• methodoinput formal view about wsf process en

last modified September 23, 2019 by facilitfsm



 @1 open space concept   @2 facilitation and participatin/ format and content  @3 new formats not just activities  @4 Disk and Circles Diagram   @5 popular education

Here are  elements on a formal, but not formalistic, view of the forum process,  that has shaped throughout years of participation in “the kitchen” of the world social forum process “facilitation” since 2003..

This “formal” view on WSF process has been developed, trying to answer the nagging question “what is WSF?”. It has been evolved through continued practice and discussions, about WSF process understanding and implementation, performed and held with fellow social forum facilitators/participants, in WSF international council, and in facilitating committees for various WSF process manifestations.

This “formal view” provides a basically optimistic perception about WSF potential to be a “relevant counter hegemonic intercommunication process towards another possible world”, based on quality and mutually dignifying dialogues between its participants,  many of them inmersed in altruist and socially creative and rewarding collective processes of struggles, campaigns, projects, initiatives for resistance and alternatives.  So let us take first two steps in this formal view.



1/ WSF open space:  a formally coherent and powerful concept, useful for emancipation and counter hegemonic organizing, based on self-organized dialogues

A first dimension of this formal viewpoint is about considering the “WSF open space” explicated in WSF charter of principles as a formal/organizational “innovation”. This innovation deserves being formalized, and developed further, as it opens a series of innovative practical perspectives linked to its horizontality and the permanent invitation to self-organization inside the participation formats. Which in turn allows a broad “ownership“ of the process and its decentralized “implementation”, based on a common understanding, developed through practice and formalization of the WSF open space global concept.

Indeed, WSF open space concept can be implemented  at different scales, local, national, regional, thematic, world, between people and organizations aspiring to another possible world, considering themselves as “participants” in this “process”, as both notions are described explicit in the Charter of principles, which is meant as reference document for this WSF process.

The WSF Charter is a mere two page text with great coherence. Article 1 defines WSF as a “meeting place” and article 3 as a “process”. In the formulation of “nearly all” of its 14 articles the forum stands “syntaxically” as a space, a place, and not as an actor. (1)

“Common understanding” implies hands on praxis, and developing discussions and understanding about some “notions” and a “vocabulary”. That is what “forum methodology” is about.  Something like producing a common “lexicon” or “glossary”,(2)  shared between a community of facilitating entities  or persons, with a diversity of hands on experience about “WSF process manifestations”, agreeing on this lexicon or glossary beyond their ideological, cultural differences, their diversity of goals and focuses. 

And methodology is to be taken “seriously”, as clarity in notion is a condition for dissemination of a common understanding between as many people as possible, in order to upscale the size of the WSF process to counter hegemonic dimensions.

Indeed, in the past twenty years, and beyond many important changes in the world situation, hegemony of neoliberalism based on extractivism, inequalities and consumerism has not changed, and no other “potentially” decentralized  multi thematic and multi scale global counter hegemonic process has emerged.  

WSF methodology and political identity of WSF participant

Methodology is about the formats and planning in which, and through which the participants will bring and develop their social and political “contents” towards another possible world.

“Contents” of all kind from exchange of experience, counter hegemonic information, alliance building, transformative initiative definition and action planning. With the understanding that each content that is collective enough, whether a solemn statement, the description of a resistance or transformative initiative, a dialogue report in a workshop, is issued in the name of, or under responsibility of, a specific array of participating collective entities.

Considered formally, this WSF process is a collective tool, an interrelation format, based on the individual and collective transformative virtues of dialogic situations. WSF is a place where collective organizing is promoted, while transformative dialogue occurs at individual level. "Dialogic situations" are at the heart of this "counter hegemonic process", which can be useful to those willing to develop alliances between wide arrays of movements and NGOS.

Asserting oneself as a “WSF participant” implies sharing the “generic participants values and goals”, made explicit in the Charter that ideologically locates the WSF forum space and process. Also it implies accepting the format of “open space that no one can speak in the name of”, as a behavioral methodological-political “compact” between participants and facilitators.

WSF process manifestations

WSF process may have various “manifestations“ of various “format”, proposed by a variety of facilitating committees. The most frequent is the “process-event” organized around a concentration in time and space (called “event”) of dialogic situations (called “activities”). There is a pre-event phase of several months, an event phase of a few days, and a post event phase (usually so far too weak). Another format of manifestation is “extension dynamics”, whereby a frame is proposed to make mutually visible and accessible, through online participation, a series of local encounters that are placed by their respective organizers as “activities” in WSF process, in a decentralized manner, without a central event to relate to.

