Re: Cohousing communities with Sociocracy enshrined in Declaration / Bylaws?
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Tue, 31 Aug 2021 10:37:59 -0700 (PDT)
One of the first questions asked in relation to bylaws is always do we have 
majority vote as a back-up? Are we really committed to consensus if we are 
giving ourselves a way out? I wanted to discuss this separately from the issue 
of bylaws per se.

I say yes, you do. Absolutely. And it is totally sociocratic to do so. Consent 
is neither possible nor desirable for all decisions. 

The principle in sociocracy is that consent is fundamental but that also means 
that by consent other methods can be used. And that other methods are more 
suited to some situations and decisions.

Finding a common date for a celebration, for example, may not be worth the 
amount of time it would take to synchronize everyone’s calendars. It could take 
a full year. Preference ranking would be better. Emergency decisions are often 
made autocratically by a natural leader. When the smoke is so thick you can 
hardly breath, holding a circle meeting to decide who decides which door is the 
safest exit  is not sociocratic! (And certainly not the way to keep the 
organization alive.)

Gerard Endenburg, the primary authority on applied sociocracy principles and 
practices, defined consent decision-making as possible only when:

1. Everyone shares a common aim in respect to the decision needing to be made.
2. Everyone is willing and able to spend the time required to deliberate until 
reaching consent.
3. Everyone has agreed to make this decision with the individual people in this 
group. It is neither a shifting nor random population.

He believed consent was totally impractical in cohousing because we can’t 
choose who our members are. We can’t determine who buys and can’t tell people 
to sell. Majority vote or something else will be inevitable.

But cohousers do make decisions by consent all the time because we commit to do 
it. However, it is also true that the people who move into cohousing have not 
been random or shifting. They are first filtered by the long process of forming 
a cohousing community or later when waiting for an available unit. They are 
also filtered by their ability to buy a house at market rate and their 
expectations/experience with self governance by residents. When people 
self-select, like chooses like. 

But as cohousing becomes less risky, even fashionable, and communities are 
forming faster and more easily, those filters are no longer as protective and 
our lives are going to be less predictably intertwined.

When we are financially and socially interdependent being deadlocked on a 
crucial decision can have serious consequences. Consenting to alternate 
decision-making methods just in case ensures that we are not placing each other 
in dangerous situations that lead to destructive behavior. (That condo did fall 
down in Florida even with many warnings because no one was empowered to take 

Takoma Village has had a majority vote process in the Bylaws for 21 years. It 
has never been used or even proposed for any decision. We are now working on 
Bylaws revisions and most of us recognize that preserving a way out may be 
necessary and there are better methods than majority vote to determine the best 
solution for the community. 

Preference voting or ranking is now even recognized by the Robert’s Rules of 
Order people as a more representative way of indicating an individual's 
thinking on an issue. It produces more meaningful information.

What the small bylaws group will be proposing is that we replace majority 
voting with ranked choice voting, and ensure that there are always at least 3 
options by including "none of the above" or some similar option. We’ve used 
ranked choice in decisions and it worked well but some people objected to being 
forced to rank all the options—this can invalidate their ballot.

For me it was a great relief to come to that solution—we always have three 
options. I have graphic examples of scenarios when consensus was not possible 
so we never made the decision, and others for which it worked only because of 
an unpredictable event. I can see the possibility that at some point push will 
come to shove and we need to be prepared to stand up to it.

If the community adopts the proposal, the preference ranking the method we 
suggest is "ranked choice voting”, that there are more than 2 options. This 
isn’t an artificial requirement — when you think about it, it makes any 
decision much more meaningful. It allows you to know whether 20 people wanted 
the red fence and 5 wanted the blue fence or no fence. Or whether 5 people 
wanted the red fence and 20 would prefer no fence to either red or blue. And 
that can be clear in one instant when a discussion might not be so clear.

We are also proposing that we designate an authority for ranked choice voting, 
and fortunately, since there are many forms of preference voting, fortunately 
is one.

Sharon Villines, Editor & Publisher
Affordable Housing means 30% of household income
Cohousing means self-developed, self-governed, self-managed

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