New app could lead to more diversity in church decision making

August 10, 2016

Louisville

Whose voices are most influential in shaping the decisions of committees at General Assemblies? Which committee members rarely speak? Do things like the arrangement of furniture in the room, or the use of Robert’s Rules of Order, affect committee participation?

Exploring these kinds of questions is the purpose of a new app that made its debut at the 222nd General Assembly (2016). Data collected by observers at the assembly using the new Process Observation Web Application is currently being analyzed, says Molly Casteel, manager of representation, inclusiveness, and ruling elder training in the Office of the General Assembly. She initiated design of the app with support from the General Assembly Committee on Representation (GACOR).

“We’re looking for patterns that will help improve the system and widen participation,” Casteel explains. Observers in General Assembly (GA) committees can use the app to document who is speaking and making motions—even noting such things as where the speakers are seated in relation to the committee leaders. The app uses GA registration lists to provide demographics such as age, race, and gender of the committee members.

“The point is not to catch people making bad decisions, but to equip leaders with more information about what is going on in the room,” Casteel says. By analyzing the data, “we learn how the ways we discern together include or exclude.”

“We want to open people up to new ways of thinking about being inclusive, so we can be a better church,” says GACOR Chair Martha Ross-Mockaitis, a minister from Chicago. “By looking at the data, we can begin to help committee leaders be more aware of who they are calling on to speak ... to include people who are hesitant.”

Data gathered by observers could also influence changes in the decision-making process. Observers at some church meetings have noted, for example, that when groups follow Robert’s Rules of Order, male teaching elders—those most experienced with that particular process—often dominate decision making. More women and ruling elders enter in when decisions are made by consensus or as a committee-of-the-whole.

This is the kind of data that interested Casteel when she proposed development of a process observation app. “No one had paid attention to and tried to systematically measure these things before,” she says.

GACOR members have been experimenting with ways to measure participation in assembly committees since the 220th General Assembly (2012), but until this year they relied on a few volunteers and a cumbersome system of paper forms and tally sheets.

“The app was a huge step forward,” says Ross-Mockaitis. “It’s much more user-friendly.”

“It’s a web application, so it shows up the same way on smart phones and tablets,” Casteel says. The app was designed by the same technicians who developed PC-Biz, the site for accessing business of the assembly, so registration lists and other vital data are already in the system.

Casteel says she first learned about using process observation to measure participation from Presbyterian Women (PW). For many years, PW has sent groups of volunteers to monitor the work of its committees.

The app is enabling GACOR to broaden its pool of observers, which leads to the collection of better data, Casteel says. “The data is better when the observers are as numerous and diverse as possible.”

Just before this year’s assembly began, Casteel sent an email to about 1,400 attendees inviting them to be committee observers. She estimates that several hundred people clicked to the app, and about 50 received training and completed the full observation process (including tally and questionnaire).

Ross-Mockaitis expects use of the app will have “a big trickle-down effect,” leading to similar process observation efforts at the synod and presbytery level. Casteel has already requested that the app be retooled for use at the October 30–31 Polity Conference of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—a first step toward creating an instrument that could be used by mid councils.

In a denomination whose leadership has tended to be older, white, and male, it is important “to open up the table,” Ross-Mockaitis says. The technology is “very promising,” she adds. “I hope it will have an even bigger presence at the next General Assembly.”

새로운 앱이 교회의 결정 과정에 다양성을 더욱 반영해 줄 수 있었다

  1. There is nothing wrong with old, white and male. ..but it's important to understand who we are, how we function and how we might review and learn so that we are able to include the voices of everyone. I'm pleased to see that as a denomination, we are seeking ways such as this to better understand who we are, and to institute practices that foster inclusion and mutual respect. Unfortunately, race and gender do make a difference in participation and this is a first step to recognizing where we are and how we might improve.

    by Mike Hauser

    August 17, 2016

  2. Glad to see this-taking advantage of available technology to hold up a mirror to ourselves and provide greater transparency, encouraging more critical thinking about our processes. We're not actually in danger of losing older, white, male voices; however, if in some future scenario older white men find themselves oppressed, this app would prove useful for showing that. Thanks be.

    by Katie Mulligan

    August 17, 2016

  3. Congratulations to Molly for recognizing a need and working for a solution. As an old (93) white, male, I applaud this change; we preachers get too fond of our voices, and need to listen to others.

    by Bob Abrams

    August 17, 2016

  4. Is there a problem being old, white, and male? By pushing diversity which is code for non white male, perhaps you should make sure that the best qualified be considered. This is the issue. The Church needs people who are motivated, enthusiastic, and committed. Gender and race have nothing to do with it.

    by James Stobs

    August 14, 2016

Leave a comment