Re: Consensus and inclusion (FWD)
From: Fred H Olson WB0YQM (
Date: Fri, 13 Jan 95 09:08 CST
Martin Tracy MTRACY [at] IX.NETCOM.COM is the author of this message but
due to a listserv problem it was posted by the COHOUSING-L sysop.
Rob Sandelin writes about the consensus process:

>There is an interesting process issue developing within my community 
>which I would like to pass around to those of you doing consensus 
>decision making.  At Sharingwood we have always operated by the idea 
>that if you do not attend a meeting where a decision is made, unless 
>you give your voice to another member, you give up your opportunity to 
>be a part of the decision.

I have been involved in a consensus-based committee which has met 
regularly for five years.  During those years, we evolved the following 
rules about absentee members:

First of all, we understand that consensus decision is about <change> 
and not about the body of agreement which has already been forged, 
sometimes with great effort.  To alter this body of agreement, a meeting 
<must> have a quorum.  5 people who achieve consensus cannot and should 
not make any binding agreements on the 30 who are not present.  Great 
effort should be taken before a meeting to ensure that there is a 
quorum.  This is the responsibility of the facilitator/coordinator/chair 
of that meeting.

If a quorum is not present, you can still have a discussion, or a party!

The first rule we passed is that members not present in the room do not 
count for quorum.  Only warm bodies count.  With comings and goings, we 
were accustomed to taking a quorum count before almost every decision.  

Secondly, a member not present at a meeting can submit a position paper, 
but cannot participate in the decision process at that meeting.  We took 
great care to inform members about the upcoming issues, and we typically 
read two or three position papers out loud from absentee members.  
Positions with reasonably compelling arguments found champions among 
those present.  If not, tough luck!  Members who are not present for the 
discussion cannot possible make an "informed" decision, even if they 
call in by phone from time to time (we tried that).

>Consensus on the other hand is where the full acceptance of a decision 
>of every member is required and needed in order to move on the 
>decision.  One of the things which has surfaced now a couple of times 
>is that members who were NOT at a meeting where a decision was made, 
>later had a problem with the decision and we had to go back and deal 
>with it, either in person with the individual or at a meeting.   We 
>publish decisions to be made at the meetings in the newsletter or in a 
>handout which is distributed to everyone so members know in advance 
>what is being decided at a meeting. Our process is assuming that people 
>not attending the meeting know about  and are in agreement with the 

Thirdly, if a consensus was reached by those present, then the decision 
was added to the body of agreement.  Those not present who later 
disagreed with that decision were entitled to ask to change the body of 
agreement at a future meeting.  This request became a new proposal, 
subject, like all others, to the normal consensus process.

>I am beginning to think that when members are not present at a meeting 
>where a consensus decision is reached by those present, that they 
>should be personally contacted and asked if they also "do not have an 
>unacceptable level of conflict" to use the Sharingwood jargon, before 
>we determine that we have reached consensus.

IMHO, no!  No amount of explanation can convey to them the sense of the 
meeting: body language, stress level, eye contact, subtle arguments, 
sarcasm, etc. etc.  Whoever contacts them will be a filter full of 
personal biases, some well-hidden.

>Or to put this another way if 5 people out of 23 show up for a meeting 
>and make a consensus decision, is it really a consensus decision?  I 
>would say Clearly not.  OK, now roll the numbers the other way, if 18 
>people out of 23 show up for a meeting and make a consensus decision  
>is it really a consensus decision?  If you say yes in the second case - 

5 out of 23 = no quorum = no consensus.  18 out of 23 (assuming this is 
a quorum) = consensus.  Why?  Because a <community> is present.  Because 
unless a member has been physically hauled away, his presence at that 
meeting to participate in that decision is part of the consensus 
process!  If the decision is that important to him, he will be there.  
Or his position paper will speak for him, and like-minded neighbors will 
champion him.  Because it is so damn rare for <every> member to be at a 

>If we move ahead without the full participation of EVERYONE, in the 
>name of efficiency, is it consensus or is it a majority vote disguised 
>as consensus?  What if someone is pissed off about the issue and 
>doesn't attend the meeting because they are feeling pissed off and 
>disfranchised?  Is it still consensus?  Yikes, look at all those worms 
>squirming in the can!

Consensus is about decision agreement, not agreeable decisions.  If one 
of your members is sulking, he misses out on the decision because he 
has, in a sense, withdrawn from the community.  Hope this helps.

PS  This makes it tough on out-of-state members, but c'est la guerre!

Martin Tracy
mtracy [at]

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