Re: What Is Process?
From: rpdowds (
Date: Mon, 14 Jan 2013 14:35:06 -0800 (PST)
The Chinese philosopher Lao Tse insisted that each problem has its appropriate 
solution embedded within it. By which he meant: As one continues to define the 
problem, and refine its statement, the solution becomes increasingly obvious 
and inevitable. Or: If you can't figure out the answer, you've not asked the 
right question. 

I completely agree w/ Sharon that our small group debates often stall out in 
dead ends because no one will parse and conceptualize the problem in a way that 
makes it accessible to solutions. And yet, and yet ... 

Controlling the topics, and controlling the order in which they are discussed, 
and controlling the problem statement -- as is very well known in Congress -- 
is absolutely key to controlling the political agenda and the outcomes 
achieved. So why wouldn't a group want to accept, gratefully, Sharon's 
apparently sequentially logical problem definition re the kiosk? Well, two 
reasons come to mind ... 
(1) Some in the group -- without being masters of logic, argumentation, or 
Chinese philosophy -- nonetheless intuit that this particular systematic 
approach will lead to the conclusion they do not want. So they resist a 
systematic approach to parsing the problem. Or ... 
(2) Many groups, or even members lacking a substantive dog in the fight, are 
very wary of letting one person control the agenda by imposing a structure on 
the problem definition. What superior, self-serving kind of facilitator, or 
self-appointed leader, should be allowed to do that? Better, probably, to just 
keep talking with an open heart and open mind, and eventually agreement will 
manifest. My own community, Cornerstone, is somewhat in this mode: Its 
preferred interactive methodology is to keep going around the circle, 
accumulating input of disjoint sequence and content, hoping that the consensus 
cake will mix and bake itself. It's a rare, rare event when a facilitator will 
say, "OK, let's talk first about 1, then second about 2, and then try to decide 
X, then if necessary, Y." Intellectual arrogance! Who asked you to run 

Not to decide is to decide. I think many decision processes would benefit from 
exposing the obvious: The status quo, or "Do Nothing", is always a very 
formidable contender in any decision process. So the very first consensus 
effort might be to support or debunk the status quo solution: "I propose we do 
nothing at all about the kiosk; the kiosk of tomorrow should be just like the 
kiosk of today (although perhaps imperceptibly more decrepit)." In other words, 
make Do Nothing explicitly defend itself in the process, as just one of many 
alternatives. If you cannot consense to Do Nothing, then obviously the work of 
the group is not over yet. 

R Philip Dowds 
Cornerstone Cohousing 
Cambridge, MA 

----- Original Message -----
From: "Sharon Villines" <sharon [at]> 
To: "Cohousing-L Cohousing-L" <cohousing-l [at]> 
Sent: Monday, January 14, 2013 3:14:21 PM 
Subject: [C-L]_ What Is Process? 

The use of the word "tool" to describe an objection today reminded me of a 
comment in our membership meeting yesterday. We are trying to make a decision 
to remove a kiosk in front of our building that is cute, in poor condition, was 
placed in error in the middle of the accessible side of our walkway, and isn't 
used as it was intended. Some love it and just want it moved to another 
location; others want to junk it. Many arguments and options on both sides. 

The discussion was disjointed because people wouldn't focus logically on one 
question at a time so we could sort out the options and eliminate them one at a 

Do you want to keep the kiosk? 
Do you want to move it to the south side of the walkway? 
Do you want the bulletin boards to stay or be removed? 

We were not close to a decision after a 1.5 hour discussion. The facilitator 
asked what process people thought might break the logjam and bring us closer to 
a decision. 

Someone said, This isn't a process question, it's a decision. 

My question is what is process if it isn't intended to produce a decision? 

A process could be designed to help people feel better about each other or 
understand the other points of view, but I would also consider that to be a 
decision eventually because the parties would decide if it worked or not. 

Why wouldn't a process be designed to produce a decision? Am I missing a 

(I wouldn't consider an objection a tool. I would consider it how one 
formulates a judgement/opinion.) 

Sharon Villines 
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC 

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