Consensus and Voting [ was Question about Household Decision
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Thu, 5 Apr 2018 08:34:34 -0700 (PDT)
> On Apr 5, 2018, at 10:23 AM, Philip Dowds <rphilipdowds [at]> wrote:
> 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%.

I quoted this whole message back to the list because I think it is an excellent 
description of the issues involved in reaching consensus in a group without a 
common aim. In cohousing we can’t always have common aims because we don’t join 
the group on the basis of a common aim. We have a central aim related to 
cohousing but everyday living is much more complex. And our best selves do not 
always rise to the top. Sometimes people just disagree but still have to move 

Another consideration of personal druthers is that sometimes people need to be 
allowed to vote no. We have members who vote no by not attending the last 
meeting on a consensus decision. But not everyone is willing to do that — they 
want to say no, even if only to show that they never agreed to something. 

It can be a question of your needs vs mine. The fact that there are 30 of you 
and one of me doesn’t mean I have to say yes when I don’t want to. Allowing the 
voting option is often seen as a way to overrun some people’s rights and/or 
feelings. But it can also be a way of allowing everyone to take a stand without 
being regarded as “blocking”. Then the group can move on. 

A vote doesn’t have to be regarded as a win-lose event. 

I think the process Phil has outlined is one that ensures people won’t be 
ignored. In fact their ability to vote no in the end may mean their objections 
or druthers are taken more seriously than if they just went along with the 

We have kept the stand aside option because we have members who will not 
consent on certain issues even when the issue has no personal effect on them. 
Will not be seen to say yes to television in the CH, for example. By standing 
aside their reason is recorded in the minutes and that is enough 
acknowledgement. For other people it might not be.

Sharon Villines
Sociocracy: A Deeper Democracy

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