Re: Moving back from concensus?
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sun, 13 Dec 2020 11:41:59 -0800 (PST)
> On Dec 13, 2020, at 12:53 PM, Max Tite <maxtite [at]> wrote:
> Some years ago, Monterey moved from consensus to modified consensus where
> two are required to block a proposal rather than one.

My standard response: Consensus is consensus. Everyone has to be able to live 
with the decision. Excepting two makes it a super majority vote and has all the 
characteristics, good and bad, of the majority rules. Even worse it isolates 
two people together instead of a larger minority. 

I know people do call it consensus ( 90%, 95%, whatever) but when you consider 
the reasons consensus is better, you see that anything short of it is not 
consensus. It looses it’s meaning. 

I am in favor of having a super majority backup for lots of reasons. If people 
know you can go to majority vote they work harder to amend the proposal into 
something they can support rather than being outvoted. And sometimes decisions 
just have to be made faster than it is possible to educate everyone about the 
issue. And sometimes a person in the group will have nefarious reasons for 
objecting. Or object and refuse to discuss it.

Sociocracy doesn’t recognize stand asides and my community doesn’t consider 
itself to using sociocracy, but we have retained stand asides. One reason is 
that we have a member who will not consent to anything they have not studied 
themselves and made an independent decision. In sociocracy this would still be 
a consent because it isn’t an objection. And other times you don’t want to 
consent or be recorded as consenting but you have no good reason to object. The 
reasons for stand asides are included in the minutes.

> Or from those who have moved from consensus to sociocracy?

I reversed your questions because I thought this one would have the longer 
answer. But….

Consensus and sociocracy are not the same class of things. It’s like equating 
oranges with the orange tree. Consensus is a decision making method that 
sociocracy uses when appropriate, but sociocracy is a complete organizing and 
governance system, the orange tree. Groups that use consensus decision-making 
as a full group usually cobble together other organizing methods from 
Parliamentary Procedure, aka Robert’s Rules. Consensus becomes the orange with 
no matching tree.

The distinction sociocracy likes to make, however, between “consent” and 
“consensus” is a false one in terms of the history and origins of consensus. 
When everyone consents you have consensus. It doesn’t mean everyone agrees. It 
doesn’t mean unanimous. Problems with using consensus are usually from the 
improper use of consensus. Consensus requires:

1. A common aim.
2. The ability to discuss the decision with everyone making it.
3. The ability to discuss for the length of time required to reach a decision.
4. The agreement to make the decision with everyone in the group. 

The main sociocracy teacher, Gerard Endenburg, believes that consent/consensus 
decision-making won't work in cohousing because we cannot choose who we will 
make decisions with, and can can’t exclude anyone from the decision-making 

Not everyone agrees with this my explanation of consent/consensus but I have 
the research! 

What some people teach as consensus is closer to solidarity. In some 
situations, solidarity is important. When planning illegal activities or 
resistance, you want full commitment, not just “I can live with it.” Solidarity 
is required in situations where you might not live at all.

One helpful reason to use “consent” in teaching sociocracy is to distinguish it 
from the mysticism of consensus when it is used to mean making a decision "in 
the best interests of the community." The best interests of the community will 
always be in the eyes of the beholder. It is what the majority says it is. 
Consent is an individual decision based on one’s own evaluation of the 
proposal. The result of a consent/ consensus decision is a decision that is 
good for now, it doesn’t have to feel like heaven even if sometimes it does.

Sociocracy exercises scientific method — research/plan, test, evaluate — and 
repeat to be sure the decision is working. It requires reasons for doing or not 
doing. You don’t say yes because everyone else does. One of the best ways to 
resolve objections is to revise the proposal — adopt if for a shorter period of 
time as a test. Narrow the range of things it affects. Then you can test it and 
see if it does what you believed it to do. 

Sociocracy also has a structure that enables delegating decisions to 
circles/teams/committees _and still_ maintaining consensus between circles and 
in the whole organization. And again, delegation is tested and evaluated. It 
isn’t just a rule that everyone has to live with because “we decided.”

All policy decisions have time limits — a review date for evaluation. Is it 
still working? But anytime new information becomes available, the decision can 
be revisited. The test is whether something is achieving the goals set for it, 
not that it was a consensus decision that we have made and will not discuss 
again until the due date. 

What works is the criterion. The scientific method is the best way to determine 

And my other bugaboo, is the word and concept of a ‘block.” It conveys the 
wrong image and sets up an objection as an immovable object. An objection must 
be something that can be worked out. It has to have reasons, arguments. Even if 
the person says it just doesn’t feel right, the reasons why can usually be 
teased out with the help of the group. It’s a logical problem, a solvable one, 
not a “block” with no forward movement. 

Forward movement is always the goal. It is the best way to get more information 
about what works.

Consensus is as much a culture as a decision-making method. It understands that 
you not only need everyone on board to function harmoniously but you also need 
the knowledge each person brings to the decision. The majority can be just as 
wrong as one person.

Sharon Villines
affordablecohousing [at]
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