Examples of Consensus Success (Was:[C-L] … Survey of Cohousing ...
From: R Philip Dowds (rpdowdscomcast.net)
Date: Sun, 25 Sep 2011 04:46:06 -0700 (PDT)

I hear this a lot — that consensus, time-consuming though it may be — will 
deliver a higher quality result.  Do I believe it?

Depends, of course, on how you define "higher quality".  If you mean, a greater 
number of people seemingly happy with the outcome, I certainly agree.  But if 
you mean, a solution that's substantively "better" based on objective external 
criteria, then this might prove to be more elusive.  I think of all the zoning 
controversies I've struggled with in Cambridge — where zoning changes cannot 
happen without a reinforced majority of six out of nine councilors, and in the 
end, are often (but not always) passed unanimously (Wowee! Consensus!) — and 
what often comes out of this excruciatingly painful birthing process is 
something that is linguistically opaque, substantively self-contradictory, and 
a pale shadow of its originating intent.

But wait!  I still believe it!  I just need more concrete, real world examples 
of how consensus produces better results, really.  I will give one of my own, 
direct out of my Cornerstone Cohousing experience:

      When I first moved in to Cornerstone, I joined a volunteer committee 
trying to put together a repair / replacement reserve funding plan.  The big 
and seemingly unbreachable divide was between those who wanted collect and save 
money annually to pay for future repairs and maintenance, versus those who 
wanted solve the problem in the moment, by special assessments for manifest 
needs and failures.  In other words: Collect and set aside money now for the 
day when the boiler blows and the roof leaks?  Or, pay for urgent repairs at 
the time they occur, via special assessments?
      And so:  We were looking at complex forecasting models that tried to save 
up money for 8 years into the future, when hot water tanks might fail, or 35 
years in the future, when all the siding or windows would need replacement.  
The folks who wanted to save for the future and the folks who wanted to pay in 
moment were deeply divided.  We wrestled with this for many months, getting 
      And then:  One of our volunteers came up with the idea of Hey!, Let's not 
try to look 35 years into the future.  Let's instead make a plan with a 
"rolling window" of five years into the future, and base our reserve 
assessments on that — and, of course, update our plan every five years.   I was 
initially skeptical, but when I set up the model and ran the numbers, it made a 
lot of sense.  In more ways than just financial.  So this is what we proposed, 
and this is what the community adopted.  By consensus.  First try!  I was 
surprised and delighted by a good solution that I would not have arrived at on 
my own.

HERE'S WHAT I NEED FROM YOU:  For all of you out there ... Can you post a 
specific example of how your consensus process eventually provided a better, 
and even surprisingly better, solution?  If we want to promote consensus, we 
have to make it real.  Thanks.

R Philip Dowds AIA
Cornerstone Cohousing
175 Harvey Street, Unit 5
Cambridge, MA 02140

On Sep 24, 2011, at 9:35 PM, bonnie Fergusson wrote:

>     In my experience, both in Cohousing and out of it (Quaker meeting, 
> political affinity groups) people often get frustrated with how much time it 
> takes to reach consensus compared to the more familiar majority vote.  But 
> the quality of the solution is almost always superior in the consensus 
> process.  

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