Revising group visions and goals
From: Robert Hartman (
Date: Fri, 29 Apr 94 10:04 CDT
> From: wight [at] (Nancy Wight)
> Subject: Group vision/goals
> ... "I don't care what the founders intended.  Our group is
> different now".  ...
> I agree that with the addition of members and the passage of time, 
> a group must grow with the members and be flexible to change where
> necessary, but if we as a *group* started incorporating everyone's political 
> agendas we would never get a community built.  Also, since some of the 
> founders
> are still in the group, I see this as a breach of faith - that our
> vision and goals don't count anymore, even though people agreed to them
> when they became members.
> I'm wondering if I'm totally off base here, or is this just one of the
> hazards to starting a group - that what you could end up with is not what
> you intended, despite your efforts to keep the original goals mostly intact.
> - Nancy 

This sounds like a very challenging situation.  It sounds like there is
a potential for serious conflict.  I presume that your group is consensus-

One of the problems I have with consensus process is that there is a
tendency to ignore precedent and previous agreements.  Because
hierarchical arragements tend to designate someone as the enforcer of
agreements, people usually pay closer attention to what they've agreed
to.  They know that there will be consequences.  In an egalitarian
organization, no one wants to take on that role, there don't appear to
be any consequences, and people's clarity can sometimes slip as a
result.  This means that individuals have to monitor themselves.  It
also means that when they don't, someone else within the group has to
adopt the nay-sayer role or risk getting rolled over.  And that is
_never_ comfortable.

I _hate_ it when that happens.

My personal feeling is that when someone consents to something, they
cannot capriciously back out of that commitment.  If they want to
change their mind later on, that's simply too bad.  The group may want
to ameliorate the person's problems with fulfilling their commitment.
That's fine.  But an agreement is an agreement, whether it was made by
active assent, tacit consent, or signifying action (e.g., buying a
share).  So when new members consent to the vision statement in order
to get in, they waive their right to change that vision statement--
unless they can build a consensus among the rest of the community that
to do so would be a good idea.

That means that it is incumbent on any new member who wishes to do so
to convince everyone else, including _you,_ that it makes sense for the
group as a whole to do that.  If they can't, or adopt a lobbying
method that turns out to be divisive, that is too bad for them.

If anyone, including _you,_ has a principled objection to their
proposal, or a strong concern about either their motivation for raising
it or their level of consideration lobbying it, I think it is important
to block that proposal until those objections and concerns ere entirely
worked through.

It may well be a good idea for the group as a whole to revise the
vision statement.  If so, that will come out in the wash.  But it
sounds to me like there's a good deal of washing to be done in this
case.  I believe that the "I don't care what the founders intended"
remark was telling.  If it were me, I'd pursue that line until the
person either came around to caring about that, or recognized her or
his state of alienation with respect to the group and its vision.  I
suspect that the issue of the person's alienation needs to be resolved
before the vision statement can be meaningfully addressed.

I think that anyone who uses consensus processes must recognize that it
can be abused.  Lenin's treatise on coalition government is to consensus
process what Machiavelli's "The Prince" is to hierarchical governance.
It is not fair and not right, and ultimately destructive for people with a
hidden agenda to inflitrate a group--whether that is done deliberately or not.

Having said that, it is also often true that a person's real life
agenda often can't emerge until she or he comes into a safe and
supportive environment.  Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren was a
case in point.  When it does, it can take everyone by surprise,
including the person who is newly emerging.  

As I said in response to someone else, once a member is "in," her or
his passionate interests are also "in."  So, someone who discovers that
she or he wants the group to reflect a more (or less) activist
orientation might be seeking more recognition and/or support for his or
her own new personal agenda within the group.  It may simply be a
matter of determining what form that recognition and support might
take.  People who are just starting to blossom can be clumsy in their
approach, or indirect in their methods of asking for support and
encouragement.  I know that for myself my "demands" are often
"pleadings" in disguise.  I can't say that for anyone else, but I do
suspect that the "vision statement issue" is a straw man, and that
everyone can be satisfied if the issue is framed more broadly.

BTW, that's one of the difficulties in switching from a "voting"
mentality to a consensus mentality.  It is hard to switch from a narrow
"yes/no" frame around issues to one that is broad enough to obtain a
consensus in which everyone is satisfied.   My rule of thumb is that
the narrower the issue is initially framed, the broader its implications--
especially when the person raising the issue is new to consensus.

I hope some of this is helpful!


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