Re: We ditched consensus
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Wed, 11 Sep 2013 09:49:38 -0700 (PDT)
On Sep 11, 2013, at 12:11 PM, Racheli Gai <racheli [at]> 

> In case my previous message wasn't understood:  Majority rule is now the 
> method of decision making  at our general meetings, instead of consensus 
> (with a majority rule back-up), which is how we'd operated before.

And to clarify my comments. I think consensus is the best way to make decisions 
when the conditions that support it are present:

1. A shared common aim (in terms of the decision)
2. The willingness and ability to deliberate until consent can be achieved
3. The ability to choose with whom one makes decisions

Not all these conditions have to be met at a perfect level, but we often try to 
use consensus when it isn't appropriate and drive ourselves nuts. In my 
community it leads to covert decision-making by one or two people who quietly 
implement. I find that more problematic because it not only is the tyranny of a 
_very_ small minority but encourages passiveness on the part of others and less 
community involvement. 

Also if one subgroup wants a wildly colored building and another wants a muted 
color scheme, mixing the paints together in a can as a compromise that is not 
likely to make anyone happy. Neither is majority vote for one option or the 
other. Having one's home painted the colors someone else likes will be a 
constant irritant that will affect community life in larger ways.

Hiring a color consultant who can present alternatives that address the 
criteria of both groups is a better solution. Then you can consent, rank, or 
vote on those options. Expert opinions can often sway the non-expert opinions 
and when criteria are defined any of the options should be acceptable.

Preference ranking often reveals a lot of information about how people feel 
about alternatives and I think is underused. In studies it leads to the most 
satisfying results of any other decision-making method. Consensus was not in 
the mix but consensus only works under certain conditions. The study was 
testing a wide range of conditions-- which large cohousing groups making a wide 
range of decisions are also confronting. 

Diversity brings diversity of aims as well as cultural richness. That's a side 
of the coin we forget.

The most common forms of preference ranking are the 10 point system used in the 
Olympics and the 5 stars used in move rankings.

I still think small teams should be able to reach consensus but then again that 
can lead to teams being formed around people who agree with each other. I don't 
believe an issue can't come to the full group unless a team agrees on a 
proposal because the full group may be aware of more alternatives and have more 

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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