RE: Concerning Consensus and established CoHo communities
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Fri, 11 Mar 2005 08:36:44 -0800 (PST)
Hi Saille,

For most of the 1990's I was a group process consultant and I did group
decision making and facilitation workshops at dozens of communities of all
kinds, including about 25 or so cohousing groups. I regularly wrote about
consensus and group process for Communities magazine and the now defunct
cohousing journal. There are lots of types of communities, many do not use
consensus since they are authoritarian based, e.g. many religious
communities do not use consensus process.  In my travels and visits with
over 150 communities, I watched, learned, and did some teaching about
process. What I learned was that the most effective communities, cohousing
or otherwise, use a variety of decision making approaches.  

For example my own community of Sharingwood uses consensus for some things,
voting for others, autocratic decisions for others (autocratic means one
person decides).  These things blend together naturally based on many years
of living together, although sometimes we still trip up on some things. 

Consensus does NOT work well for some groups, and they hurt themselves by
trying to force it when it obviously can not work. Much of my consulting
work with communities was going in and pointing out their problems, offering
methods and ideas for solutions. In a few cases I recommended that they stop
using consensus because it could not work in their current environment. For
example, Greenpeach international was taken over by a socialist group for
awhile, the group simply blocked all proposals, stopping the organization.
In this case, consensus could not work because the members of that subgroup
did not support the organizations mission, nor did they care at all about
the social connections of the group. In this case, the organization changed
to voting, the hostile group was no longer able to hold the organizations
decision making hostage, and thus left the group.  I have also seen similar
things with individuals holding up consensus groups by inappropriately
blocking all business. A simple voting over ride on consensus failure fixes
this. For example, after 3 tries at a consensus a proposal is automatically
put to a 3/4th majority vote. 

I have written a bit on my teachings of Consensus, you can find it on the
web at: 

Good luck on your community endeavors,

Rob Sandelin
Sharingwood Cohousing
Snohomish WA 98296 

-----Original Message-----
From: Saille Warner Norton [mailto:saille [at]] 
Sent: Thursday, March 10, 2005 12:08 PM
To: Cohousing-L [at]
Subject: [C-L]_ Concerning Consensus and established CoHo communities



I am looking for information concerning consensus practices in established
CoHo groups. If anyone can provide information, I'd be very grateful.


1.      Are there any established communities who do NOT use consensus?
2.      Are there any long established communities (10+ years), using
consensus, who are now "dying" because of using CP?



I had another questions, but I've forgotten it now. Again, thanks for any
info you may have. I'm a big supporter of CP, but have a few folks in our
developing group who seem to have a negative view of consensus.




When a man moves from nature, his heart becomes hard.

- Lakota Proverb


In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In
conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don't try to control. In work,
do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.


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