Re: Consensus with neophyte group
From: Monty Berman (mbermanmailbox.syr.edu)
Date: Fri, 22 Dec 1995 14:16:33 -0600
On Wed, 20 Dec 1995, Stuart Staniford-Chen wrote:
> I have a couple of queries for you process people out there.  This is 
> actually arising out of a situation at work, but it could easily arise in 
> a cohousing setting, so I am hoping folks won't mind.
> 
> I've agreed to facilitate a lengthy group process (to design a software 
> system actually) by consensus.  I have a fair amount of experience 
> facilitating.  However, the people involved do not have much, if any, 
> experience with consensus.  So that's the first question - what special 
> tactics are needed with a neophyte group?  What do I tell them at the outset?

MY EXPERIENCE WITH CONSENSUS IS THAT IT'S NOT AS HUGE AN UNDERTAKING AS I 
INTIALLY THOUGHT WHEN IT WAS SUGGESTED AS THE WAY FOR US (AT ECOVILLAGE 
AT ITHACA) TO GO. WE HAVE OPERATED UNDER CONSENSUS DECISION-MAKING FOR OVER 
FOUR YEARS. SO, ONE THING I WOULD TELL PEOPLE THAT, IN PRACTICE, THEY MAY 
WELL FIND IT NOT TO BE DIFFICULT. WE ALSO HAVE HAD A FALL-BACK PROCEDURE 
WHICH, AFTER SOME DUE PROCESS, WE CAN PASS STUFF WITH ONLY 80%. BUT I DON'T
KNOW THAT WE'VE EVER USED THIS!!!
        ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE THAT MIGHT BE SHARED IS THAT INSTEAD OF 
THINKING ABOUT CONSENSUS AS HAVING TO GET EVERYBODY TO AGREE (THE 
HALF-EMPTY APPROACH), WE CAN LOOK 
AT IT AS A PROCESS IN WHICH ALL HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO VOICE THEIR VIEWS. 
EACH PARTICIPANT GETS TO BE HEARD (AND, OFTEN, EVEN UNDERSTOOD!) AND 
THIS, I WOULD TELL THE NEOPHYTES, IS USUALLY SUFFICIENT TO ALLOW 
THE DECISION TO BE MADE EVEN THOUGH EVERYONE ISN'T 100% FOR IT (THUS 
"STAND-ASIDES"). OR, OF COURSE NOT-MADE; I WOULD SAY THERE USUALLY IS A 
SENSE OF RIGHTNESS ABOUT NOT MAKING DECISIONS WHEN A NUMBER OF PEOPLE 
HAVE DIFFICULTY WITH IT.
        IT JUST OCCURS TO ME THAT RIGHT AT THE OUTSET THE GROUP COULD 
HAVE A REAL LIVE OPPORTUNITY TO DO CONSENSUS; THE GROUP COULD DECIDE ON 
ITS OWN DECISION-MAKING PROCESS, AND THE FACILITATOR COULD KEEP LOOKING 
TO HEAR ALL VIEWS ON THIS---UNTIL . . .
        SURPRISINGLY TO ME, ONE OF OUR LONG-TIME AND VERY INFLUENTIAL 
MEMBERS HAS RAISED THE QUESTION ABOUT DOING LESS THAN CONSENSUS, OUT OF, 
I BELIEVE, A CONCERN ABOUT GETTING BOGGED DOWN. THIS CONFOUNDS ME SINCE 
WE'VE MOVED STEADILY AHEAD FOR OVER FOUR YEARS BUT, MORE TO THE POINT 
HERE, I REALIZE IT'S HARD FOR ME TO CONCEIVE OF OPERATING IN ANY FORM OTHER 
THAN CONSENSUS. I BELIEVE I WOULD VIGOROUSLY OPPOSE SUCH A CHANGE (AND, 
OF COURSE, HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO ARTICULATE MY POSITION TO THE GROUP). 
         > 
> In particular, I have at least one person in there who has a "cynic" side.  
> By "cynic" I mean the archetype who derives their gratification from 
> predicting that something will fail, secretly working to make sure it does, 
> and then being able to say "I told you so."  How do I handle this?  How do 
> I appeal to this guy's better side?
I'M THINKING THAT YOUR POTENTIAL CYNIC WOULD HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO PUT 
HIS OR HER STUFF OUT IN THE CONSENSUS PROCESS IN A WAY THAT S/HE MIGHT NOT 
USUSALLY. IT COULD BE TREATED AS A CASE IN POINT ABOUT 
CONSENSUS---ESPECIALLY IF THE GROUP EXPERIMENTED WITH ITS OWN 
DECISION-MAKIGN PROCESS.

I LIKE YOUR IDEA ABOUT A CONSENSUS-L MAILING LIST. AND I WOULD KEEP IT 
FOCUSED JUST ON CONSENSUS, ESPECIALLY OUR VARIOUS EXPERIENCES WITH IT.

MONTY BERMAN, ECOVAILLAGE AT ITHACA, FIRST RESIDENT GROUP
 
> I know there is a lot of experience out there with this kind of thing - any 
> advice will be much appreciated.
> 
> Stuart.
> 
> P.S.  After my second beer tonight, I had a brainwave.  What about a mailing 
> list called consensus-l?  The idea would be a support and discussion group 
> for people working with consensus process.  The hope would be to 
> cross-fertilize ideas between cohousing, intentional communities, quakers, 
> non-profits, and businesses - any person or situation that is involved in
> consensus decision-making.  We could all talk process endlessly.  Let me 
> know what you think - if enough people like the idea, maybe I'll have the 
> energy to do something about it.
> 

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