Re: COHOUSING-L digest 163
From: JJSherwood (
Date: Thu, 22 May 1997 01:25:27 -0500
RE:  Codifying decision-making

In a message dated 5/21/97, PaulM [at] (Paul Milne) asked how others
have codified consensual decision-making:

Here is how we have done so at Deer Island Village (Marin County, CA)

Consensus Defined:
Consensus is a group decision-making process that seeks and considers
of all members in an open atmosphere and arrives at a decision best serving
the community without anyone feeling an unacceptable level of conflict.
 Consensus pursues agreement through listening with compassion for the
values, needs and concerns of each person.

A consensual decision has three essential ingredients:  (1) It is made from
the community's perspective, and (2) everyone feels heard; furthermore, 
(3) everyone agrees not to hinder its implementation.

Consensus is our community's preferred way to make important decisions.  
A decision is deemed important if it meets one or more of the following
        *       impacts every member of our community, 
                e.g., determining monthly assessments.
        *       requires broad support for implementation, 
                e.g., establishing a vision/mission statement for our community
        *       is viewed as important by a significant number of members, 
                e.g., changes in expectations about how Common House is used
        *       has serious financial implications,
                e.g., replacing stove in common house.

(A)     We agree that consensus is our preferred approach to important 
 A back-up process is given below.  (paragraph H).

(B)     For all other decisions made in General Meetings or committees, a 2/3
vote is required for acceptance.  A decision with 51% for and 49% against is
not a very good group decision, because such a large portion of the community
is left out.  If 2/3 approval is not possible, we believe the proposal needs
modification or more discussion.

(C)     In advance of important decisions, notices or proposals are circulated
enough for people to study and prepare for the General Meeting at which a
decision is anticipated.

(D) Everyone is expected to attend every General Meeting.  However, for cases
when that is not possible, the Community-Building Committee is studying
absentee voting and/or proxy voting and will make a recommendations to the

(E) We expect most decisions of lesser consequence to be made outside the
General Meeting in committees or task forces.  A 2/3 vote is required for
acceptance. Examples of such decisions might be the surface on tennis court,
color of tile in Common House, or varieties of tomatoes planted in common

(F)     When the General Meeting delegates a decision to a committee or task
force,  a decision by that smaller body is considered to be a consensus
decision by the General Membership.  Committee meetings are open to all

(G)     When the General Meeting asks for recommendations from a committee or
task force, the decision continues to rest with the General Membership.

(H)     Back-up when consensus is not possible:  Where there are constraints 
as timeliness or other reasons for urgency that require a decision be made dur
ing a meeting, a 3/4 vote of members present is necessary to exempt that
decision from the consensus requirement.  Once a decision has been exempted
from the consensus requirement, a 2/3 vote is necessary for acceptance.  

(I) A consensus decision may be reopened and changed at any General Meeting
following the meeting at which it was adopted, but stands as the community's
decision until a new consensus has been built around a new proposal.  Once
made, no one can simply stand in the way of a consensual decision--a new
decision must be adopted in its place.

Three Questions to Accompany Consensus Decisions

(1)The facilitator repeats the decision to be made, and then asks:  
(a) "Does everyone understand what we are agreeing to?"  And then, (b)
perhaps, "Is there anyone who does not understand what we are being asked to
agree to?"

(2) Can everyone support this decision without feeling conquered and without
feeling compromised?  (a) "To be conquered means you as a person have not
been respected."  (b) "To be compromised simply means your values have not
been respected.  It is not necessary for all of us to agree or even to be
happy with the decision.  Just to feel respected in our expression on this

This question needs to be asked in a way that does not lead people who aren't
in complete agreement to say:  "Yes, I feel compromised."  or  "I feel as if
I am being asked to compromise."  At this point, it's our values that need

(3) If a member chooses not to join in the consensus, and also not to step
but to actively block consensus, at that point, this question is asked:  (a)
"How does blocking this decision contribute to the best interests of our
community?  (b) Our framework for consensual decision-making is to further
the greater good or the best interests of our community."

Jack Sherwood:  jjsherwood [at]
Deer Island Village (Marin County, CA)

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