Local Gov’t Desperately Needs a Version of the ‘Tenth Man Rule’

Update, 7.15.14: for a discussion of this rule as most fittingly applicable to full-time staff, see, Administration, Council, and the Tenth Man Rule.

In the science fiction novel World War Z, humanity fights a zombie war, and the book describes a look back after the war is over, with interviews of those who fought against the undead.  (The film with Brad Pitt is loosely based on the book, but does not take a retrospective approach.)

One of the interviews in the book describes a supposed Israeli ‘Tenth Man Rule’ for planning: if nine in authority agree on a course of action, it’s the duty of the tenth to adopt a contrary approach, considering an opposite course of action or risk that the nine others have dismissed.

(There’s even some talk that Israel has an actual version of this rule for some strategic planning, but it’s mostly sketchy and nebulous talk.)

Regardless, consider what a Tenth Man Rule means, at a minimum:

It means that an organization will work to overcome group-thinking through a deliberate, required commitment to the exposition of an alternative view. 

There’s nothing like this concept, so far as anyone can see, in any local government in our area.


There may be dissent from a conventional view, but no city or county in our area has a structure that by design requires a zealous and diligent exposition of an alternative view.

That alternative view may, of course, prove unfounded; it’s significant that no one locally even ponders alternatives as a formal and regular process of review

On the contrary, most local institutions begin with a rough majority, and that majority works to impose its will by cajoling and badgering others within the group into acquiescence. 

The failure to entertain alternatives initially  means that local governments and institutions risk committing early and fully to ill-considered projects, only to be surprised when a program goes bad, lacks true public support, or meets with public scorn. 

(In these situations, insular officials typically double and re-double their foolish initial positions, only exacerbating their distance from the communities they claim to serve.)

This failure also means that despite vast millions in funding, institutions that rush projects through an enforced consensus squander resources that might have helped them research alternatives more effectively than one person. 

They waste their resource advantage, and worse, their cajoled consensus leads them in the wrong direction and prevents them from changing course.

Looking at local planning, the need for a mandatory, internal process of review is glaring.

In the end, neither nine nor ninety lemmings can match even a single man or woman considering alternatives initially. 

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