|Responding to request for recommended decision-making methods||<– Date –> <– Thread –>|
|From: Diana Leafe Christian (diana.leafe.christiangmail.com)|
|Date: Sat, 4 Oct 2014 13:36:48 -0700 (PDT)|
Hello, This is a belated response to Alan Weiner of Village Hill Cohousing in Northampton, who recently asked for recommendations for decision-making methods and resources. I hope you don’t mind my revisiting Alan’s request with two recommendations. One is what I call the “N St. Consensus Method,” which Kevin Wolf outlined below. (The blocking person(s) meets with those who advocated the proposal in a series of solution-oriented meetings to co-create a new proposal. If they don’t, the original proposal comes back for a 67% super-majority vote. Although I had always thought it was 75%.) Regardless of whatever supermajority-vote percentage a group uses, I recommend the N St. Method for any cohousing community that would like to use consensus. Both Patricia of JP Cohousing and Mary Ann of Manzanita Village noted that communities can suffer from not using consensus correctly, and each community did better after learning how to do it more effectively. I couldn’t agree more! In my work with communities I’ve learned that a lot of conflict and discouragement can be reduced by first, all being on the same page about which of several different consensus methods the group is using, like Eris said, and everyone learning how to use that method. And second, by having some kind of recourse for blocks. Laird and Ma’ikwe recommend having criteria for what constitutes a valid block, and an agreed-upon way for the group to test for a block’s validity. However, I’ve found that trying to agree on these things can introduce a whole not of new problems. So the much better recourse for blocks, I’ve found, is the N St. Consensus Method. I’m a consensus trainer myself, and nowadays the N St. Method is the only method I recommend for groups who want to use consensus. Unfortunately, some cohousing communities and other kinds of intentional communities use a method I don’t recommend, which I call “consensus-with-unanimity” — in which anyone can block any proposal any time, with no recourse. This tends to result in the so-called “tyranny of the minority” My own community (Earthaven Ecovillage in North Carolina) used this method for many years, but fortunately not now. Alan, a good resource for learning consensus, besides Eris and the other consensus trainers, is the book Building United Judgment, available from the FIC’s Community Bookshelf mail-order book service. I also highly recommend Tim Hartnett’s book Consensus-Oriented Decision-Making, about an effective modified version of consensus, available from amazon. And for my workshop handout on how to do the N St. Consensus Method, “How the ‘N Street Consensus Method’ Helps N Street Cohousing Thrive,” please click http://l.cohousing.org/ (You have to scroll down a bit.) The second method I recommend for communities is Sociocracy (sometimes called Dynamic Governance in the US). Sociocracy is a whole governance structure as well as a decision-making process (consent decision-making) and meeting processes for making new proposals and electing people for roles, based on transparency, equivalence of voice, and effectiveness. I love how well communities can function when they’ve learned Sociocracy and practice it correctly. I now recommend Sociocracy instead of consensus. I now teach Sociocracy too. Two Sociocracy trainings are being offered this month by Sociocracy trainer Jerry Koch-Gonzalez of Pioneer Valley Cohousing (he uses the name Dynamic Self-Governance). October 19 - Pioneer Valley Cohousing Community, Amherst MA. October 24-26 - Cornerstone Cohousing, Cambridge MA. To learn more: j.kochgonzalez~at~gmail.com 413-549-1747 For my workshop handout that gives a brief, one-page overview of Sociocracy, “Overview: Sociocracy," please click http://l.cohousing.org/ Thank you for reading this. Diana Date: Sat, 20 Sep 2014 06:24:08 +0800 From: R Philip Dowds <rpdowds [at] comcast.net> 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 vote. Philip Dowds Date: Fri, 19 Sep 2014 06:53:17 -0500 From: Jerry McIntire <jerry.mcintire [at] gmail.com> Perhaps the determination to measure "objectively" is an enemy of strong community. I think it would be relatively easy for community members to report if there relationships within the community have been strengthened or degraded by a particular round of decision-making. That would be entirely subjective, and I think that's fine. There are other measures, some objective: Did everyone speak to the question? Were their contributions substantive and rich or a simple yes or no? Do they want to come to the next meeting? Are they more likely or less likely to engage other members in conversation outside of the meeting? And more such questions... Jerry On Fri, Sep 19, 2014 at 1:17 PM, Muriel Kranowski <murielk [at] vt.edu> wrote: I am soooo skeptical about how it protects