Re: decision-making process
From: Kevin Wolf (
Date: Thu, 18 Sep 2014 23:03:46 -0700 (PDT)
Hi all

N Street Cohousing has been using a modified consensus process where we
have a fall back super majority (67%) vote if a block continues for more
than six meeting attempts to find common ground.  We have never voted in
the 26 years we have been using this system.  We also have about 10-15 new
members a year, most of whom know nothing about consensus or the history of
the community.   A pure consensus process would be especiallly problematic
with some many newbies in a large community.

There are numerous advantages of having a back up vote if blocks can't be
resolved and the vast majority wants to move ahead against the wishes of
the blocker(s).

1.  The person(s) blocking have to take the lead in organizing and
participating in the meetings to find a mutually acceptable solution. If
the person doesn't want to do this work, they lose their block.  We have
had a new person who blocked be informed of the work she now had to do and
her response was "Heck, if I knew that was what was involved, I would never
have blocked."   Right, don't block if it isn't important enough for you to
put effort into coming up with a mutually acceptable solution.

2.  We don't have complete agreement on all the values and goals of our
community and some of those guiding principles and goals aren't defined
well enough and thus openings are created for people to use their
understanding of them to underlie their reason for blocking.  The "threat"
of a community vote is an incentive for the blocker to not be unreasonable
in how they interpret the common values and goals.  So far, no one has been
so obstinate as to cause a vote to occur.  Some people can be very stubborn
without facing a negative consequence for their stubborness, more than
community enmity.  Losing a vote means all that stubborness was for

A pure consensus process needs a lot of education and training, underlying
written goals and guiding principles, and trust to work.  And if the group
has members who are unreasonable because they have a mental illness, a drug
problem, are narcissistic or any other reason, then all the training etc
may still not solve the problems that can come from unreasonable blocks.
Only a  fall back process to overcome such individual opposition and
stubborness can then save the community from the anguish and problems of
the tyranny of the minority problem that pure consensus can face.

Best of luck to all using a pure consensus process. To make it work  well
over decades, you probably will need luck.

Kevin Wolf, co-founder
N Street Cohousing

On Thu, Sep 18, 2014 at 9:21 PM, Ann Zabaldo <zabaldo [at]> wrote:

> Rick!   I really love this!
> An excellent guide for evaluating one’s decision making process.  Altho’
> how do you measure #1 “strengthen relationship” and #2 respect or improve
> the decision-making process?  I guess number 2 might be measured by the
> length of time it takes from proposal to decision, the number of drafts,
> the number of meetings, the number of concerns or objections to be
> resolved.  Hmm.  I don’t know that these would be the measures but yes. #2
> could be more easily measured.
> But how to measure/evaluate #1?  Fewer fist-fights?  :-)
> In any event … I do love where you are coming from in looking at
> decision-making and its role in building community.
> Thank you!
> Best --
> Ann Zabaldo
> Takoma Village Cohousing
> Washington, DC
> Principal, Cohousing Collaborative, LLC
> Falls Church VA
> 703-688-2646
> On Sep 18, 2014, at 11:36 PM, Richart Keller <richart.keller [at]>
> wrote:
> > The quality of decisions is one indicator of community success.  I.e.
>  the
> > measure of a successful decision is the extent to which it meets 3 tests:
> > does it
> > 1) achieve the desired result, 2) strengthen relationships within the
> > group, and 3) does it respect or improve the decision-making process?
> >
> > Rick
> >
> > Sent from my droid.
> > On Sep 18, 2014 6:12 PM, "Eris Weaver" <eris [at]> wrote:
> >
> >>
> >> Thanks, Rick, for the shout-out!
> >>
> >> Yes, most cohousing communities use consensus for the plenary decision
> >> making. I highly recommend that groups get TRAINING in consensus,
> whether
> >> it's from me or Tree or Laird or whoever else. It takes learning,
> >> commitment, and practice to use it well. Also, there are several
> different
> >> "flavors" of consensus and it is helpful, in the consensus training, to
> >> work
> >> out exactly how YOUR community is going to use and interpret several
> >> components of consensus.
> >>
> >> Even groups that use consensus for most big things may use other
> >> decision-making methods for some kinds of decisions. Consensus, while a
> >> wonderful, deep, connecting tool, is not the ONLY tool, and is not
> >> appropriate for every group, need or situation. (This has been one of MY
> >> big
> >> learnings over the years.) To expand on this would take more time than I
> >> have at the moment.
> >>
> >> (California folks: I'm doing a consensus & community building workshop
> in
> >> the Bay Area soon, contact me back channel if you want more info.)
> >>
> >> ------------------------------
> >> Eris Weaver, Facilitator & Group Process Consultant
> >> Founding member, FrogSong cohousing in Cotati, CA
> >> eris [at] . 707-338-8589 .
> >>
> >
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