Two Consensus Tips: "Discretionary Time" and "Process Time"
From: Diana Leafe Christian (
Date: Wed, 27 May 2009 12:46:18 -0700 (PDT)
Two Consensus Tips: "Discretionary Time" and "Process Time"

Last weekend I did a Consensus & Facilitation Training for members of the new Nubanusit Cohousing in Peterborough, New Hampshire. I enjoyed meeting these fine folks and seeing their beautiful community, which is on 100 acres along the Nubanusit River. (And by the way, they have units for sale.)

I told participants in the training that at Earthaven Ecovillage in North Carolina, where I live, we build 30 minutes of Discretionary Time and 30 minutes of Process Time into every meeting agenda. The Nubanusit folks especially liked this idea and may adopt it for their own meetings. Here's how it works.

Discretionary Time is a "time bank" of up to 30 minutes that the Facilitator can draw on if s/he believes an agenda item seems to need more time. The Facilitator works it out with the Timekeeper, saying something like, "I'm going to use 10 minutes of Discretionary Time, so now we have 20 minutes left in Discretionary Time." "Right," says the Timekeeper, making a note of this. So the group spends an extra 10 minutes on that agenda item. Since the 30 minutes was _built in_ to the schedule, people don't feel like they're extending the meeting any. That is, if their meeting is scheduled for three hours and they don't use any Discretionary Time, they go home a half-hour early. If they use 10 minutes of it, as in the above example, they go home 20 minutes early. If they use all 30 minutes, they take the whole three hours they were scheduled for anyway.

Discretionary Time is for discussing agenda items. Process Time is also a time bank, but not for agenda items. It's for acknowledging when a meeting participant — or two people in a polarized situation, or many people in the room – may be feeling emotionally upset. Depending on the group's agreements about how to use Process Time, it can also be used for each person who's upset to express how they feel, perhaps state their needs, and perhaps say what they'd ideally like to see happen in the process time. Essentially it's a chance for people to feel heard. It's _not_ intended to be "therapy," and different groups might structure it different ways – ideally with an agreement for how to use Process Time _before_ they're actually in the middle of using it!

Earthaven has five-hour whole-group meetings twice a month. Four hours are for regular agenda items (with a 20-minute break in the middle, of course), and 30 minutes of Discretionary Time and 30 minutes of Process Time. We often don't use either time bank and go home after four hours.

I hope you find this idea useful for any groups you're involved in that uses consensus. If you have any questions or comments, please let me know!


Diana Leafe Christian

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