Compression Groups

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Facilitation Working Group at Occupy Wall Street:

"Compression grouping is a method for collectively solving problems and addressing issues in large groups, while adhering to the principles of direct democracy, inclusivity, and participation. Compression groups are essentially a way of distributing a discussion and inquiry among a crowd in a self-organized fashion. Compression groups put an emphasis on the importance of individual contributions and interpersonal interactions to this collective process, and encourage the participation of voices that would otherwise go unspoken and unheard. However, this diversity of voices simply cannot be productive if entirely routed through a centralized, single-channel, largely critical discussion as currently practiced by the NYC General Assembly. Compression grouping is a multi-channel, multi-conversation, positive reinforcement approach that attempts to maximize efficiency and effectively make the viable solutions in a crowd salient. Compression grouping also provides a straightforward way to reduce the ability of disruptive or uncooperative individuals to interfere with the process by detailing a clear, reasonable, and fair method for removing them from the process." (

The Compression Process

1. An issue is put before a General Assembly. The individual or group presenting this issue is given time to explain the issue and provide relevant information and context.

2. The assembly breaks up into small seed groups to discuss the issue and offer any ideas or potential solutions to the people in this group. Seed groups can be assigned in some creative way to evenly distribute the assembly among the groups, or the Facilitators can allow the seed groups to self-organize according to the people’s interests. The assembly should be given some time limit for discussion before being dismissed into seed groups.

3. The seed groups may begin by designating by consensus someone to keep stack for that group. Then the seed group engages in an open discussion of the issue and brainstorms for possible or actual solutions. If discussion becomes hostile or difficult for any reason the group may seek facilitation, either from a member of the group or from a neutral outside party, designated by the consensus of the group.

4. If participants in a seed group are unhappy with their seed, they should feel free to split off and form their own seed group. This should not be considered hostile or rude by the original seed group, it is just a way to make sure all the conversations that need to happen do happen.

5. When time is nearly up, the facilitators for the General Assembly will ask all the seed groups to designate by consensus a member of that seed group to advance to a Compression Group. The seed group can designate a person to the Compression Group for reasons including but not limited to:

- 1. The group feels that the person has adequately understood and would clearly and honestly express the diverse discussion of the small group at Compression.

- 2. The group feels that the person has a good idea or potential solution to the problem that deserves to be heard in a wider audience.

- 3. The group feels that the person is passionate about the issue, and would provide positive contributions if given the opportunity to work with the Compression Group.

- 4. The group feels like the person really, really wants to be in the Compression Group and they really, really don’t care.

6. If a small group feels like it has nothing to add to the larger conversation, it can refrain from designating someone for the Compression Group. If the Compression Group is itself a large group, the compression process might need to be repeated immediately by breaking up members of the Compression Group into seed groups which in turn designates another, smaller Compression Group, until the group is compressed to a point where a public, manageable conversation may happen among the Compression Group and in front of the GA.

7. The GA then reunites, and the individuals of the Compression Group make themselves known and report back to the GA of the important discussion issues and questions raised by their groups. Where appropriate, the person who originally raised the issue before the Assembly may answer questions.

8. Discussion continues among the Compression Group, in front of the General Assembly, but participation is strictly limited to only the members of the compression group. Some time is designated for this discussion.

9. The Compression Process stops when the Compression Group either:

- 1. arrives at a solution to the issue where immediate direct action can be taken to address it, or

- 2. consents to form a break-out group to address the problem with further concentrated discussion outside of GA, and to report back at a future GA, or

- 3. feels that the issue has been adequately addressed by the Compression Process, as measured by consensus.

10. If none of these conditions are met before the time limit, the Compression Group may decide

- 1. that the conversation is productive and to continue it with the existing Compression Group by extending the time limit on their discussion, or

- 2. to engage in another iteration of the Compression Process by breaking the Compression Group into smaller groups, and repeating the process on those groups, or

- 3. That the existing compression is corrupted, and that the existing Compression Group should dissolve back into the GA, perhaps to repeat the Compression Process starting with new seed groups."


"Compression Groups are not intended to form a standing body with institutional authority. They are designed to be spontaneously formed in immediate response to a specific issue, and will be dissolved when the solution has been found after the crowd-sourced search. However, the Compression Process would ideally result in a small group of people who have been empowered and informed by that process to directly address and resolve the issue before the GA, and who may feel accountable and responsible to the groups from which they have been seeded.

Compression Groups are also not intended to be a method for reaching group consensus, although consensus is an important part of the process. Instead, the Compression Groups are designed in the interest of solving a specific problem, and this topic-based focus will hopefully keep the process on task and productive.

Individuals and Seed Groups

An individual in a seed group may feel that no one within the seed group is capable of adequately relaying their concerns or suggestions to the Compression Group, but nevertheless has not received the consensus of the seed group to advance to the Compression Group.

Such individuals are powered to join the Compression Group as individuals and voice their concerns despite not being designated by a seed group. However, in the interest consensus and cooperation, no individual may remain on the Compression Group as an individual (that is, not at the consensus of a seed) for more than three iterations of the compression process. After three iterations of compression, if an individual’s voice has not gained the momentum to seed it through three iterations of compression, that person must accept that the consensus of the group outweighs their individual concerns and step aside; and the Compression Group, with the support of Facilitation and the GA, should feel empowered to exclude that individual from continuing to participate in the Compression Process on this issue. In this way, voices can be heard and the process can remain inclusive, while still allowing the Assembly the authority and a clear procedure whereby they can remove individuals who are not operating with the consensus of the Assembly.

It is important to emphasize that excluding people from a Compression Group allows a procedural way for filtering out positions that are not held by groups but instead represent merely individual opinions or interests. It is not meant to filter out disruption from hostile individuals, nor is it meant to disenfranchise minority positions, insofar as the minority group is still larger than a single individual. In this way, Compression Groups do not target individuals personally, and perhaps avoid some of the interpersonal difficulties that make the Assembly process so frustrating and difficult.

One simple stigmergic solution to easily distinguishing iterations of compression is to give all members of the GA a post it note to wear prominently at the beginning of the process. As seed groups designate members to go to compression, those members hand over their post it notes to the seed. The seed prominently displays all the post-it notes they’ve received in heading to compression. Thus, the number of post-it notes a person is wearing indicates the number of people who supported their advancement to compression. Individuals after the first three steps of compression who have failed to secure another person’s post it and therefore are only displaying one, must forfeit their post and refrain from participating in future iterations of compression." (

More Information

  • Questions are welcome: [email protected]