Re: Risk Management <was: Re: Marketing question ...> seeking examples
From: R Philip Dowds (
Date: Wed, 12 Jul 2017 06:25:24 -0700 (PDT)
My general experience with the consensus process is this:  For any proposal X, 
a few activists / advocates really want X to happen; most people are OK with X; 
and a few people have concerns or objections to X.  Objections can be risk / 
fear driven, or personal preference driven, or community preservation driven; 
no matter which, all objections start out as legitimate and important.

The job of a properly run consensus process is to close the gap between the 
proposal and minority opposition.  Closing the gap is a two-way street 
involving both (1) identifying and mitigating defects in the proposal, and (2) 
relieving the anxieties, or modifying the views, of the minority opposition.

Sometimes, proposal X “fails” because dialog reveals that it has unsuspected 
and unavoidable bad consequences for the community.  But more often, consensus 
“fails” due to a combination of two factors:
      (1) Even after weeks or months of sincere effort on all sides, the gap(s) 
cannot be closed.  Maybe it’s because some of the opposition is immune to 
information.  But just as likely, the last hold-out or two have core values or 
preferences that are unmodifiable — e.g., they simply cannot agree to the new 
pet policy because they do not have, and do not like, pets.
        And (2) the methodology in use stipulates that nothing can change until 
everyone is happy.  In other words, the community has pre-agreed that the only 
acceptable outcome of the consensus effort is unanimity.  Widespread 
participation in improving the proposal, elimination of as many objections as 
possible, and enhanced buy-in are not by themselves good enough; unanimity is 
essential, or else X can’t happen.  This begs the question, What’s best for the 
community, really?  The status quo?  Or, a change strongly desired by some, and 
acceptable to almost everyone else?

Which cycles me back to my assertion of origin:  We are convened in cohousing, 
at least in part, to help each other get what we want.  Viewed through this 
lens, irreconcilable objections to proposals should be very, very rare.

Philip Dowds
Cornerstone Village Cohousing
Cambridge, MA

> On Jul 12, 2017, at 8:02 AM, Liz Ryan Cole <lizryancole [at]> wrote:
> If you (and others who have posed along those lines) can figure out a way to 
> write about this (perhaps  Risk Management is the right subject line), 
> without exposing anyone to embarrassment, I think it would be incredibly 
> instructive for anyone on this list.  Perhaps it needs a separate subject 
> line?  Perhaps one could already find a great deal using the Archives (which 
> I confess I have never figured out how to use)
> My question is...How can one or a few people, using uninformed or very poorly 
> informed fear, keep their community from moving forward on something.  
> Philip’s example is fear based, but not fact based, resistance to electric 
> cars. Ann’e example is a glass blowing kiln (and I have no facts about those 
> safety concerns).  Is this a misunderstanding of/misapplication of consensus? 
>  or does living in cohousing, at least the communities that use consensus 
> based decision making, have to mean (as some potential members fear) giving 
> up making science based decisions (as an example) when one or more members 
> have beliefs that make them discount data in favor of other factors?
> I understand that this is a huge topic.  Perhaps we could begin by simply 
> sharing other examples of communities that have struggled with these 
> decisions.  One example I think of… what if someone in a cohousing 
> neighborhood or community decided they didn’t want to have their children 
> immunized? 
> thanks   liz
> Liz Ryan Cole
> lizryancole [at]
> Pinnacle Cohousing
> Loch Lyme Lodge
> Lyme, NH
> Home 802.785.4124
> Work 802.831.1240
> Lodge 603-795-2141
> I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a 
> desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
> ― E.B. White
> On Jul 11, 2017, at 7:07 PM, R Philip Dowds <rpdowds [at]> wrote:
> At Cornerstone, we have one or more households that want to buy electric 
> cars, and will need charging stations for these vehicles.  They are willing 
> to pay a few thousand to retrofit car chargers to exterior walls adjacent to 
> existing parking.  Other households, however, believe there are serious risks 
> of electric cars bursting into flame due to battery failures; they believe 
> this even though (a) it’s easy to find examples of condos providing charging 
> stations in their underground garages, and (b) there’s little or no evidence 
> that exploding electric cars are more of a problem than exploding 
> refrigerators.  Nonetheless, a fear that something might go wrong has stalled 
> out our decision for quite a while now.  How can our community possibly chose 
> something that makes others feel unsafe?
> Clearly, nobody wants to create significant risk, or unnecessary risk.  But I 
> keep dreaming of cohousing, not as maximal risk mitigation, but as a social 
> contract in which, as much as possible, we all help each other get what we 
> want.
> Thanks,
> Philip Dowds
> Cornerstone Village Cohousing
> Cambridge, MA
>> On Jul 11, 2017, at 6:04 PM, Ann Zabaldo <zabaldo [at]> wrote:
>> Early on we had a woman who wanted to put her glass blowing kiln in the 
>> workshop but was shut down by people being afraid of an accident.   And 
>> since we all bow to the possibility, however remote, of something tragic 
>> happening … we don’t do anything or rather we restrict others from doing 
>> something.
>> I wonder how the communities that have LIVESTOCK on the premises manage to 
>> deal w/ the risks and hazards of four-footed LARGE mammals?
>> Best --
>> Ann Zabaldo
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