Reviewing our consensus process and voting
From: Dahako (
Date: Tue, 28 Apr 1998 08:44:00 -0500
Hi all -

I've been fascinated by the discussions on consensus process and voting.  I've
learned a lot I wish I knew six months ago.  

At Eno Commons, we recently went through a couple of months in which we had
two issues the group found to be extremely difficult. After trying
unsuccessfully to come to consensus on the issues, we did hire a professional
facilitator mediator to work with us.  I would say working to improve group
skills with a pro worked pretty well even though we have been unable for
either issue to come up with a single solution everyone (the group and the
developer) could come to consensus on. 

On voting, our covenants allow one vote per household and specify a 70 percent
majority if consensus can't be reached - but they don't describe how to decide
to go to a vote. Both issues we were dealing with were in the covenants, more
or less explicitly. Of the current members, about half were around when the
covenants were adopted, and only two or three (out of 15 households) worked on
the committes that developed them. Everyone had had a chance to read the
covenants prior to signing on the dotted line to join, however it rapidly
became obvious when we entered discussions that some members strongly
disagreed with one covenant in particular (mostly because they wanted a
minimum of group rules affecting what they did inside their homes), but had
not protested at the time they joined for various reasons.

I won't make you go through the whole process we went through, but we had
several problems we'll work hard to avoid next time: 

1)a) we didn't provide sufficient advance notice of the agendas when the
issues would be discussed, with the result that people came to meetings
unready to handle the issue or some people who cared deeply about the issue
only came to about half the meetings in which it was discussed. 

1)b) we didn't have a policy about people "dropping in" on the decision
process midstream or at the last meeting scheduled for the issue, so we
couldn't stop it happening. 

 2) we developed a proposal before going through a process of clearing up our
relationships and identifying the group interests and values we wanted to
underlie any proposed solution.  

3) We didn't try to set an objective standard to help us pick the "right"
solution after we brainstormed, so, for one issue, one member blocked
consensus at least partly because she didn't feel safe with the proposed
policy and others were extremely angry because of their perception that
someone could impose a rule on them based more on personal feelings than what
was right for the group as a whole.

4) We didn't have a method for moving from voting to consensus, so when one
person blocked the final proposal and another moved to go vote, some strong
negative feelings were generated that have not yet been all worked through.  

The upshot was that we didn't vote (yet?), but we don't have consensus right
now, so one day the issues may come round again.

I know the above sounds as if the process was a mess from beginning to end,
but it did have structure, and although most people were out of their comfort
zone at least some of the time we were working on these issues, almost
everyone was neighborly throughout.  My point is simply that we could have
(and will from now on) do better.  At our community retreat, we sat back and
had several "meta" discussions about how to hone our consensus process.  A
small group is working on collecting ideas to bring before the members soon.
I was especially struck with a comment made by a member who teaches at a
Friends School about the process the Quakers use when at an impasse (which can
take them months and years to decide they've reached) - they go for the
highest degree of agreement possible rather than voting, per se.  Does anyone
out there do this?  

Jessie Handforth Kome
Eno Commons 
Durham, NC
Where the tin roof is going on our first home, one house will be framed this
week, three more foundations are underway, and the builder will dig at least 5
more footings as soon as the weather (and available contractors) permit.
We're having a party to celebrate all this action from 2-4 this Sunday
afternoon (May 3), so please come out and help us dance on our foundations!
Six lots remain for six good neighbors-to-be!

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