Consensus & Best Decisions
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Wed, 5 Dec 2001 06:17:02 -0700 (MST)
> Every coho community of which I have reasonably good knowledge can tell at
> least a few stories of how bad decisions were made *because* *of* consensus.
> One example from River Rock was that there was an individual in the group
> early who thought that under-counter refrigerators were the greatest thing
> since sliced bread.  They *insisted* that such be included as options for
> all units.  The group gave in.  The architect designed them in as standard
> options.  That person later left.  No one who actually moved in selected
> that option.  The effort was completely wasted.

"Giving in" is not consensus. And this story about the development process
is a good one. Early in the process it is too easy to "give in" because you
want to keep people in the group so you can get built. The pressures here
make "consensus" a dubious proposition. There are many decisions about
construction that should be made by experts -- unusual appliances being one
of them.

> Consensus isn't about making the
> best decisions.  Consensus is much more about trying to show respect for
> every individual and to make everyone feel included; the commitment to
> consensus is a commitment to often make decisions which are less-than-optimal
> by other criteria in order to achieve those goals.

One has to define "best decisions". What are the objectives by which the
decision is to be measured? What is the scope of the decision?

In the refrigerator decision, a decision was made for "eternity" based on
one non-permanent member's ideas. By laying out a larger set of objectives,
this decision could have been avoided.

Sometimes people leave groups because they have been responsible for bad
decisions -- ones they don't even want to live with. Leaving is their way
out. Consensus can protect individuals against themselves also.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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