The next time you have a members’ meeting, why not try running it according to the principles of “participative democracy”? (details). This approach seeks to encourage input from the largest possible number of people. It is not new — in fact it probably predates “representative democracy” — but it has received a lot of publicity lately because of its use (through sign language) in the “general assemblies” of the Occupy movement.
According to the Boston Globe, “The signal language of the Occupy movement traces back to the Direct Action Network, which most famously organized disruptive street protests in Seattle during the World Trade Organization conference in 1999. Though the Direct Action Network is credited with codifying the set of signals used to create consensus, some of the gestures were borrowed from other, earlier uses. The twinkle sign, for example, had been previously used in the deaf community to signal approval or applause.” (more…)
As a group, you are free to develop these signs. The ones used by the first Occupy group at Zuccotti Park can be accessed here. Different “dialects” have been emerging around the world, including a system called the “progressive stack”, which tries to ensure minority voices are heard by promoting them in the speaking order (details).
This is all very different to the usual “Robert’s Rules of Order” (see http://www.robertsrules.org/rulesintro.htm), which are consciously hierarchical and tend to reward participants with insider knowledge. Some have argued that they also encourage factionalism and voting blocs.
If you do decide to try something like this at a unionmembers’ meeting, we would be very glad to hear how it went. Contact email@example.com.