Coming to consensus electronically
From: Stuart Staniford-Chen (
Date: Fri, 12 Aug 94 13:05 CDT
Fred Olson said:

> One thing discussions on Cohousing-L lacks
> is a mechanism for summarizing, bringing closure to or arriving at
> consensus on topics.  Sometimes individuals attempt this with their 
> postings, but often discussions just kind of fade away.  Could
> substantial threads be paired with a facilitator somehow who
> might oversee that discussion and it's life cycle?

This is an interesting idea.  I'm not quite sure whether the need is 
there though.  The roles a facilitator fulfils in a meeting are, 
roughly, and in no particular order,

1) Making sure that everyone can talk and be heard without excess 

2) Keeping the group from getting overheated emotionally

3) Making sure the discussion stays within time bounds

4) Helping to recognize an emerging consensus and verbalize it for 
acceptance or further refinement.

5) Making sure the group stays on topic

In the context of cohousing-l, 1) is automatically guaranteed by the 
format of an email mailing list.  I think the list already does an 
excellent job on 2).  And as for 3), 4) and 5), we do not at present 
have to make any decisions.  We are just a forum for the exchange of 
ideas.  Thus we don't have to all agree at the end and we don't have to 
finish the discussion to any particular timeline - we can talk as long 
as anyone is still interested.  We have no agenda, and thus there is no 
topic we particularly have to stay on, except that of cohousing.  And, 
again, I have seen very few postings indeed on this list which were not 
relevant to cohousing.

I wonder, though, what the best way of running an electronic discussion 
is where decisions *do* have to be made.  Kevin Wolf, Jeff Hobson, 
Jerome Rigot and I are having our first small taste of this at the 
moment, since we are the membership of a committee exploring the 
possibility of our community setting up a revolving loan fund for 
energy-efficiency or related improvements to our houses.  All of us use 
email actively (at last!).  Thus we can as well decide things 
electronically as in person, though so far all we have done is to 
consense on meeting dates that way.

But, even in that setting, it isn't clear to me what role a designated 
facilitator could fulfil.  In a way, the facilitator regulates the 
chemistry of a meeting, and email interactions are so chemically 
different from in-person ones that I can't visualize how the role would 
translate.  I guess the big thing such a person could do is to mail "It 
seems like we could all agree to X, what do you say?"  But it is no 
longer as clear that a dedicated person is needed for that role.  But I 
don't know, not having much experience with it.


Stuart Staniford-Chen
stanifor [at]
N Street Cohousing, Davis, CA
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