Autonomy and Decentralisation: How is XR structured?

Catherine Love explains how XR is designed to mitigate for power and ensure everyone can get involved.

One of the crucial insights of Extinction Rebellion is that it’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it. At the same time as fighting for the system change necessary to mitigate the climate and ecological crisis, we also need to be modelling a different, more sustainable culture. With this in mind, XR is a movement that strives to be participatory, decentralised and inclusive. This is an ongoing process: we’re constantly reflecting, learning and evolving.

One way that we do this is through how we organise ourselves. XR operates through a self-organising system that aims to decentralise power, avoid hierarchies and ensure that all areas of the movement are transparent and accountable. This organising system is inspired by Holacracy and adopts some of its features, though it’s important to add that the movement itself is not a Holacracy per se.

So what’s Holacracy? It was created as a way of embedding autonomy and agility in the DNA of organisations – primarily businesses. It’s built around a distributed power system, which is enshrined in a constitution. Instead of a hierarchical governance structure, a Holacracy consists of equal partners who all fulfil various roles. Partners work autonomously within the organisation and are responsible and accountable for the roles to which they’re assigned. Alongside and related to these roles, Holacracy uses what it calls a circle structure to organise activities and delegate control.

XR’s self-organising system borrows from Holocracy the idea of roles and circles, which are the fundamental building blocks of XR’s decentralised, non-hierarchical structure. Within XR, people function autonomously and fill roles with defined mandates. XR rebels also work as members of self-organising circles – for example, working groups or affinity groups. Each circle has its own mandate and defines its own roles. While a circle will have a coordinator, who takes responsibility for communicating with the wider circle, the structure tries to ensure that no one individual has power over another.

Within XR’s self-organising circles, authority is distributed and critical discussion is encouraged. There should always be opportunities for individuals to raise objections to proposals, allowing the group to refine its solutions to problems and move forward with decisions that everyone can get behind. Decisions can also be revisited and improved over time as part of the movement’s process of reflection and evolution.

Integral to all of this is what XR calls radical transparency. The idea is that roles and circles are kept up-to-date and made visible to everyone. This is why, for instance, every XR York meeting includes an explanation of all active working groups, and why working groups feed back to the wider local group. The structure of the movement is designed to be transparent and accessible to anyone who wants to get involved. Everyone is welcome here.

To find out more about the structure of XR and how we work, come along to a meeting or get in touch with a working group.

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