Re: Question about Household Decision
From: Philip Dowds (
Date: Thu, 5 Apr 2018 07:23:32 -0700 (PDT)
One critique I’ve heard is that consensus decision-making is most effective for 
groups united in pursuit of a clear goal or well-defined mission.  In such 
circumstances, extended dialog normally, or eventually, produces agreement on 
the optimum path or choice for achieving the group purpose.  Unfortunately, 
most cohousing communities may have trouble coming up with a well-defined, 
non-ambiguous, measurable common goal or mission.  Lacking a shared standard of 
excellence against which to test choices, consensus (removal of all objections) 
can often be hard to obtain.

At Cornerstone, we reformed our consensus process in 2013.  We embellished it 
with a dialog structure and schedule of events and interactions that turned it 
into a real process.  The process is never shorter than 2 months (2 plenaries), 
and for controversial matters, may take 3 months or more.  But the intent is 
always the same:  Develop and adopt a proposal falling within the tolerance 
range of all, by identifying, exploring and resolving all objections.  (I call 
this achieving unanimity, but I know experts and purists are dead set against 
allowing “unanimity” to be the result of the consensus effort.)

Now here’s the problem:  Let’s say we’ve been at it for quite a few months, 
working strenuously and in good faith to find consensus, and have forged 
compromises and creative solutions that have resolved all objections … except, 
maybe, for a couple.  We have a couple members who simply don’t “like” the 
proposal, and apparently will never consent to it.   So what’s the best outcome 
for the community:  The status quo (a failed proposal)?  Or, “voting” to allow 
the preferences of the strong majority to prevail?

At Cornerstone, we’ve gone for the latter.  Yes, let’s try very hard for 
consensus — but in some cases, if that’s simply not working out (for lack of 
shared purpose), then let’s try super-majority voting.  At Cornerstone, the 
threshold for over-riding a few unresolvable objections is 75%.

The story of how that’s worked out for us might be the topic of a follow-up 

Philip Dowds
Cornerstone Village Cohousing
Cambridge, MA

mobile: 617.460.4549
email:   rpdowds [at]

> On Apr 5, 2018, at 8:07 AM, Alicia Nowicki <alicianowicki [at]> 
> wrote:
> It is my understanding that in Cohousing decisions are made by consensus, so 
> I am surprised when I hear you speak of voting.  When we notice someone has a 
> thumb down, then we endeavor to determine the reason.  We also have a series 
> of questions that we ask them to help us determine if their downward thumb is 
> only for personal reasons and does their objection consider the good of the 
> community.  The only reason we count the number of households present is to 
> determine if we have a sufficient number of folks present to actually make a 
> decision.
> Are the other communities participating in this discussion voting to make 
> decisions?
> Alicia Nowicki
> Tierra Nueva Co-Housing
> Oceano, CA
> Sent from my iPhone
>> On Apr 4, 2018, at 7:09 PM, Muriel Kranowski <murielk [at]> wrote:
>> In my community, regular consensus decisions are made by us as individual
>> HOA members - my spouse and I don't have to agree. The only case in which
>> we vote by household is to override a block, and in that situation we
>> permit fractional voting by the number of persons in that household whose
>> names are on the deed. These votes have occurred so infrequently that I
>> can't identify any skewing one way or the other.
>> Muriel at Shadowlake Village
>> On Wed, Apr 4, 2018 at 9:57 PM, Chris Terbrueggen <christopher402 [at] 
>> wrote:
>>> Greetings, I am trying to gather some background info on household
>>> decisions. When cohousing organizations base decisions on one per
>>> household, does the practice skew decisions toward a single person
>>> household?
>>> Are there many cohousing organizations that base decisions on each
>>> individual member instead of a household?
>>> I am under the impression that the household decision is based on the
>>> practice that household members will discuss their options before making a
>>> choice. It requires each household to work out their differences and make a
>>> decision that represents the collective opinion of the household.
>>> Thanks
>>> Chris Terbrueggen
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