|RE: Concensus is only one decision making tool||<– Date –> <– Thread –>|
|From: Rob Sandelin (floriferousemail.msn.com)|
|Date: Mon, 7 Dec 1998 08:48:32 -0600|
Consensus is only one of many ways a group can make decisions. It is a tool, and like any tool, it has places where its use is inappropriate. If EVERY decision your group makes is large group consensus, then you may find your group process is taking a great deal of your time together, time which could be used for other things. If you have long, all day meetings, you will filter out people from your group that might be great neighbors, but uninterested in going around and around on issues for 4-6 hours every week. When you are first forming a group, you are really a bunch of strangers, who with luck, may eventually form a community. To try and make consensus decisions with a bunch of strangers that you have no history with requires a great deal of trust, and it is often the lack of trust amoung such strangers that causes problems. When you have been together for awhile, you know each other pretty well, you know who you can trust, and in what areas you might not trust them. In this case, consensus works well, because you CAN trust the group, assuming the history of the group leads that way. Not so for new groups. You don't know if you can trust the group, and so this can, and usually does get in the way of effectively using consensus. This is commonly expressed where a small group makes a decision, brings it to the larger group, and the larger group shoots it down with What ifs. I have seen consensus fail spectularily, even destroy groups. I watched two anti-nuclear groups fall apart trying to use consensus. No decisions got made, people got more and more fed up and stopped going to the meetings. Eventually the group just stopped meeting. In fact, in the late 70's I was convinced that consensus was actually created by the powers that be in order to destroy social change groups! Many people who join communities may not have the skills in communication, self awareness and process that it takes to effectively use consensus. And most have no training in how to be collaborative. Most Americans are deeply ingrained in competitive behaviors, which undermine consensus. And, most groups that take on consensus do not have very good facilitators, and this really causes problems. Also, as Kevin pointed out, not everyone in your group may hold the best interests of everybody in heart, or may have dysfunctions that cause the group problems. The person who threatens, "If I don't get my way I'll block everybody and hold up the whole group" is sometimes not unlike the kid that threatens to hold her breath until she turns blue.... Its counterproductive, making people question the group and its ability to accomplish anything. In a group environment where one person gets to derail everybody else in the group because, "They don't like it", you will very likely have many people in the group who will be very openly sceptical if not rebellious about using consensus as your decision making method. The key measure for blocking, in my experience, really should be "This is bad for the group because....." Not "I don't like this". It takes a fair amount of bonding work to get a group of strangers who may have little experience in thinking in terms of the groups best interest to accept that they have a group responsibility, and that the group responsibility is equal to their own self interests. This is where a lot of groups fail at using consensus. The other place I see groups routinely fail using consensus is when they try to use consensus to decide everything, sort of like trying to use a chainsaw to pound in a nail. Consensus is good for some kinds of decisions, very poor at others. I was called in once to help a group that had held 3 meetings, totalling over 8 hours of the groups time trying to decide on a color of tile for their commonhouse bathroom. In my experience, consensus works best when there is a definate best answer. In the case of the tile, blue or green is a matter of preference, there is no best answer. So in this case, a weighted prioritization would be a much more effective tool for making a decision. The details of multifacted design decisions do not work well as consensus decisions. In this situation, it might be a lot more effective to reach consensus on design goals and leave the details to other methods. There are many types of decisions where only a single person, or a small group has the interest or knowlege to make the decision. It is not anti-community to let the electrician in the group make the decisions about the electical service, or to let the gardeners in the group decide what to plant in the community garden. In fact, allowing individuals or small groups to make decisions with autonomy is often the most effective means of moving the group forward and encourages iniative, leadership and ownership. Before totally committing to consensus, you should at the very least get one or two or your members some faciliatation training. Rob Sandelin Web Resources on consensus and facilitation available at Http://www.infoteam.com/nonprofit/nica/resource.html
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