the group process if you make the blocker explain their objection in the politically correct manner. Any clever-enough person can come up with a community value to cite for almost anything unless it is just so transparently self-serving that there are no words, in which case you probably didn't need to go through the exercise. Some people really are all about the good of the community whether they use the right words or not, and some are more about what is good for them, ditto. Muriel Shadowlake Village Cohousing, Virginia From: R Philip Dowds <rpdowds [at] comcast.net> There are often references to the importance of "learning how" to do consensus, but I think the main problem is that of attitude, not technique. Communal life requires that one learn to accept compromise, even disappointment, from time time, and to support (read, pay money) activities and amenities of interest to others, even if you do not share those interests. In other words, communal life is like real life. Sadly, the consensus methodology is over-sold as a fail-safe route to universal peace and harmony. Philip Dowds On Sep 19, 2014, at 1:33 PM, Kevin Wolf <kevinjwolf [at] gmail.com> 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 Date: Fri, 19 Sep 2014 22:38:53 -0400 From: Sharon Villines <sharon [at] sharonvillines.com> Kevin's post is so lucid I feel unfair about taking issue with it but again it is the word "block" that points to a problem in approaching a decision. First, proposals should include both reasoning and aims. The objections should be part of a process of examining arguments for and against the reasoning, the aims, and/or the proposed action. When someone can't consent, it is because they have an objection. Objections can be either clearly stated or teased out with the help of others. To call these objections "blocks" is to negate the purpose of objecting. The process of decision-making is about logical argument, even when logic is based on personal feelings. NVC is a good technique for teasing out feelings, translating them into needs, and then into action. What happens in NVC is what needs to happen when considering objections. Objections are good things because resolving them strengthens the proposal by suggesting amendments or clarifies the reason it is appropriate. This process educates everyone and brings the community together with greater understanding and acceptance of individual differences. But understanding doesn't necessarily mean everyone has a common aim. The aim of the vegetarians to exclude turkey at a traditionally turkey meal was not the typical aim of welcoming diversity characteristic of cohousing. This is an aims conflict and may require a majority vote, whether votes are actually counted or not. But lack of a common aim, is not a "block". It's lack of a common aim. "Block" feels like a concrete wall. The only way you can break it down is with a jackhammer or a tank. Or you can ignore it. I understand that one often feels like others are "blocking" and I sometimes feel that I want to "block" myself. But I can't imagine why it is helpful to consider a person a concrete wall. A Block. A Block-Head. A Blocker. The language is wrong. it's like saying we are going to have a logical conversation but if you disagree with me you will be called a dog for the rest of the meeting. Why is the majority never considered to be blocking? Voting is not the end of consensus as an ideal. Calling someone's lack of acceptance of the majority opinion a block, could be. Sharon On Thu, Sep 18, 2014 at 11:21 PM, Ann Zabaldo <zabaldo [at] earthlink.net> 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 On Sep 18, 2014, at 11:36 PM, Richart Keller <richart.keller [at] gmail.com> 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 On Sep 18, 2014 6:12 PM, "Eris Weaver" <eris [at] erisweaver.info> 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] erisweaver.info . 707-338-8589 . http://www.erisweaver.info Date: Thu, 18 Sep 2014 12:58:14 -0400 In terms of process, I would add the value of rounds. We had a decision to make this month about the color of a new cork floor. A dots on a posted list showed a majority preferring a particular light color. When the proposal came from the facilities team to replace the floor in the light color, I agreed to the light color but said I wanted to explain my reasons for believing the darker color would be better. People had chosen the lighter color because it was exactly like what we had but we had also darkened the color of the surrounding wood floor and there would be too little contrast. Neither enhanced the look of the other. When I gave my reasons for the dark color. No one or only one or two spoke for the lighter color. When we did a "temperature check" a large majority raised their hand for the darker color. No one was more surprised than I was. The decision was called for the darker color and 4 people, who had said nothing in the meeting, stood aside, and then one changed her mind