Decision-Making [was What Is Process?
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Tue, 15 Jan 2013 08:22:02 -0800 (PST)
On Jan 14, 2013, at 5:35 PM, rpdowds [at] wrote:

Philip, this is very helpful. Perfect description for me to share with the 

> So why wouldn't a group want to accept, gratefully, [an] apparently 
> sequentially logical problem definition re the kiosk? Well, two reasons come 
> to mind ... 

> (1) Some in the group [snip] 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.

This explains why some keep giving unresponsive responses when asked a direct 
question or even interjecting off topic material when it isn't even their turn 
to speak. They keep things confused and, if necessary, do it forcefully with 
sarcasm and/or loud voices.

A problem in most of our rounds, usually with the same people, is not 
responding to the question, "What do you want?" Instead they argue against 
whatever solutions have been presented by others or try to propose fixes. One 
will go into options we haven't considered yet. He is a brilliant guy and can 
think up four million, taking a huge amount of time doing it. He says we have 
to consider all options in order to make a good decision. He will not just say 
what he wants and leave it at that.

What we need to know each person's personal concerns and objections, if any. 
That some won't reveal themselves and our facilitators won't take the time to 
pin people down. These individuals often get angry when that is done and the 
minute they begin to get angry, the facilitator backs off. No confrontation is 

> (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.

I often feel this way because it is hard, actually, to do it fairly. Three of 
us are now trying to do an objective statement of the needs and alternatives, 
and it is work. 

The facilitator who does this best often tries to do it in the middle of a 
meeting "while everyone is in the room." As an introvert, I need time to 
consider the alternatives when I am alone. Extroverts like herself, need to 
figure them out in dialogue.

> 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."

> 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.

One person has raised the bar on the do-nothing alternative with the suggestion 
that we move the kiosk to the basement, live without it for a year, and then 
decide. Obviously it will never come out of the basement because it will just 
deteriorate further, we will have to erect a sign to replace it, and in a year 
why replace sign? 

Voila, kiosk gone. Anyone who wanted it to stay but tried to be flexible by 
accepting a compromise has lost. This seemed at first like a reasonable 
compromise. Some saw the result in the meeting. I took me time to see it. But 
I'm also one of the people who would take it out of the basement 
single-handedly if I had to. Others would just quietly seethe—forever. 

> 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.

An excellent suggestion. I'm going to try to do a decision tree as an example. 
If I get it done, I'll post it.

One discovery: we have ALL been assuming that putting 11" metal lettering on 
the wall facing the street would be a good thing and fulfill one major function 
of the kiosk. I finally went out to look at it -- I rarely go that way because 
I live on the other side of the complex and it's faster to use another 

The walls on that side of the building are either hidden behind trees or so 
broken up with windows that numbers there would not be obvious at all. Not a 
workable alternative, but one that some have _already_ accepted.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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