Consensus [was balance]
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Wed, 24 Feb 2010 19:26:57 -0800 (PST)

On Feb 24, 2010, at 11:41 AM, Lyle Scheer wrote:

 I believe
my community has some trouble around consensus because we spend a lot of time trying to get a solution that everyone agrees to. I do not believe
this is actually consensus.  This, in my mind, is very similar to
attempting to find solutions or make rules that makes everyone happy.

From Sociocracy/Dynamic Governance:

Having a common aim is the first requirement for reaching a purposeful and workable consensus.

The second requirement is being willing and able to sit together long enough to understand objections and develop solutions that are as workable as possible at the time.

The third requirement is that people be willing to explain their objections so they can be addressed. Walking out or clamming up is not an option. That is called a veto.

People argue based on assumptions or old experiences or fears. Or they won't work on a proposed decision long enough to really understand all the options and possible results. Objective evidence is not available. A test may be the only way to get more information.

Someone mentioned a few weeks ago that a sociocratic election process was going off the tracks because the group wasn't reading the job description before people made nominations. This allowed the discussion to drift toward popularity which then derailed the elections process.

Not focusing on the aim of the group and the aim of the decision within that aim, does the same thing -- the group goes over the side or around in circles.

My community at 10 year old is facing a lot of replacement and maintenance work. We are also facing burn-out. Some say we can't hire the work out because members should be doing the work and if we hire it out, they never will. Others say look, people are doing as much as they will ever do. These are jobs that no one has time to do and they need to be done.

Thus what happens is that we argue the same issue in respect to each job individually. If we had consensus on an aim, then we could measure each job against that aim.

I find the real resistance in my community is discussing anything long enough to produce creative solutions. In that situation, I'm questioning whether full group consensus is possible. We don't use dynamic governance, in particular we don't delegate decisions.

In dynamic governance, the cut-off for the size of a group that can effectively make decisions is about 40 with 20 being ideal. I think a group of very similar people with a very narrow aim could be much larger. One person was facilitating consensus decisions in a group of 150 but they were all architect who had similar educations and shared the aim of promoting green building.

I would liken this sort of situation as somewhat similar to our current
congressional deadlock on healthcare.

Aims, aims, aims. Shared aims and agreement on sources of objective data, and agreement to use that data. Can sociocracy ever be used in government? I think only when it bubbles up with people who have become proficient in other groups.

If I understand the process of consensus, if working properly, explores but does not necessarily "fix" the emotions, discontents, or disagreements, but potentially asks the minority or even the majority to consent (allow) a decision to be made and live with it for the best interests of the whole community.

Some groups do do this but I don't think any consensus theorists or trainers would call this consensus. Compromise is usually not a good way to make effective decisions. Consensus is intended to produce the best possible solution for everyone. It isn't about sinking to the lowest common denominator or one group's needs being sacrificed to another.

I find that much thinking about consensus is really compromise thinking.

 best interests of the whole community.

"Best interests of the whole community" is majority vote in disguise and I find when I'm sitting in a group that the only people who use it are in the majority, or in the minority and climbing on the cross. "Look, I'm so committed to community, I'm willing to sacrifice myself for it."

The "whole community" is everyone. If one member of the group is left out of a solution, the solution can't be best for the whole community. It can only be best for 99% or less of the community.

Sometimes what people really mean when they say "whole community" is "inline with our aim."

If an aim for the community has been defined by consensus, then arguments have to address the aim and decisions made within it. Even if people joined the community after the aim was defined, they agreed to it when they read the bylaws and policies before they bought their units. They agreed in that action to observe the policies of the community.

  What do you do if there is no clear direction evolving?  This

is especially hard if there is a clear minority/majority position.

It's hard. We, and I think most communities, too often avoid a decision until something breaks. Or the roof falls in. Actually, people are pretty realistic about the roof. It's the poster someone wants to hang in the living room that is the really hard issue. Or what color to paint the front hall. That can wipe us out for months.

Personally, my frustration is with people who don't raise their objections, thus having no chance of having them recognized and resolved, and then snarking about it for years.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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