Re: Question about Consent Governance
From: Philip Dowds (
Date: Tue, 17 Jul 2018 06:14:28 -0700 (PDT)
A few responses:

(1) Stated community values are often competitive, sometimes even mutually 
exclusive.  Further, it’s almost impossible to devise a proposal that’s all 
benefits and no costs.  In other words, a rational objector can usually develop 
a plausible argument that the proposal is in conflict with at least one of the 
community’s 18 values.  The hard conflicts of life are not about good versus 
evil; they are about good versus good.

(2) Or maybe the proposal doesn’t impact values, but forecloses a future 
option: Like, putting the bike shed in the northwest corner will permanently 
prevent an expansion of the vegetable garden.  To me, this sounds like 
something of which rational members can reasonably hold strongly differing 
opinions.  Who decides, how, that bikes are more important than tomatoes?  
(Note that building a bicycle shed does not have a sunset clause; the shed will 
not magically go away after an expiration date.)

(3) Thus, when it's not black or white (which is most of the time), how does 
plenary make the decision that the objector’s objection is unconvincing and 
invalid.  Vote?

I do agree that spending time and effort on a good-faith, well-structured 
consensus dialog can, and will, defuse all objections, at least some of the 
time.  But one way or another, at least some proposals must eventually sail 
between Scylla and Charybdis:  Over-ride one or more objections that clearly 
have some legitimacy (if not overwhelming priority)?  Or, abandon months of 
work that has satisfied most, if not quite all, members?  If you think that the 
ideal outcome of the consensus process is, or should be, unanimity, then these 
are not trivial questions.


> On Jul 17, 2018, at 7:37 AM, Patti Lautner <lautnerp [at]> wrote:
> The important piece that seems to be missing in the story described by Philip 
> is the REASON for the block. In a true consensus model, a block may only 
> happen if the blocker can show that they are protecting one of the 
> community’s commonly held values. The blocker must describe convincingly to 
> the plenary that it is in the best interest of the community to block and 
> that the common value must be protected above what might seem like popular 
> opinion. If the blocker can not convince the community that the decision goes 
> against a common value, then the block is simply not allowed. Even mature 
> communities like ours, (13+ years since move in, 18 years since starting), 
> need to be reminded occasionally that conensues means to give permission, not 
> total agreement, and that blocks may only happen to protect a commonly held 
> value.
> We have our values list lovingly displayed in our common house and we 
> confirm, ratify, and consider changing this list annually at one of our 
> retreats.
> I would love to discuss more should anyone want to reach out.
> Best,
> Patti 
> JPCohousing Boston 
> Sent from my iPhone
>> On Jul 17, 2018, at 7:17 AM, Dick Margulis <dick [at]> wrote:
>> The issue Philip identifies is what had our group in nearly complete 
>> paralysis for a couple of years, trying mightily but unsuccessfully to move 
>> forward using formal consensus.
>> Sociocracy set us free.
>> Strip away all of the specific procedures and processes and structures of 
>> sociocracy and just focus on the concept of consent that it embodies:
>> 1. The proposal belongs to the circle with the authority to act on it, not 
>> to the individual or circle that brings it.
>> 2. The proposal includes what amounts to a sunset clause: when will we 
>> review it to see if it's working as planned or needs further tweaking, and 
>> by what explicit criteria will we make that judgment?
>> 3. To decide whether to object, you ask yourself whether the proposal is 
>> safe enough to try and good enough for now, whether it is consistent with 
>> agreed community values, and whether you can live with it. You don't ask 
>> whether the proposal is perfect, because you know we will revisit it later 
>> (see number 2).
>> 4. If you don't have a reasoned objection but still feel that something is 
>> amiss that needs to be resolved, the circle's job is to help you put your 
>> finger on the problem and articulate it so that it can be examined in light 
>> of those decision criteria. If your initially inchoate objection has been 
>> developed into a reasoned objection, then more work is needed on the 
>> proposal to resolve that objection, and good for you for bringing it. If 
>> not, then the facilitator will likely ask you to stand aside.
>> The better we get at using sociocracy--especially the better we get at 
>> internalizing number 1, above--the more efficient our meetings become and 
>> the faster we can get to a decision on a proposal. And the active listening 
>> involved in number 4 has kept us honest: people who are not necessarily very 
>> articulate nonetheless feel heard; we've had any number of instances where a 
>> little niggle that's bothering one quiet person has resulted in major 
>> reshaping of a proposal once the group teased out the real nature of the 
>> objection.
>> Dick
>>> On 7/17/2018 6:26 AM, Philip Dowds via Cohousing-L wrote:
>>> So here’s the issue, really:
>>> Let’s say a controversial proposal has arrived at plenary.  The whole 
>>> community has faithfully followed its formal consensus process.  After 
>>> several months of hard work, inside and outside of plenary, the proposal 
>>> has been significantly modified, and now almost everyone feels his/her 
>>> concern or objection has been adequately addressed.  Except, maybe, for one 
>>> person.
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