Re: consensus, formats, mission statements, various
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Wed, 14 Dec 2011 10:39:58 -0800 (PST)
On 14 Dec 2011, at 1:16 AM, Tree Bressen wrote:

> 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: 


This is an excellent chart and a very useful website on all topics related to 
resources and movements for freedom and equality. Information and links to 
more. It's even visually well-designed. I include the direct link to the 

> We adopted this decision-making policy 


Also very helpful and clear.

> which includes a procedure for (in)validating blocks as well as an official 
> "consent with reservations" option,

One of the characteristics of procedures that begin specifying all sorts of 
levels of qualified consent and blocking, etc., is that they are based in the 
logic of parliamentary procedure and yes or no voting. They codify compromises 
that focus on the individual positions rather than on taking (or not taking) 
actions that will accomplish the stated aims of the group. 

Groups come together because they have a desired aim — something they want to 
defeat or achieve. No matter how elevated or simple that aim may be — creating 
a free society or watching football together on Sundays —  it is the reason the 
group is a group. Decisions should be based on accomplishing that aim. 
Decisions are needed when there is a need or opportunity to better realize that 
aim. Since change is constant, the need for actionable decisions is ongoing in 
order to adjust.

The "good of the group" is meaningless unless is defined in terms of the aim. 
An aim requires a definition against which all actions can be measured. The 
"good of the group" is usually just what the majority wants.

> 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.

This is true when consent is only defined as "yes". "Yes" implies endorsement 
and choice. Consent can be consent at many levels. It only means it looks like 
the best possible option given all the circumstances, including how the other 
people in the group feel. Consent doesn't imply agreement. 

Anytime one allows a decision to go forward, they are consenting at some level. 
Soft consent, grudging consent, dissatisfied consent -- whatever. It is also 
consenting in the moment, not for all time. It isn't pledging a lifelong 
commitment. Consensus is often elevated to the status of solidarity and consent 
to requiring something close to self-sacrifice or public endorsement. 

Even if one would be abstaining under parliamentarian rules of order, in 
consensus one is consenting. Consent is not a vote. It is not like pulling the 
lever or standing up to be counted. It is part of an ongoing process of 
accomplishing the aim of the group. When viewed in this context, the process of 
accomplishing a specific aim, decision-making allows nuance. And it focuses on 
the larger vision that I think some people are reaching for when they say "good 
of the group."

Concerns should be recorded to be used for defining measurements for feedback 
(just as the expected positive outcomes would be measured). "Let's make this 
decision but watch for these problems. How do we know of these problems are 
occurring? At what point do we pull back because the decision has become 
counter productive to the aim."

Once the feedback mechanisms are built into the decision, it will probably 
receive broader support, and more importantly it will establish or become part 
of a larger process of continual improvement, of continual progress toward the 
aim. This will be much more productive than creating more and more detailed and 
qualified rules. 

If measurements can't be established, the concern is probably not actionable 
and thus not valid.

> 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.  
> find 
> this highly useful as a facilitator.

To disagree is in and of itself strong and honorable. Most people duck rather 
than say they disagree, often to the group's detriment. Disagreements, 
concerns, reservations, etc., are vital to making a better decision now or to 
measuring the effects of the current decision so a better one can be made on 
the future. They should be clearly explained, well listened to, and clearly 

The problem with all those defined positions is that once everyone has taken 
their position, the group is still left with a question of how to move forward. 
With 10% standing aside? 5% with consent with reservations? The focus becomes 
numbers, not content. And down the line some people will be defending the 
positions they took instead of moving forward.

The real questions concern content. What are the arguments both for and 

When I participate in a consensus decision, I want to know why others are 
consenting as well as why they aren't consenting. Some consents are based on 
negative reasoning. "If we do this 500 people will die and everyone will start 
listening to our warnings," for example. Is that a good basis for consenting? 
When objections have been resolved outside the group meeting, I also want to 
know how they were resolved. I've once too often learned that an objection was 
resolved, intentionally or unintentionally, with promises that were not part of 
the proposal. Since it was done outside the group meeting, the group  couldn't 
correct these promises or assumed promises and had no commitment to them.

> 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. 

The first problem is defining a block as an objection, which puts everyone in a 
"you veto and I'll overrule" situation rather than one of "this is the best we 
can do right now, but there are still problems with this." Once a person has 
labelled themselves or is labelled a concrete block, the whole focus has 
shifted from the best decision to accomplish the aim to the concrete block. 

The second danger is that, like shunning, it could inhibit raising objections. 
Not everyone can handle calling meetings. (Few in cohousing can handle "more" 
meetings.) Putting the sole responsibility for resolving their own objections 
on the individual is also isolating the person. It is anti-supportive 
environment — the group is saying we are no longer in this together. Perhaps at 
this point that is the relevant discussion — are we all in this together? Do we 
have the same aim? If we don't what do we do?

That discussion might resolve many more objections down the line than 
attempting to resolve only this one.

> My personal opinion is that consensus groups are well served by having both 
> cultural and procedural responses to curtail inappropriate use of blocking. 

This is also related to the need to determine if we are all in this together or 
not? And as Tree said, it's important to have a procedural out that is 
automatically triggered and can be enforced when we are not all in it together. 
Policy enforcement is difficult in communities. No one wants to be the police 
so the whole community feeling deteriorates.

True life examples of consensus groups needing non-consensus decision-making 
processes. One community because of an estate sale by a bank got a resident who 
was clueless and uninterested in cohousing. Protest groups find they have been 
infiltrated by the opposition. Small churches with endowments have found 
themselves infiltrated with members of the religious right who want to build an 
empire by taking them over.

The procedure in sociocratic governance is that a discussion is held by the 
group and a decision made with the outlier(s) excluded from the consent 
process. The outliers can listen and participate in discussion but not 
participate in the decision. This is in essence a majority vote.

(The argument has been made that in cohousing this is ineffective because you 
can't make people move, and they don't always have the freedom to  move. I have 
some ideas for other ways in which a split community can function but can't go 
into them now.)

> 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"). 

Again if the emphasis were on the aim, the individual vs. group dichotomy 
wouldn't exist. My intention, however, was to say that if I were in a position 
where I felt I could only veto/block a decision because I couldn't live with 
it, then I should leave the group. I think that is the only basis for a 
veto/block. It has to be that serious.

> 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.

"Standing in the way" again emphasizes how the larger group feels about the 
individual rather than focusing on the content of the argument. The "boulder in 
the creek" emphasizes that the water will go somewhere or be dammed up and 
eventually go over the boulder, like it or not. Again it is a warning that a 
situation has arisen where the group needs to look at whether all the members 
have the same aim. The best course of action may include modifying the aim.

When there is a boulder in the water, I find people go underground — they just 
do things without asking for a decision. Not good because the larger issues are 
never resolved.

> Also sometimes anonymous input is faster and more efficient, say when 
> collating results from an online survey.

I also like rating systems for this — the 5 stars. Even with two options, it 
can be more revealing than a yes/no vote. Is the group evenly split or way off 
balance? Do most people not care which option is chosen?

Thank you Tree for reading and responding to this thread,

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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