Re: Risk Management
From: Philip Dowds (
Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2017 06:20:11 -0700 (PDT)
Sharon —

Most of what you list in the definitions is familiar and logical.  We probably 
gain little by arguing further about whether a group for which (a) all 
objections are resolved, and (b) each member is ready to comply, has or has not 
arrived at “unanimity” about a specific matter.  (Even if they still disagree 
about some parts of the underlying rationale.)  Maybe we should have a new word 
for this kind of outcome, like “unobjectous”.

But … What’s this Stand-aside thing?  Does the group formally divide into two 
parts:  Those (a majority?) having no objections?  And off in the corner, those 
(a minority?) who are standing aside?  Do stand-asides count for quorum (if 
quorum is indeed required)?  If they don’t actually understand the proposal, 
does that not lay the groundwork for a future equivocation: Wait, hold the 
phone, I didn’t know Proposal X meant Y, and I’m certainly not going to 
cooperate with Y!

Please recall that my first personal criterion for consent was/is that I 
understand the proposal.  If I don’t understand it, I will ask questions until 
I do.  And if I still don’t understand it, I will object.  When everything else 
fails, I’ve been known to stand aside by leaving the room, and subtracting 
myself from the participating quorum.  I note you do not include “quorum” in 
your definition set ...

Philip Dowds
Cornerstone Village Cohousing
Cambridge, MA

> On Jul 14, 2017, at 8:47 AM, Sharon Villines <sharon [at]> 
> wrote:
>> On Jul 14, 2017, at 6:15 AM, R Philip Dowds <rpdowds [at]> wrote:
>> What I hope, of course, is that all others in my group are consenting in the 
>> same way.
> This is what we have consented to:
> Policy on Consensus Decision-Making Definitions
> Clarifying Questions are asked to obtain more information about the proposed 
> decision. For example: Does this include ... ?
> Concerns are expressions of uneasiness about the possible results of a 
> proposed decision. For example: I’m concerned about the effect on....
> A Friendly Amendment is one that is perceived by all parties as an 
> enhancement to the original proposal, often as clarification of intent.
> Consensus means that all members participating in the decision have consented 
> to it. Eligibility for participation in decision-making is defined in the 
> Decision-Making Authority and Accountability Policy and in the Bylaws.
> Consent means a member has no objections that would prevent them from 
> complying with the decision.
> An Objection means a member believes that the proposal is not in accordance 
> with community policies and agreements. The objector must explain the 
> objection so it can be understood and resolved. An objection must be resolved 
> before a decision that requires consensus can be made. Resolving an objection 
> is the responsibility of all members, including the objector.
> Community Policies and Agreements include the Declaration, Bylaws, Policies, 
> Guidelines, Mission, Values, Vision, community practices, and any other 
> statements approved by consent of the Membership.
> A Stand-Aside means a member:
>       • (1)  has an unresolved concern but will allow the proposal to go 
> forward and will comply with it, or
>       • (2)  is neutral because they want to avoid a potential conflict of 
> interest, or because the policy will not apply to them, or
>       • (3)  has insufficient understanding of the issue to consent.
> The number of members standing aside and their reasons for standing aside 
> must be recorded in the minutes with the decision.
> Unresolved Objections (sometimes called “blocks”) are those that remain after 
> strategies for resolving them seem to have been exhausted.
>> Why would anyone consent to something s/he doesn’t “like”?
> I consent to things all the time that I don’t like. I even grit my teeth over 
> some decisions. We had a choice of two cork floor colors for the CH. A few of 
> us wanted a dark color that was in our view more sophisticated and would have 
> been a design element, not just a floor. Others wanted a color that was most 
> common. The Sears choice. Perfectly defensible in that it is common but 
> nothing to write home about.
> It was not unanimous. I don’t think anyone in the room would have said we 
> were unanimous. 
> I expressed my objections and then didn’t raise them when the question was 
> asked if there were further objections. Given the preferences of others, it 
> was the best decision possible given all the restraints. I did not “like" the 
> decision. I consented to move forward to boring tan and not take a spray can 
> to it.
>>     But what about someone who decides, Well, I hate this, but my name is 
>> mud if I keep on objecting, so I consent — and then continues to undermine 
>> and defy the substance of the proposal?  I would say that this person did 
>> not really consent, but rather, lied to his/her group.  I would argue that 
>> the voting process tends to encourage these kinds of deceptions, and 
>> consensus process tends to minimize them.
> As above, I didn’t keep anything to myself. Everyone knew what I thought. One 
> difference is that I thought this was an opportunity missed rather than a 
> decision in which consenting would have exposed the community to liability or 
> danger. 
> This is one place where it helps to make a distinction between “consensus" 
> and "consent.” When people hear “consensus” they often assume it means what 
> the dictionary says:
>> general agreement.  "a consensus of opinion among judges"
>> synonyms:  agreement, harmony, concurrence, accord, unity, unanimity, 
>> solidarity; 
> Like most dictionary definitions, it is a definition that gives all the ways 
> people use the word. But like other specialized areas of study (like 
> management, fine arts, etc) the usefulness in clearly stating the parameters 
> of decision-making it isn’t very helpful. It’s even obstructionist itself. If 
> the requirement of consent is "unity, unanimity, solidarity” very few 
> decisions would be made. In fact if our members were unanimous on an issue, 
> it wouldn’t have to come up for a membership meeting decision. It would have 
> been announced in minutes or posted on email. No discussion required.
> We still have a stand aside because we have members who don’t want to appear 
> to be consenting when they know nothing about the decision or it doesn’t 
> affect them. They want consent to be a YES. So they stand aside a lot. It 
> doesn’t lead to any problems—it’s just their standard. A stand aside is in 
> effect consent.
> Maybe we need a “consent” which is no objections, and a “consent-plus” which 
> is unanimity.
> Sharon
> ----
> Sharon Villines
> Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC
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