consensus, formats, mission statements, various
From: Tree Bressen (
Date: Tue, 13 Dec 2011 22:13:05 -0800 (PST)
Hello folks,

I only read this list nowadays once in a great long while, so i am only just now catching up on some fascinating threads from the fall, hope that's ok that i'm chiming in late. If you reply to this message, please include me directly on a CC 'cuz otherwise it could be months before i see it.

I'd like to thank everyone for sharing your consensus stories. I saved several for my archive as they are precious, and a few may even find their way into future workshops.

For consensus geeks and/or folks participating in the Occupy movement, i recommend this brilliant chart summarizing key differences between small and large group consensus facilitation: It rings very true to my experience being on the facilitation team at Occupy Eugene.

Like most of the Occupy sites, Occupy Eugene is using consensus with an active voting fallback option (by "active" i mean that the fallback to a vote is likely to get invoked a LOT more often than at any cohousing group). We adopted this decision-making policy, which includes a procedure for (in)validating blocks as well as an official "consent with reservations" option, both of which were modifications suggested from the floor after i presented an initial policy draft. Interestingly, this arose just after Sam Kaner (he's a long-time professional facilitator in the SF Bay Area) had been corresponding with me on the importance of having an option for "agreement with mild reservations." He quoted research on how different types of people participate in process, and asserted that having 2 ways to say No (blocking + stand aside) and only 1 way to say Yes would lead to more No's than if it were even or if there were more options for agreement than disagreement. I told him that the cohousing movement was basically the only place i'd seen that idea being tried, since some number of cohousing communities do have a card color option something like "blue = agree with reservations."


Sharon wrote: "Standing aside doesn't stop the decision, so why do it?" To me one of the biggest reasons is because it gives someone a strong, honorable place to go where they can say "I disagree with this" without blocking. I find this highly useful as a facilitator.

As R Philip Dowds said:
>Interestingly enough, we've recently succeeded in coaxing one of our chronic
>blockers to stand aside rather than thwart.  Are we making progress?  Or not?

In my opinion, yes. In classic Quaker practice, another reason to formally register stand asides is because that person, while still bound by the decision, should not be expected to lead its implementation. For example, if someone stands aside from the annual budget decision because they can't afford the proposed dues raise, they still owe the higher dues, but if that person is the community accountant (or whoever collects the dues from members), then they would be relieved of that responsibility.

One person (sorry, i lost track of who among so many messages) also said that someone who stands aside in her community is not counted in the quorum, and that surprised me, since someone who stands aside is still participating in the decision. If it were a vote, people standing aside or blocking would likely be voting against, and thus their votes would still be counted.


In the boldly named "Objection vs. Extortion" thread, R Philip Dowds wrote:
>In my world view, proposers have duties, but the right to block the hard work of others is >earned, not automatic. . . . Anybody else out there ever seen anything like this? How did
>you deal with it? How would you deal with it?

N Street Cohousing has a policy that is somewhat similar to one described in reply, but a little different. According to Kevin Wolf, they require anyone who is blocking to convene meetings in an effort to work out an alternative, at a set rate of at least 2x/month for 3 months (6 meetings in total). If they don't do it, the block automatically goes away. Kevin says that in reality they've never needed more than two of those meetings in order to find an alternative that was acceptable to everyone involved, and therefore they've never actually had to invoke their 75% fallback vote.

My personal opinion is that consensus groups are well served by having both cultural and procedural responses to curtail inappropriate use of blocking. N Street's policy falls into the latter category. Given what you (RPD) describe happening at your group, it sounds like y'all need support for shifting your culture too. Some of the other people who posted provided wonderful glimpses into healthy consensus cultures.

Sharon wrote, in response to the Meerkat video on Occupy consensus:
>This video also contains a definition of a "block" that I could support ­ it
>means you would have to leave the group if this proposal is adopted.

When i first watched that video i saw that that particular line was going to make my future life as a facilitator more difficult, 'cuz it puts the emphasis on personal action ("i would have to leave") rather than group well-being ("the group would be terribly harmed"). And indeed, this has come up multiple times since then in the meetings i've facilitated. I wrote to the creators to ask if they could re-edit the video, and they were sympathetic but swamped with other projects, sigh.

Regarding terminology of blocking, no one mentioned that Quakers call it "standing in the way." I get this image of a huge boulder landing in a creek. The energy of the water is still going to go somewhere, but may well be diverted from the path it was on.


To R Philip Dowds who mentioned needing more tools, have you checked out the list of formats on my website at Maybe your group could pick a few simple ones from that list and try them out. Small group breakouts, fishbowls, kinesthetic spectrum line-ups, and card-storming are all reasonably easy and popular ones.

I thought it was interesting that you mentioned some people in your group not feeling safe to share openly due to the negative atmosphere at meetings, yet you also felt that allowing anonymous sharing would likely go against your principles. I value getting issues and viewpoints out on the table highly enough that i'm willing to use anonymous methods if that's what it takes to help get the conversation moving. So for example, once in a while i have used a format where people write down their answer to a question on a blank card (everyone is answering the same question at the same time), and then the cards are collected in a hat and redistributed so that each card is read aloud by one person, probably not its author (and if it is we wouldn't know). It depersonalizes the issues and keeps people from reacting as much based on personality and who said what. I certainly would not want to use those methods every time, but they are very useful on certain occasions, and usually followed by plenty of more open conversation. Also sometimes anonymous input is faster and more efficient, say when collating results from an online survey.


For more sample mission statements (Kay's query), see the sample policy database at If you scan all the way to the bottom you'll arrive at the "Vision, Mission & Values" section. And if any other communities would like to add theirs, that would be great, send 'em to Daniel at <daniel [at]>.

Thanks to Dane for the summary on Agile, like Sharon i've been hearing bits about this for a while now, and this summary was helpful for me.

The Group Pattern Language project that i've been working on for over 3 years is at the printer now. It has taken the form of a card deck with 91 recurring patterns in healthy group process, each idea arising in a tremendous variety of forms and operating at multiple levels of scale. I'm pretty excited about it and will send a message when it's fully out and available for sale and free download.




Tree Bressen
Eugene, Oregon
(541) 343-3855 (after 11am)
tree [at]

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