Re: decision-making process
From: R Philip Dowds (
Date: Fri, 19 Sep 2014 15:38:14 -0700 (PDT)
I agree with all of Mr Wolf's remarks about a fall-back.  We have a similar 
approach at Cornerstone (Cambridge, MA); we call it the escape hatch.  But the 
super-majority is 75%, and can be sought after fewer meetings.  We have yet to 

Philip Dowds

> On Sep 19, 2014, at 1:33 PM, Kevin Wolf <kevinjwolf [at]> wrote:
> 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
> nothing.
> 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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