Re: Concerning Consensus and established CoHo communities
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Fri, 11 Mar 2005 09:57:48 -0800 (PST)

On Mar 10, 2005, at 3:08 PM, Saille Warner Norton wrote:

1.      Are there any established communities who do NOT use consensus?

A new process in use at Loudoun County EcoVillage and the forming groups in Champlain Valley (VT) and Ulster County (NY) is "consent". Consent decision-making differs from consensus in that requires certain conditions for withholding consent and is used in the context of a governance system called sociocracy.

One of the problems with consensus is that it is only useful in a group that has a strong commitment to a clearly defined and understood common aim. Everyone in the group needs to be going in the same direction.

There also needs to be a clear structure in which the group attempts to reach consensus. People have to be committed to spending the time listening to other people's concerns in order to understand them and reach a solution that fulfills the needs of everyone in the group. This process usually must allow people to talk and share in a variety of circumstances, depending on the needs of individual communication styles. Full group meetings, study groups, small groups, email, one on one, etc.

"Consensus" is also usually defined as "agreement". You are looking for agreement amongst all members of the group -- not just a grudging "I'll go along" but supportive agreement. Even if it is not your personal first choice, you agree that this is the best solution given the circumstances.

"Consent" does not look for agreement; it looks for objections. Objections must be based on an inability to move forward if the proposal is enacted. For example, I object to the proposal to allow horses on the farm because I joined the group in order to have horses on the farm." Or "I object to the proposal to reduce the budget for cleaning supplies because it will make it too hard to keep the commonhouse clean and I'm responsible for that job."

Objections must be clearly stated and based on the ability to function within the group. But objections are actively sought because the goal of sociocracy is to build powerful groups that work well together without friction. And to make the best possible decision for the group. When no one can think of an objection, then all problems (should) have been resolved.

Consent decisions in sociocracy are only required for policy decisions, not day-to-day operational decisions. Everyone participates in setting policy and in deciding how day-to-day operational decisions will be made -- by consent, majority vote, autocratic (the task manager decides), iChing, Tarot Cards, etc. Even Astrology as long as everyone consents.

People do not have to attend meetings but absence is consent. Silence is consent.

Now sometimes these feels like a very low threshold for decisionmaking -- no one had an objection -- but sociocracy also has a very active program of aim setting and evaluation of results. Anytime new information is available or a policy decision results in inefficient or unworkable results, a new decision can be made.

One of the questions here is often how many times do we have to make a consensus decision. People want to make rules that require any decision to stand for 2 years or 6 months or whatever.

Sociocracy finds this question absurd. Decisions are supposed to be made in the context of achieving a goal, an aim. If you find that a decision is not moving a group toward a goal, a new decision should be made. New information may require a new decision at any time.

Great focus is on the aim. This lifts the discussion above the fray but also recognizes that group members have to be able to live with policy decisions.

In sociocracy the group also decides by consent who will do tasks, make day-to-day operations, represent groups on the board, etc. People are selected for tasks by the group, by consent, in open discussion. People may self-nominate, but there must be no objections to the person doing the job they volunteer to do.

This means that trust levels are very high for those in leadership positions. Daily work is thus much more efficient.

(There will be more about this in the next issue of the newsletter. Sociocracy is one of our subthemes.)

Sharon Villines
Building Community: A Newsletter on Coops, Condos, Cohousing, and Other New Neighborhoods

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