Re: Consensus and inclusion (FWD)
From: Kevin Wolf (
Date: Sat, 14 Jan 95 17:07 CST
I think the discussion below is excellent and worthy of sharing with 
others interested in consensus decision making.  I would like to know the 
protocal for this to be forwarded to other lists, and for it to be shared 
through other means.  I teach consensus facilitation and would like to 
share this in hard copy with my classes.  I assume the proper netiquette 
would be to ask the two writers directly and if they gave permission then 
it was ok.  Does anyone have a differing answer?  And, may I have 
permission to share this to a wider audiance Rob and Martin?  Thank you.

Kevin Wolf 
kjwolf [at]
N Street Co-housing, Davis CA

On Fri, 13 Jan 1995, Fred H Olson WB0YQM wrote:

> 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 
> >decision.
> 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 - 
> >why?
> 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 
> meeting.
> >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]

Kevin Wolf
724 N St
Davis, CA 95616
phone and fax: 916-758-4211

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