and objected. The facilitator said we had to start over. I was angry. They didn't participate in the discussion at all and only stood aside and objected when the "temperature check" didn't go their way. Not fair. After discussion during a break they agreed to the darker color. In the evaluation I said we needed a much clearer process in future meetings. The non-speakers said they hadn't said anything because they had assumed the dot exercise was the decider. They characterized it as "overwhelming." Then_ the darker color was not available. We were sent the wrong samples. But there was another color that was between the two colors that was almost $800 more. Another decision. The facilitator contacted me before the meeting to ask what process I thought would be clear. I said if we are going to vote, we have to call it a vote and not a temperature check. And if we voted we needed to do a ballot, not handraising which is totally subject to influence by friends, etc. He said a 'temperature check' is not a vote and ballots were too much trouble. I objected again. And sent him our bylaws on voting. It would require consent to use a majority vote, notice to those not present, and a second meeting. I suggested the sociocratic process which is a round and the facilitator making a judgement call at the end. Then if anyone objected to his call, we would need resolution of those objections. After the round, the decision was clearly the lighter color, partly because of the cost. But the important thing was the tone in the room. In a round we could hear why each person wanted one or the other AND we were dealing with each other as people who had feelings. Hands raised and ballots don't allow you to do that. It's a win-lose contest. A round means listening other's feelings as well as being able to express our own. Because we did a round we also were not focusing on arguments in a back and forth way as often happens in discussion based on a queue. And everyone was expected to speak up. Even if they only said lighter or darker. The room was very calm and I don't think there were any hard feelings when the decision was called, and no objections. So I highly encourage rounds and to continue doing them. When objections are stated, the objectors need to hear everyone's feelings, opinions, arguments--whatever you want to call them. A focus on the objectors can polarize just like a majority vote. Sharon Sharon Villines Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC From: Kevin Wolf <kevinjwolf [at] gmail.com> Muriel Agreed. That's why a fallback voting process allows the community to decide if a block was valid through a vote. Just the threat of a vote the work needed by the blocker keeps some self-serving blocks from ever occurring Kevin, N St Cohousing Date: Thu, 18 Sep 2014 23:36:10 -0400 From: Richart Keller <richart.keller [at] gmail.com> Thanks for clarifying that. Even within communities with deeply-seated common values and a culture of willingness to listen, it takes learning and practice and patience to find the most suitable ways to deliberate and reach agreement in different contexts. And those ways evolve over time with changes in understanding, needs, personalities and the distribution of power. Building a community, like parenting, takes time and effort, a willingness to listen, learn, and grow as our understanding and level of maturity changes. While some common agreement on structure of deliberation and decision-making is essential, that structure needs to allow room for, even promote, the evolution toward a community based on love and an appreciation of differences. 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 From: Mary Ann Clark <drmaryann49 [at] mac.com> I would second everything Patti is saying. We also took too many years to figure out how to use consensus correctly, allowing one or two people to highjack the process (the tyranny of the minority). We also hired Laird to help us out but it still took us a while to actually follow through on all the required steps to make consensus work especially in the face of a resolute blocker. Having well-defined common values is essential as is having the fortitude to work the process. It also helped us to require that people who stand aside or block articulate their objections in light of those values. This has allowed us to resolve some issues in the moment. If a block can't be resolved, we require that the blocker (and perhaps allies) put together an alternative that incorporates what has come before as well as their own ideas for consideration at a future meeting. Once we figured out what it meant to work the process and resolved to really do it, it still took us several messy decisions to actually get good at it. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. After those few messy decisions we have a much more smoothly running process. Consensus is slow. There's always the push to just vote and be done with it--which essentially means letting the majority overpower the minority. Stick with it and in the end you'll have a good process.? Mary Ann Manzanita Village where we're waiting for the remnants of the hurricane to bring us even more rain On Sep 17, 2014, at 06:27 AM, Patricia Lautner <lautnerp [at] jpcohousing.org> wrote: This is such an exciting time for you! Congratulations. At JPCohousing in Boston we use the consensus decision making model for our plenary meetings. There is one committee that uses sociocracy sometimes for their meetings but for the community-wide discussions and decisions, we use consensus. A word of caution: We made it through development and into living together for a total of about 6-8 years before we learned that we were not using the consensus process 'correctly'. We hired Laird Saub to help us a few years back and our understanding and use of the consensus process is 10 times better now. Two points of advice: 1) Consensus does not mean everyone is in agreement; rather, it means everyone gives their permission for a decision to move forward. 2) Make sure you have a well defined list of common values. This will help you IMMENSELY as you begin to make decisions together. Good luck! Patti On Sep 17, 2014, at 12:05 PM, Mary Ann Clark <drmaryann49 [at] mac.com> wrote: Having well-defined common values is essential as is having the fortitude to work the process. It also helped us to require that people who stand aside or block articulate their objections in light of those values. One of the problems of defending an objection on the basis of the community's values is the vagueness of "values." Values statements are rarely as specific as: "Our purpose is to make shoes for casual wear by teenagers who are environmentally conscious and have one of several foot abnormalities." That is a tangible purpose. You can argue how to define "environmentally conscious" and "abnormalities" but it's still clearer than a "values" statement which might be that "all teenagers should be able to participate in the school culture of cool shoes." When you try to write a statement that both includes individual values and avoids others, it can be very vague. Better, I think, is writing a purpose for this specific proposal or decision. A discussion of the purpose should be held before the proposal is written and, if possible, have consent. In that discussion is the place to address general values if there are clear contradictions or mandates. A purpose defined in relation to "this proposal" will be much clearer because it is addressing a specific problem or opportunity and the specific actions that will be taken in relation to them. The worst, in my opinion, is trying to argue either consent or objections on the basis of the "good of the community." Who is defining "good of the community"? The majority. Date: Wed, 17 Sep 2014 10:13:12 -0400 From: Richart Keller <richart.keller [at] gmail.com> Hi Alan Almost all of the roughly 120 cohousing communities use consensus. Over the last few years there has been an aggressive effort, most intensively in this region, to get communities to adopt or switch to sociocracy. A few have adopted it in part or as advocated; its application in cohousing is still too recent to judge its impact. Also, while there a number of claims made about its promise, there are no impartial studies of its potential applicability or suitability for cohousing. Consensus is a well-established process of deliberation. There are a number of variations as to the approach to decision-making in a consensus context. I am not aware of any evidence-based peer-reviewed studies of the nature, issues, and needs of cohousing governance. Shadowlake cohousing in Blacksburg VA is a good example of one well-established community which, after careful study of various options, has developed a modified consensus-based approach. You might want to contact them (they have a web site.) You might also contact Diane Margolis, Director of the Cohousing Research Network. She lives in Cambridge Cohousing; CRN has a web site which probably has her contact information. You might also contact Eris Weaver, an experienced professional facilitator who lives in FrogSong Cohousing in Cotati, CA. The most important thing is to make your choice after taking the time for thoughtful deliberation as to what fits your community's values and goals. Good luck. Will be interested in what you all decide. Rick Keller, AICP Pioneer Valley Cohousing On Tue, Sep 16, 2014 at 10:11 PM, Alan Weiner <weineralan [at] gmail.com > wrote: We are 3 months into starting a co-housing community in western MA. We will soon be discussing how we will make group decisions. I don't think we have to reinvent the wheel on this one. Consensus and sociocracy seem to be common strategies. What approach(es) would you strongly recommend for consideration? Which ones should be avoided? What are good resources? Thank you. Alan Weiner Village Hill co-housing Northampton, MA
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