Facilitating committees, and a potential WSF facilitating community

Specific groups of “facilitators” get together and propose to participants, and implement, a “WSF open space process manifestation”, specific in time, place, and themes, to be used by WSF process participants, without being themselves, as facilitators, entitled to speak “in the name of that open space”. This looks evident, considering the WSF format formally, but in practice there are the “facilitator’s temptations” to “be ventriloquist that make a space speak“(see point 2)

WSF process manifestations are viewed as a tool-process-event-dynamics that are co-cared for by their respective “facilitators”, i-e those willing, beyond their “participation”, to contribute to the existence of the process and not just use it. Facilitation tasks are many, from organizing a facilitation committee of a WSF process manifestation to just being a volunteer for interpretation of an activity for instance.

 In that sense, WSF process appears as  a world scale  “common”, co sustained by a possible “WSF facilitating community”, qualified through practice and collective results obtained in implementation, which is linked by a common understanding of what is WSF process.

The WSF international council could be moving in this direction, inasmuch its member entities would avoid “fast track temptations of representation” and focus decidedly energies on dialogue between facilitating experiences and a global process facilitation work plan. The inclusion in principle of confirmed WSF process manifestation facilitating committees, as member entities in the IC, is a step in this direction.

This formal description of WSF process is that of a conceptual dialogic frame and space, it is thus distinct, in nature, from a «movement of movements". Considering oneself, individual or collective entity, as a "WSF process participant", as the notion of “participant” and “process” are described in the WSF charter, become a “political identity” of its own kind and right.

WSF participant entities, investing in the forum space and tool

Those entities willing to build broad and powerful alliances for powerful broad scale nonviolent citizen resistance and alternatives strategies and actions are welcome to use the WSF tool/common.

How entities view this tool and space, from their own political and cultural view point, and, more importantly, through clarifying dialogues with others participants/facilitators, (that they may have as they participate in some WSF manifestation), will determine their perceived relevance of this WSF format and their willingness to co-facilitate other WSF manifestations with other entities different from them.  

The willingness of entities to “invest” in WSF process as a part of their entity strategy, the willingness of entities to co- sustain some WSF process manifestation as facilitators, without expecting to reap quick and direct benefits from this, are then key for possibilities to involve more entities in facilitation and promotion of WSF process, and thus upscale the WSF process to counter hegemonic dimension.

(1)    Wsf charter  http://openfsm.net/projects/ic-methodology/charter-fsm-wsf-en 

(2)  Lexicon attemps  http://openfsm.net/projects/ic-methodology/wsf11-evalreco-disseminate-lexicon 


2/ Facilitation and Participation:  a crucial distinction

A second dimension of this formal view on WSF process is highlighting the difference between:

-“facilitating" a WSF process manifestation,  i-e defining and implementing/scheduling from a facilitation committee "formats of participation" accessible to participant entities in a given manifestation of WSF "open space", and,

-"participating" in a WSF process manifestation, though and beyond individual interactions in dialogues, producing "contents" in the name of collective entities, and hopefully in the name of alliances of entities of whatever size that can be achieved along shared goals.

“The political dimensions in WSF open space are between participating entities”, and are not with facilitating tasks. This explain why there has been, throughout the years,  inside the WSF international council a decided resistance to “temptation from facilitators for making the WSF space talk”, whatever the alleged justifications may be, and there have been many.(3)  

This is not because of a “de-politicization orientation”, on the contrary, this is abiding by the WSF methodological-political compact between participants and facilitators, and keeping the participants the only political actors, building alliances inasmuch they can.

Facilitation Distance and Term  

Facilitation implies taking some "distance" with the contents - just being positionned  by all the charter particpants generic  values and goals and only those  and working on the formats. Also investing in the forum faciltation  implies a longer term investment no expectiing quick returns of the collective effort because of the ambition. it is not about mobilization it is about articulation 

 Formal and political Distorsions : Making the space talk

There are several ways to “make the WSF open space talk”, as if “the forum” were a political subject or a collective actor:

“WSF spokepersonism” is about making declaration with political content as spokesperson or spokes group, with assumed legitimacy to do so. It can be the facilitating committee of a specific WSF process manifestation, or it can be the WSF international council itself.  By mixing facilitating role and political role, this breaks the methodological-political compact between participants and facilitators

 “WSF assemblyism” is when some activities with assembly status in the WSF space are being promoted as more important than others by the facilitating committee itself , and made to produce making statements, many time non signed by anyone , being given special forum-wide visibility and legitimacy.  This is another break of the methodological-political compact between participants and facilitators, putting many WSF process participants, that either are  not participating in that assembly or are, but are  reduced by the assembly format itself to “applause or not applause” expression,  in either case are being put in a  “consent by default situation”

“ WSF ventriloquism” is when some people inside the facilitating committee for  a WSF manifestation are writing anonymously a political enunciate, meant to capture and put words on the participants vision and  expectations, and spread it as stemming from “the forum”.  

