Wednesday, April 15, 2020

General Conference and the Hofstede Culture Country Comparison

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

When The United Methodist Church's General Conference next gathers (even if it is not clear yet when exactly it will do so), it will make decisions as a global body, across national and cultural differences. Many commentators have noted the US-centric nature of the decision-making processes at General Conference, with its reliance on complex, technical procedural maneuvering based on Robert's Rules of Order.

Yet Robert's Rules are not the only way in which culture is embedded in decision-making processes at General Conference. Regardless of the rules or procedures employed, each participating cultural group comes to the process of decision-making with its own cultural presuppositions that shape its understanding of how decisions should be made.

Fortunately, resources exist to help delegates (and others) make sense of those differing cultural presuppositions, and the delay in holding General Conference gives delegates some more time to explore them.

Two of the most significant researchers into the nature of cultural differences and how those differences impact organizational life, including decision-making, were/are the Dutch father and son Geert and Gert Jan Hofstede. Their work focuses, in part, on comparing countries on six dimensions of culture. These six dimensions are as follows:

* Power Distance, defined as "the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally."

* Individualism, defined as "the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members."

* Masculinity, which, according to the Hofstedes, concerns "what motivates people, wanting to be the best (Masculine) or liking what you do (Feminine)."

* Uncertainty Avoidance, which reflects "the extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these."

* Long Term Orientation, which "describes how every society has to maintain some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and future."

* Indulgence, which describes "the extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses." 

Hofstede Insights (a consulting organization connected to the Hofstedes) has a country comparison website that allows you to compare two or more countries on these six dimensions.

While unfortunately, the Democratic Republic of Congo (home to the second-largest number of United Methodists) is not one of the countries available for comparison, the United States, the Philippines, and many countries in Africa and Europe with branches of United Methodism can be compared. Here, for instance, is a comparison of the US and Nigeria.

Spending some time examining comparisons between countries may be a useful way for General Conference delegates to prepare to make decisions across cultures. In particular, this exercise highlights differences, especially around power distance and individualism. Such comparisons can provide delegates (and others) with a better understanding of how their fellow United Methodists approach the shared task of making decisions.

1 comment:

  1. I'll note that in addition to Hofstede's work there is the somewhat more accessible work of David Livermore with the Cultural Intelligence Center. His work and that of Ang and Lee builds on Hofstede to more fully round out some of these implications, particularly in church and mission environments.

    It is one of the ironies of our last two failed General Conferences that the United Methodist Professors of Mission strongly recommended that the planners take into account expertise in cultural intelligence, the kind of expertise that virtually all international businesses rely on. But it was the wisdom of the UM hierarchy to rely on the usual gathering of ecclesiocrats working under naive assumptions about culture and cultural difference. We can all see the results.