Publication Date

1999

Abstract

This paper explores the challenges of introducing small group, democratic decision-making within the School for International Training (SIT) Sports Department with workstudy students, and the impact of small group decisions on the larger campus community. There are two questions addressed in this research: 1. How did small group decision-making processes interact with other decision-making processes of the institution? 2. What can be learned about the outcomes and possibilities of small group democratic decision-making through this experience? Data collection comprised interviews and questionnaires with students, staff and directors, evaluations to the entire campus community and daily observations of small group meetings and participation in project implementation. Related literature on democratic processes, other decision-making processes and participatory approaches are reviewed. Analysis is focused on three case studies: the ice skating rink, fitness trail and volleyball court initiatives using Gasti's (1993) indicators to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the democratic process and Bolman and Deal's (1991) four frames to evaluate the impact and possibilities of this decision-making process within World Learning. Small democratic groups at SIT can be beneficial to campus operations when they are aligned with departmental initiatives, but are subordinate to departmental decision-making processes because such groups lack the resources, the continuity and professional recognition. Recent downsizing at World Learning, accompanied by divisionalized forms of decision-making, have fragmented continuity between departments and programs. One strategy to increase participation in decision-making processes lies in a redefinition of SIT as an accredited training school rather than academic college, in which classroom learning and experiential learning are formally integrated into SIT campus projects and operations. This research is relevant to managers striving to introduce participatory and small group democratic decision-making processes while working within and around decision-making structures that may or may not be committed to the same principles, may be rooted in more traditional forms of decision-making, or simply operating at a different pace adverse to either the process of deliberation or the sovereignty of small, democratic groups.

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