Re: Codifying decision-making
From: Mac Thomson (
Date: Wed, 28 May 1997 08:14:01 -0500
Paul Milne wrote:
> We have been discussing the decision-making process, and although there
> is a consensus that consensus decision making is a good thing and will
> be encouraged, there is a recognition that there may be times when this
> isn't possible, and so other structures may be incorporated -- interest
> groups / sub-committees, executive board, majority voting, etc.
> I/we would be very interested in finding out how others deal with this,
> and *especially* how it has been codified in any written agreements /
> constitutions / what have you.

Here's our agreement on decision making for whatever it's worth:

There's a lot of overlap among "MEETINGS", "FACILITATOR¹S GUIDELINES", and this 
document.  Use them in conjunction with each other.

All decisions will be made by consensus of a quorum of members except:
When we delegate authority to a committee, individual, or some other subgroup.  
We will rely heavily on delegation in order to streamline decision making and 
minimize the community work required of members.  These subgroups will make 
their decisions by consensus of their participants.  Decisions made by 
authorized subgroups will have the same effect of those made by the whole 
When the group (or a subgroup) feels that some alternative decision making 
method is more appropriate than consensus.  To choose a decision making method 
other than consensus, an Alternative Method Vote is taken and requires a vote 
75% of the members present.  Examples of such situations are:
When a decision must be made in a timely fashion, we may then opt for a Super 
Majority Vote.  See the ³SUPER MAJORITY VOTE² section below for a full 
In the case where we must decide on design details or other issues of personal 
taste, then we may adopt a different decision process.

For purposes of establishing a quorum and Alternative Method Voting, we will 
consider individual members rather than member households.  A person is 
considered to be a member as defined in the ³MEMBERSHIP LEVELS² document.  
Quorum is established by the presence of 51% of all members.  Only members who 
are present can vote.  If an alternative method of decision making is employed, 
voting may be done on a per person or a per household basis or in whatever 
manner the group decides during the Alternative Method Vote.

All decisions will remain in force until they are replaced by another decision. 
A majority vote is necessary to reconsider a decision previously made.

Consensus is different from other kinds of decision making because it stresses 
the cooperative development of a decision with group members working together.  
Since the goal is group unity, rather than winning a majority of votes, every 
member is considered important and the group tries to listen to and respond to 
each person¹s needs and opinions.  Because of this process of incorporating all 
members¹ wisdom, consensus can create better decisions.

A consensus decision has 3 essential ingredients:
It is made from the community¹s perspective.
Everyone feels heard.
Everyone agrees not to hinder its implementation.

Although reaching consensus can often take more time initially than other forms 
of decision making, the decisions will be much better implemented because all 
members own the decisions made and there will not be as much time required in 
the future to ³fix² poorly implemented decisions.

Consensus does not mean that everyone must be completely satisfied with the 
final outcome.  Rather, consensus means that everyone is at least able to say, 
³Whether I am in complete agreement or not, I feel heard, and the decision 
appears to be in the best interest of the community.  Therefore, I will 
participate in its implementation.²

Consensus fosters important values and skills such as respect for others¹ 
opinions, responsibility for the group, and cooperation that help build 
community and carry over into other activities.

Consensus Decision Making Requires:
Unity of Purpose
We are working together to make the best decisions possible for the good of the 
group, even when issues stir strong emotional responses within us.  We trust 
that a wise decision or solution exists and that we will find it.  We are 
by our shared beliefs which are described in our Vision and Values statement.

We share information and resources and provide mutual support and suggestions.  
We are all pulling to find a solution that best meets everyone¹s needs.  Our 
power to persuade will depend on truth, creativity, logic, respect, and love, 
and will not involve deception, coercion, or malice.

Mutual Trust
We feel free to openly contribute facts, ideas, opinions, conclusions, and 
feelings.  This trust arises when we know that, despite differences, others 
respect us, be fair with us, and care about our feelings.

Common Ownership of Ideas
A consensus decision is owned equally by all of us.  Personal attachment to 
ideas hinders the process.

That Feelings are Valued
Feelings have wisdom also.  If emotions are not addressed, the process suffers 
and good decisions cannot be made.

That Conflict is Valued
Argument and conflict do occur.  In fact, conflict is an important element that 
can spur us to clearer thinking, better understanding, and greater creativity.  
Anyone who feels uncomfortable about a proposed solution must have the honesty 
and courage to speak up and take the risk of engaging in conflict until a 
solution emerges that they can support.  See the policy on ³CONFLICT 

Equal Power
We strive to ensure that all of us have equal opportunity for participation, 
roles of authority, and access to information because consensus decision making 
requires a high level of involvement and responsibility from all participants.  
In fact, each of us needs to feel responsible for every meeting we attend.

Time & Process
In order to make good decisions and nurture our community, we respect the 
process and give it the time that it needs. 

Willingness to Learn Skills
Consensus decision making requires skills such as communication, facilitation, 
and meeting participation that we may not have yet developed.  In order to 
develop these skills, we are willing to work to learn them.

Although, not the only reason for utilizing a Super Majority Vote, timeliness 
will sometimes preclude the use of consensus.  Once a decision has been 
from consensus by an Alternative Method Vote, the decision needs a Super 
Majority percentage of votes for passage.  The Super Majority percentage is 
usually 75%, but that needs to be agreed upon during the Alternative Method 
Vote.  The decision to use a Super Majority Vote should be considered carefully 
because many of the advantages of consensus can be lost.  When using a Super 
Majority Vote, the concerns of the minority must be heartfully attended to. 

Building United Judgment, A Handbook for Consensus Decision Making
CoHousing Magazine, Spring 1994, pg 10.
CoHousing Resource Guide 1995, chapter 1.
On Conflict & Consensus, a handbook on Formal Consensus decision making,  C.T. 
Lawrence Butler.
           Mac Thomson                   San Juan Cohousing
           ganesh [at]                Durango, Colorado

 "When the forms of the old culture are dying, a new culture is created by a 
people who are not afraid of being insecure."

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