Questioning Consensus
From: Rob Sandelin (Exchange) (
Date: Fri, 20 Oct 1995 09:29:12 -0500
I would offer the following group process suggestions:

1. Use a variety of decision making processes. =20
2. Do your homework before applying consensus.  I suggest at a minimum =
reading Building United Judgement. There are important pre-requisites to =
using consensus.
3. Recognize that the goal should be do create a collaborative process, =
which elicts ideas from everyone, examines all the facts and details, =
searches for all the alternative solutions.  If you do this, you can =
hold a vote, be on the losing side, and still feel Ok about it.

I agree with Dan that many cohousing groups use consensus very poorly. =
However, I disagree that the problem is consensus.  My observations have =
taught me that the real problem is a combination of bad facilitation and =
poor/destructive communication.

I have observed groups who use consensus with great success, and who =
have used collaborative process for a long time. (FIC, NICA, Love Isreal =
family, Teramanto, Wesleyian Community, SOngaia)  However, these groups =
also have what I would call high levels of sense of community.  They =
work together well, like and honestly care about each other, and have =
very good interpersonal communication skills, and excellent =

I have seen consensus fail miserably in groups who are not very tight, =
where people care more about themselves than the group, and have poor or =
even destructive communication behaviors.  Many groups never really =
experience high quality facilitation or even honest collaborative =
process.  Facilitation is the key to any group process and it requires =
training.  In my opinion the worse problems in the groups I have =
observed could be cured by good facilitation.  A significant mistake I =
see is groups who rotate faciliation, regardless of training, or =

In my opinion, many cohousing groups are not really committed to each =
other , or the group enough to really work out communication and =
interpersonal issues.  I have found that you have to have a high level =
of interpersonal communication skills, both individually and as a group =
in order to create an environment where consensus will work.  When =
people get attacked, disregarded, disrespected or just ignored consensus =
doesn't work.

I would also agree with Dan, that consensus has very high requirements =
and is very difficult.  I disagree that it isn't worth it, or doesn't =
work.  I have experienced well facilitated, dynamic consensus process =
enough to know that it works very well.  I agree that many cohousing =
groups would be better off using another form of collaborative process - =
If you don't honestly love and care about your community, you are =
wasting your time with consensus.

I would encourage you to attend an FIC board meeting. They run a pretty =
impressive consensus process amoung a pretty rowdy, opinionated and =
radical bunch.=20

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