

This information was simplified due to limited space. Ample information can be found on Google (see Delphi Technique).

Carolyne Jones is a Lake Oswego resident.