Re: Consensus and voting bylaws
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Fri, 11 Jan 2013 08:54:58 -0800 (PST)
On Jan 9, 2013, at 1:29 AM, Willow Murphy <willowm7 [at]> wrote:

> Question:  How have other cohousing communities dealt with the process of
> reconciling voting bylaws and the primary commitment to use consensus,
> based on trust and hearing every voice?   What has been your process?

We have consensus as the primary and back-up voting just in case. In 12 years 
we've never voted.

> Our new board is proceeding with work on an
> amendment to our boilerplate condo bylaws.  They are feeling the need to
> include a consensus plus voting clause, presumably to protect our consensus
> process legally, and they are concerned about possible liability issues.

Personally, I believe in a back-up process that is rarely used. The presence of 
a back-up, I feel may be necessary when communities have a person who is 
mentally ill or out of sync with the rest of the community. 

The consensus process assumes those engaging in the process (1) share a common 
aim and (2) are willing and able to sit together to deliberate for the time 
necessary to work out all the objections. Assuming that everyone in a community 
will share a common aim when that community has little control over who will be 
involved in the decision is unreasonable.

None of us are so all persuasive or have unlimited time to bring every person 
around to a specific solution. There are many, many ways to design a way 
forward so that it addresses all concerns and objections and those should 
certainly be used. In the end, however, not all of us want or need the same 
thing. Even in cohousing. That's why intentional communities often have long 
and specific admission processes. And why coops are coops and not condos. They 
want control over who they are and where they are going.

Gerard Endenburg, who developed a consensus process that could be used even to 
manage a corporation, adds another condition to the (1) shared aim and (2) 
ability to sit together to deliberate, the (3) ability to choose with whom you 
will make decisions. Cohousers by definition have agreed to make decisions with 
whomever buys, rents, or marries into a community.

That woman who marries Harry may not be on the same page as the rest of the 
community, particularly if he was on the outer fringes to begin with and is 
still starry eyed when he puts her name on the deed. The decision you were in 
the process of making when she becomes an owner may need to be made without her 
approval. And she may insist on it. 

The community may not have time to educate her or perhaps even fully understand 
her objections within the time-limit.

Also consider preference voting as an intermediate step. This is much more 
nuanced way of measuring where everyone is on possible options. It can also be 
used to gauge sentiment during the consensus process.

Sharon Villines
Co-author with John Buck of We the People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy, a 
Guide to Sociocratic Principles and Methods

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