Why Dotmocracy sometimes gets abandoned, and how this can be avoided

Dotting in progressUsing Dotmocracy Sheets and the step-by-step Dotmocracy process to recognize agreements in large group meetings can be very productive, but it doesn't always work out that way.

On more occasions then I'd like to count, I've seen plans for a Dotmocracy process get abandoned in favour of a more traditional meeting format, sometimes during the late stages of event planning or even  during the actual workshop.  Why does it happen and how can it be avoided?  Here are a few examples based on my experience...

PROBLEM: Host realizes results could disagree with their own preferences or may not be realistic


  • Confirm host is truly interested in recognizing the real collective opinions of their participants, if not, then they should not be using Dotmocracy. 
  • If they are sincere, remind them that they should set reasonable expectations when explaining the instructions and that they don't have to necessarily act in accordance with participant agreements, they just need to respond to them. For example: A Dotmocracy event follow-up report might say "We recognized employees would like a 10% raise, but we cannot afford that right now because... What we can do instead is...". 
  • You may also modify the question being asked that sets lower expectations of direct outcomes, e.g. instead of "What actions should our organization do?" use "What action ideas should management consider?".


PROBLEM: One of the host representatives comes in late to the planning process and is skeptical of a "new" technique.



  • Provide them with a print copy of the Dotmocracy Handbook, to help show legitimacy of the process. 
  • Have other enthusiastic/authoritative host representatives speak in support of the Dotmocracy model,
  • Try framing the process as an "experiment" or "pilot", which sounds more inviting for alternative and innovation approaches.

PROBLEM: During a workshop participants rebel e.g. refuse to form break out groups or write ideas on Dotmocracy sheets


  • Make sure all the pre-event communications (e.g. invite, agenda, background materials) all clearly reinforce the format will include "small group work" or say "Dotmocracy" specifically. By default, people will usually assume the format is presentation followed by questions from the floor, and once the expectation is in place, it can be hard to get away from it.
  • Set the room up in small groups to start with.
  • Don't start taking any questions from the floor, as this can be hard to stop.  Instead, ensure resource people are included in every group or are available on request to answer questions for small groups.
  • Have the most trusted and respected members of hosting group request to move forward with Dotmocracy as planned.
  • If you suspect some participants are worried about being held accountable to their opinions in small group discussions (e.g. sometimes government staff are directed to listen and not express their opinions), remind them that ideas and dotted opinions are anonymous, and no one is required to write anything, although everyone is invited.
  • You can try to explain to participants the benefits of Dotmocracy (e.g. equal opportunity; every voice gets heard; clearly recognize levels of agreement; record comments on each other's ideas), although I have not found this to be too successful once the participants have started to rebel.
  • You could try to say that the hosting organization has agreed to respond to the results of a Dotmocracy process, and that they may not be prepared to address questions and comments from the floor, but I don't think this would be well received and could erode trust.

In the end, sometimes you just need to give in and default back to more traditional meeting formats, like group discussion with note taker.  There will always be other opportunities.

To help plan your next Dotmocracy session, refer to the Dotmocracy Handbook, available from Amazon.com

I would be most curious to learn what your experiences have been with getting Dotmocracy adopted (or not). Send me your stories, suggestions and tips.

Good luck with your dotting!


-Jason Diceman