5.a.8 – How to choose a representative?

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June 19, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

How to choose a representative?

Even in a very small group of four or five people, it may happen that a member is unable or unwilling to attend the meeting. In this case we can adopt various strategies:
– we can postpone the meeting if it is a temporary impediment and the decision to be taken is not urgent
– the meeting takes place regularly and the assembly also decides for the one who is absent, as if him, with his absence, had delegated the assembly to automatically decide for him
– the missing member, instead of delegating to Assembly, chooses one delegate who will replace him.
The delegate can represent his delegator basically in two ways: in the first, he will present to the assembly the issues directly reported to him by the delegator; in the second, he decides what he thinks is the best on behalf of the delegator. The second way is a necessity if the absent member does not know the topics to be addressed at the meeting or does not have the knowledge needed to take a responsible decision.
In larger groups, representatives are used mainly to avoid too numerous meetings and then subgroups form, each of which will send a representative to the general assembly; however, the characteristics of the representative remain the same: according to the different cases, he will report the decisions already taken or will autonomously decide for the others.
Considered the key role played by representatives in the indirect democracy and especially in the structure of our modern village, it is clear that the criteria for choosing the representative is of enormous importance: they must be freely chosen by the delegator, and may not be imposed, since otherwise his freedom of choice and thus his ability to be adequately represented would be compromised. We must remember that these criteria, because of their importance, must be chosen with great care so that they can perform their function well, because otherwise the democratic participation of the individual would be compromised again; it is not enough to ensure the freedom of choice of the representative but we must implement a system that enables an effective representation, that is a true protection of the interests of the delegator.
The fact that everyone can choose the criteria he wants does not mean that the criterion chosen are always valid; it is easy to see that the criteria normally used, based on sympathy, on the party to which one belongs, on the promises made in election campaigns and propaganda in general , are a resounding failure: the representatives selected through these methods put the interests of their electors at the bottom of their list of priorities. For lack of democratic culture, the individual citizen does not control over the effectiveness of his methods of choice  as well as he does not control the work of the voted politicians.
For the same reason, almost none of us knows some valid criteria and is therefore essential the question of finding them. Suggestions can come from the context: the choice of representatives shall of course be limited to people available to carry out this task; this choice will also be directed towards those who have an adequate preparation, i.e. sufficient to carry out their task. From this latter banality, a very important concept appears: the person delegated by us must be chosen depending on the task that the sam has to play and generally no exceptional skills are needed; for example, an electrician must be able to repair the electrical system failures, speaking instead of the preparation of an athlete before the races, we cannot say that his preparation is appropriate when it is able to win all the others because there could not exist two athletes with this preparation. In the competitions, it makes no sense therefore the concept of adequate preparation, if the aim is to win, we will seek the best possible preparation. If a switch has burned, we will not seek the best electrician in the world, since for an ordinary job he can only act as a common electrician.
To attend a meeting and report back our thoughts, or decide in a responsible way in our place, is surely not a competitive sport: the preparation of our delegate must therefore be adequate, not the best possible; in such cases we do not need a genius because the matter is to choose a representative, not a boss. Since this is a task given on trust, it is obvious that the representative must first of all be reliable and worthy of consideration; however in the current parliamentary system is common practice to elect hypocritical and unscrupulous people dedicated to every kind of cheating, and we can make such a thing in the belief of protecting our interests.
In a village where everyone knows personally the others and where the groups are formed on the base of the bonds of friendship and of having similar character, culture and interests, to choose a trustworthy representative is the most natural and simple thing in the world: in our circle of friends all are virtually reliable or we would quickly be aware of it; apart from exceptional cases, dealing with topics of common interest that are usually discussed together, an adequate preparation will be available to all. It follows that, in most cases, all or most persons will be able to play the role of representative of the group and in the end the choice will be based on the availability of time that the candidate has. In case a particular issue requiring specific expertise is to be discussed, the group of candidates is narrowed and the choice would be even easier.
Considered the simplicity of a group of at most ten or twelve people and the ease with which anyone can replace the other on the most common topics, it will be quite simple to send a different representative to the general assembly according to the needs of specific skills or availability of time. Moreover, nothing prevents one to send two representatives at the assembly if two issues that require different skills are to be addressed: why not taking full advantage of knowledge of the group? Obviously from time to time only one will vote for the whole group. Each group will then have different representatives, according to the different needs, which will then be stimulated to a more active participation.
Going back to the example of the village consisting of seventy people divided into groups of ten, where each group sends two representatives to the General Assembly instead of one, the number of members of the Assembly from seven will be of fourteen, and this may seem a burden that could negatively affect the decision-making process. It is to be noted instead that the assembly actually has not doubled its members, as it is made up of seven pairs of representatives; each pair expresses an opinion and only one vote in the group that represents, but with obvious advantages over the previous situation:
– with the double representative, a group may be represented in the various assemblies by a constant delegate, to ensure a continuity of presence and relationships, and at the same time the delegate may be accompanied by a second person who will instead vary from time to time, depending on the topics covered in the various assemblies, which is chosen for his specific expertise
– the two representatives will be comforted by not being alone: they find mutual aid, immediate advice and mutual control.
The greatest advantage offered by a continuous contact with the representatives is of being able to continually observe the quality of their work, thus making it possible to apply a more important criterion now totally neglected, that is the evaluation on the basis of objective results; only in this way it is indeed possible to replace, with full knowledge of the facts, a delegate who has disappointed his delegators.



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