These are fast-tracks to ephemeral political visibility which distort the WSF space format and feed among the participants the perception that “the forum is a political actor”, whereas promoting WSF as “a space meant for political expression of participants entities and their alliances built patiently from below” is a longer, challenging, empowering, demanding, and eventually much more powerful track to political visibility of those alliances 

(3)    WSF: open space or organization? :  http://openfsm.net/projects/wsfic_fsmci/salvador17-input18/#EN 



3/ An intercommunication process more useful through new  formats for those acting for another possible world

A third dimension of these views is the perceived necessity for, and possibility of, introducing in WSF methodology more “participating formats” accessible to participants in WSF open space.  Those formats complete the dominant format in the mental representation of the forum in the past 20 years which is “ self-organized dialogic face to face activity placed in a WSF process event” , when this “activity” format is linked to face to face meetings  not to on line meetings,  and  linked to discussion, not to action

Encounters and initiatives

Here are two formats that can be promoted and developed by facilitating committees

-“online encounters” placed in “thematic open spaces” long before a social forum event. These self-organized encounters are "all purpose" and flexible intercommunication vehicles  usable for exploring issues, valuing local activities, informing about why and how participate in the forum, maturing and articulating announcements of activities and initiatives that will be proposed in an upcoming social forum event, following up locally on public action dates planned in announcement of initiatives etc.

This format allows to develop “online participation” which is one of the great changes occurred in the past 20 years

-“announcement of initiatives"( i-e struggles, campaigns, projects of all kinds, that stand up in resistance and in alternative to neoliberal hegemony with its local alliances of actors and ideologies. This format is a useful vehicle for making visible the dimension of social and political action planning in WSF participants dialogues, which is so far kept informal and “inside” activities.

Once visible, “initiatives” can be promoted and presented in “activities” and gather token of interest or support from many WSF participants along the unfolding of a WSF process manifestation.

This format maybe the vehicle of broad alliances and develop into powerfully supported decentralized action dates and campaigns that are part of the imaginary and “promise” of WSF.  

The format of initiative comprises announcement of a few "public action dates", which stimulates strategy and planning discussions among participating entities willing to use it. 

Kiosk Agora Calendar : Formats in a face to face event and its formal moment

In a WSF process manifestation,  facilitating committee can develop and implement formats  of horizontal  spaces-moments with many interaction between particpants take place,  A  “kiosk of initiatives” expanded at the end of the process-event in an “agora of futures”,  can be space -moments   when  initiative promoters.exchange among themselves and with participants seeking for articulations and support.

A “calendar of futures” specific to this manifestation can be assembled with all the public action dates, contained in the initiatives announced. This format can be shown under format of a live calendar of futures, expressing unity in diversity. Its web version can be examined using thematic, scale, area, language filtering, but without prioritization.

From this material, accessible in the calendar, some initiative groups/alliances can evolve, in their own name, some “agendas”, with a political enunciate and a series of prioritized initiatives, and propose those agendas to the explicit and voluntary support from WSF participants.

That is an expression of open space horizontality: those alliances promoting an agenda are using the same initiative format as alliances promoting a specific initiative, and no one speaks in the name of the WSF space  



4/ Participation Circles  and openspace Disk  diagram

This diagrams gives a rather coherent view of open space ( the disk)  its limit  and what is taking place inside it 

From center to periphery 

  • Circle of on line encounters in online  thematic space where participants gather by interest at the beginning of the process and start intercommunicating on line 
  • Circle of activities  not mentionning initiative more popular education  exchange of experience
  • Circle of activittes  discussing initiatives, articulation, planning etc..
  • Agora of tutures  final moment
  • Calendar and succession of  public actions  


 Element 3 missing on purpose  is facilitation  - the arrow is the "promise" of the forum   from participation  to action

Updated spanish version with encounters in pink 




5/ Other significant aspects for quality of the dialogues and interactions and dissemination of the wwsf process

The dimension of “popular education”, empowerment of organizations and dignification of WSF participants through personal expression in self-organized dialogues is not developed in this input, but is quite important at individual and collective level, and contribute to the WSF process counter hegemonic dimension.  The methods used for the quality of collective dialogue can be varied and creative.

Self-documentation of the dialogues held in the forum is essential, for pedagogic dissemination. Self-organized coverage of one’s activity and mutual training in “communicating the forum” in participants entities respective networks are a way to counter the lack or distortion of coverage by mainstream media. These are dimensions of active participation.