Re: Leadership & Consensus Decision-Making
From: David Heimann (
Date: Thu, 6 Aug 2015 10:53:14 -0700 (PDT)

Hello Stephenie,

Our approach is similar to yours, though it's more a committess & plenary-consensus approach. The committees operate within an annual budget and act on their own. If something significant comes up, they bring to the plenary at a General Meeting, which we have monthly except during the summer (except for this year when something significant came up during the summer and we convened an extra meeting in July). At a General Meeting, there's a regular agenda item "Ask The Committees" where attendees can bring up a question or significant item they have to a committee. We also have an annual overview of issues needing attention through the budget process that takes place in October/November.

For the topics you mentioned, the buildings committee evaluates the physical plant and takes action or brings it to plenary depending on the scope of the issues, the board minds the insurance issues and works out the contracts and supervision with outside contractors, the treasurer carries out the dues (condo fee) collection policy, and the treasurer issues periodic (at least annual) financial statements. The extra meeting was triggered by an issue with respect to child care, which was addressed and brought to plenary by the Community Life committee.

In a nutshell, the committees (including the board) independently take care of their various routine functions and refer unusual ones to the plenary. Owners and residents can bring up questions to the committees at general meetings, and of course they can do so in between meetings as well. Once a year at budget time the committees and then the plenary take a look at how things are going and what we should be doing next year.
From my viewpoint it all works out.

David Heimann
Jamaica Plain Cohousing

Date: Tue, 4 Aug 2015 08:19:26 -0700
From: Stephenie Frederick <sjoyfred [at]>
To: cohousing-l [at]
Subject: [C-L]_ Leadership & Consensus Decision-Making
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Our HOA has tried to operate with a committees & board-consensus approach.
It has not worked out entirely satisfactorily because too many matters have
been overlooked.  I believe the reason is as follows:

Consensus is not a form of governance.  It is only a process for making
decisions about something.  If there is no one to introduce that something
into the consensus process, the group does not arrive at consensus for or
against it.  For the group, the issue doesn't exist.

A cohousing community that relies only on consensus and committees can end
up NOT accomplishing critical actions such as evaluating the physical
plant,  minding insurance issues to protect the cohousing
population, establishing a dues collection policy, requiring contracts and
supervision when hiring firms to work on site, periodically issuing a
financial statement, etc.  These are difficult matters that the committees
may never bring to the board; the issues remain invisible ? until a major
incident occurs.

I believe that a community that relies on consensus decision-making can
benefit from having a person or persons *(a leader) *who is responsible for
bringing up the essential issues.  This person or persons need not play a
? command & control ? role.  He/she/they can be organizers who make sure
that the decision-making community attends to the invisible but vital
matters that enable the community to function without major mishap.

I?m all for a democratically elected and recallable leader who plays an
executive role and is responsible for injecting the critical issues into
the consensus process.  The non-critical issues will make it into the
process via the committees.

 Stephenie Frederick

La Querencia-Fresno Cohousing, Fresno, California

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