Re: Agenda/Provisional Consensus
From: Tree Bressen (
Date: Wed, 14 Jul 2004 10:48:33 -0700 (PDT)
Hi Jane,

We are exploring meeting procedures and would like to know how other groups
handle a couple things. Our cohousing group consists of 8 families - only 1
family living on-site.  We use consensus for decision making.

How closely do you follow the agenda?  Are decisions made about topics that
were not on the agenda?
Is any type of advanced notification required for decisions?  What about
'urgent' matters that come up?

It sounds like you are wrestling with how much to take care of the people who are in the meeting vs. how much to take care of the people who aren't there. My recommendation is to weight things toward taking care of those who *are* in attendance. I think mandatory notice periods encourage people to skip meetings, which isn't good for the group. (People tend to want to pick and choose, only attending on issues that are important to their personal concerns, or only during the making meeting when a final decision is made instead of the meetings that shape the proposal which is actually when participation is needed more.) However, i wouldn't add items not posted to the agenda unless there is a compelling reason.

You need to build trust in the group. If something is genuinely urgent, then for the good of the group it needs to be addressed by whoever is on deck to address it. Over the life history of a community most matters that come up for decision-making are not urgent, but certainly in the formation and especially the construction stages a bunch are. Personally i trust my housemates a lot, including to accept a new housemate into the group if i'm away and we need to fill a room and a great person comes along.

For the great majority of items which lack external deadlines, issues of substance should be considered at multiple meetings over a period of weeks or months. This is the process that Quakers call "seasoning," and it's an important period for insight and integration.

Provisional Consensus
Do you have any system for incoporating comments/concerns/input outside of
the meeting?

At my community (which is a limited equity co-op inhabiting one big house together, not cohousing) on small things it seems to work out to go ahead with something if you talk with every member outside of the meeting and they are all ok with it. On any real issue we wouldn't use that approach because we want to weave together the wisdom of the group, but for something small that doesn't affect people much it can be fine.

If i know something is coming up on the agenda and i'm going to be out of town, i might give my input to the sponsor ahead of time so they can include it as one piece in the considerations.

And of course a lot of how things in any group actually get figured out (no matter what the formal strucures are) is over dinners and in informal discussions, that's a key part of the decision-making process that is often overlooked.

Is there a way of consensing in the meeting but allowing input
for a set amount of time for those not at the meeting?

My community allows people to bring up any issues on agreements reaching during their absence within 14 days of returning from a trip. It is the member's responsibility to read the minutes within that time frame. I think it takes convincing one other community member to re-open an issue in order to un-do any consensus that was reached previously (that is, the official agreements are changed to what they were before the missed meeting, rather than using the new agreement as a default).

Note that the only times people at my house miss meetings are when they are out of town, unless the group gives explicit permission for someone to skip for a special reason. This culture of mandatory attendance prevents a lot of other problems from arising. In my opinion, regular meeting attendance is an essential requirement of effective consensus process, and there's just no getting around it.




Tree Bressen
1680 Walnut St.
Eugene, OR 97403
(541) 484-1156
tree [at]

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