Forest Action Team

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Forest Action Team

Post by mintruss » Fri Mar 18, 2011 2:38 pm

I have a quick question and need as many responses as possible! I am currently working on a project with Forest and I'd like to know what everyone thinks about the Forest Action Team.. How important is it to the daily running of Forest? Is the Forest Action Team representative of the ethos of Forest? What's everyone's opinion on it? Any feedback would be great. Also any opnions on the general running of Forest. Thanks XXX :D

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Re: Forest Action Team

Post by neil » Mon Mar 21, 2011 5:15 pm


I'm surprised no-one else has answered this so far. As someone who was involved in setting up the FAT, I can provide some background info.

Previous to the FAT, forest was run by a group called the forest working group (FWG). The FWG was a fairly exclusive little group. Access was gained either by being a member of the committee (the group previously responsible for running the place), or as a member of staff, or by working your way up through the supposedly non-hierarchical working group system and proving yourself worthy of being either a "bottom-liner" (someone who is responsible for co-ordinating a particular working group), or just someone who is reliable and trustworthy enough to attain the level of FWG membership.

Unfortunately, the FWG was a mess. It became a forum for bickering rather than decision-making and reached a point where its members' opinions were highly polarised so that even the simplest issue turned into a bitter dispute. Forest began to atrophy as it was impossible to get important decisions made. FWG also provided an insurmountable conflict of interest in that it was essentially responsible for managing the employment of forest's staff members, yet those same staff members were part of the FWG. This meant they were effectively their own managers, which sounds great in theory but in practice it was a recipe for disaster.

To cut a long story short, we decided to replace the FWG with the FAT. The FAT was to be a wider, less exclusive group. It was to be open to anyone who was willing and able to be involved in day to day forest volunteering. It's remit was to be more focused on the core aims of the forest such as arts and events. A separate group made up of officially-recognised trustees of the forest charity was to take over responsibility for the admin-related decisions that had become impossible to deal with in the hands of the FWG. This would would free up the FAT people to focus on more creative pursuits. It would also help manage the problem of decisions being made by people who were not legally accountable for the consequences, as this was another problem of the FWG situation.

As well as having the remit of making cool shit happen in the forest, it was hoped that FAT members would register as official members of the forest charity and take part in electing the trustees on an annual basis. However, only very few FAT members have so far opted for charity membership.

Currently the role of FAT and trustees is in a state of flux, as far as I know. Others can probably give a more accurate picture of where things currently stand.

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Re: Forest Action Team

Post by brittonie » Mon Mar 21, 2011 6:33 pm


can you write about what your project is a little?

I think forest runs amazingly well and incredibly organized considering it's not for profit volunteer-ness.

I go to ECA and am constantly amazed at the difference in how a supposedly "reputable" college is in far worse shape than Forest which is *insert happy descriptive words here* and full of amazing people.

as for FAT, FAT's alright... everyone needs a little FAT, you know? It's like an energy resource when times are tuff, other times keepin' things warm or just a sweet little extra cushioning. As long as the FAT doesn't outweigh the other stuff then it's alllllll goooood. (please forgive me, i love analogies)

I think maybe if i knew what more about your project i'd be more interested and able to respond clearly in detail.
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Re: Forest Action Team

Post by HGiles » Mon Mar 21, 2011 7:08 pm

Yes, I think the reason for the quiet on this is both that we don't have specific questions to go on and that the organisational structure is currently somewhat in flux.

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Re: Forest Action Team

Post by ken » Mon Mar 21, 2011 7:53 pm

I had hoped to stay out of this debate, but Neil's version of these events is so partisan that it needs response.

I doubt anyone disputes that FWG was a mess. Neil's account of how people came to be invited to join the group somehow gives the impression that there was some inherent defect in the way it was done. The real problem was that non hierarchical consensual decision making processes don't work.

FAT was an afterthought. It was agreed to set up a group of arbitrarily appointed trustees to sort out the mess. It was also decided to vest a lot more authority to the building manager. FAT was the rather patronising acronym given to the remnant of the disinherited FWG to re-create it as a social committee.

As things are now, the trustees decide privately about all the money and legal stuff and the building manager decides how the building is run.

A more classically hierarchical structure is hard to imagine.

I am currently unable to campaign for the forest because I am unable to accept that there is some virtuous principle in not paying artists and musicians. If all the non hierarchical bollocks has been cheerfully abandoned why can we not charge folk to get in at the weekends? We might then not need charitable support. I fear it will be difficult to find if the core of our ethos is to provide free entertainment for hippies.
Last edited by ken on Mon Mar 21, 2011 8:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Forest Action Team

Post by neil » Mon Mar 21, 2011 8:25 pm

My description of how people came to be in the FWG is entirely accurate.

All of this was done via a process of consensus decision making. FAT was by no means an afterthought. You should know, Ken, as you were at the meeting in which it was established and you agreed to it, as did everyone present. I believe you were also a part of the group that "arbitrarily appointed" the trustees, were you not?

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Re: Forest Action Team

Post by chombee » Fri Mar 25, 2011 8:03 pm

Your post is very one-sided Neil. The old working groups system was no longer working, but it had its good features as well as its failures. In coming up with a new system we should try to keep the good things about the old one and fix its failures.

Getting access to the FWG worked like this: If you had been coming along to one of the open working groups and volunteering for two months then an existing FWG member would nominate you to be in the FWG. There would be a discussion about it on the private FWG forum on the bb. If there were no objections, you would be invited. I thought this was a pretty good system.

So far, as far as I know, there is no defined way of getting access to the new FAT group or the trustees group.

There was supposed to be at least one FWG member bottom-lining each open working group and attending all of its meetings. But the open working group meetings all kind of stopped happening. If you ask me the problem was too many different working groups and too many meetings to keep up. I thought the recent proposal of one big regularly open meeting in which we make an agenda and then split up into subgroups was promising. Maybe we could focus on doing just one meeting every month or two and doing it well.

I don't think the consensus decision making process is to blame for all our problems, I think that's a scapegoat. Doing consensus properly is in fact probably the one thing that will save us from endless bickering, keep meetings on track so that effective decisions that everyone feels part of get made, etc. Forest has never been very good, or at least not very consistent, about actually using consensus decision making. I mean having an agenda, proper facilitation, using the hand signals properly, keeping on topic, etc. What we have done quite often is have really long meetings that meander a lot and can be ineffective. I think people tend to confuse that with consensus decision making and then blame it.
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