Towards a democratic, inclusive, participatory and fun structure in all events: An explanation of the Nyeleni structure

19 August 2011

Dan Iles, WDM delegate to Nyeleni Europe, explains the structure that makes the forum so exciting.

I want to try and explain a bit about the structure of the Nyeleni 2011 forum as I think it is worth emulating in future organisational structures. The way the forum is organised has been based on the way the 2007 Nyeleni forum in Mali was constructed and many of the ideas come from the global South. It has a particular emphasis on non-heirarchical and participatory structure and is dedicated to hearing the voices of a range of sub groups in society, for example young people, women, young parents, workers, producers, consumers, activists, etc. 

They have tried to give all possible groups, types of people, interests and sections of the food movement a say in the decision making process.  In this way, everyone is given a range of environments with which to express their voice and are therefore not held back by the social limiting factors that can occur in these sort of events. I hope this is of genuine interest to some people who want to organise democratic and participatory events that do not exclude people through societal imbalances such as gender, class, nationality or age. 

Decision making structure

First of all the structure is broken up into what is called ‘Thematic groups’. These groups are chosen by people who have a particular interest/experience in that area. The thematic groups are:

  • Models of production
  • Markets and organisation of food networks
  • Social aspects for workers, consumers and producers
  • Access to land
  • Public policies

This allows everyone to choose their specific interest in the food movement which means that each group can go into a reasonable amount of detail, and that people are not having to listen to things that they do not want to. These thematic groups then split up AGAIN into sub groups to discuss variants of that particular issue.

In the group I was in, Markets and organisation of food networks, we split up into:

  • Resistance to supermarkets and agrobusiness
  • Alternative distribution networks
  • Sanitary norms within farming production channels.

These groups were then asked to go away and form even smaller groups to discuss the issues and experiences that they are most interested in.  Each group is asked to produce flip charts to feed back to the sub group about the barriers, delegate experiences and concrete actions that can be taken on this particular issue.  

Here is an example of some of the flip charts from our sub groups.

The ideas on the flip charts are then discussed, with the most important ones highlighted and  summarised. Then after conclusions and summaries have been made the groups feed back into the sub groups which then in turn feed back into the thematic group as a whole.

At this point ideas are discussed in language groups and general comments are made before the collated ideas, solutions and agreed actions are passed onto the coordinating group to synthesise into a document that provides direction to the European food sovereignty movement as a whole.

At each stage of the process the decisions and conclusions are being scrutinized by the particular societal groups such as the workers, activist and producers groups as well as the women’s group and the youth group.

Here is a picture of the youth group in action:


As a side point the language interpreting aspect of this forum is second to none. There are a large contingency of very skilled volunteer interpreters that speak into microphone systems that connect to radio sets across the forum. This allows every main European language to be included. Apart from putting my monolanguage skills to shame, the interpreters enable me to sit around a table with Romanians, Spanish, Italians, French, Belgians, Greeks, Germans, Austrians, Macedonians, and lots of other language groups and have a cross-nationality discussion. Not only does this include most language groups, it also allows for cross cultural idea and skill sharing that might not be able to happen otherwise. In addition, materials come in all languages, in stark contrast to the lack of language in some UN/ WTO/ World Bank or other institutional conferences.

The interpreters in action:


First of all, the food here is great, all locally sources and cooked by a commited team of culinary enthusiasts. There is also, importantly for a forum of this intensity, good access to locally brewed beer and homemade cakes.

Cooking team in action:

There is also a large range of self organised workshops (open space style), films, music (live music as well as a decent electronic set up [listened to a great Balkan set yesterday]), cultural entertainment and theatre. All this goes towards creating an informal atmosphere which really helps the flow of discussion and creates a good social fabric to the place.

Consensus decision making

It seems that the shaky hand formula has reached all areas of europe as this forum is full of consensus 'jazz hands' :)


The organisers of the forum have really put a lot of thought into how to create a forum that is inclusive, fluid, democratic, interesting and participatory. Although not all events that people want to put on are going to be as big as this one, it is worth paying attention to some of these practices with the view of using them in the future. Not only does this make an event successful in an inclusive way, it seems the way it is structured really helps to engage people's interests by making it fun, relevant and purposeful.



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