Re: Consensus decision making
From: Racheli Gai (
Date: Wed, 6 Aug 2008 10:15:27 -0700 (PDT)
My impression is that at least some of this discussion is based on what I perceive as
misunderstanding of what "consensus" means.

To use Craig's cereal example below: For a person to say that they'll block the buying of community cereal because they don't personally eat cereal is an abuse of the consensus process. Blocking can't be simply a matter of one's personal preference. If the kind of "consensus" practiced by groups is of the kind which allows blocking
based on personal preference, then no wonder it doesn't work!

At Sonora Cohousing, Tucson, we used to have people block based
on personal preferences. After a workshop with CT Butler we worked on seriously tightening what we consider valid requirements for blocking. We also defined more closely our process of working on issues. It has not solved all of our problems, but it certainly


On Aug 5, 2008, at 10:16 AM, Craig Ragland wrote:

My opinions - not "official Coho/US doctrine" - not much of which actually

Groups that do decide to delegate will learn what effective means to them -
probably through trial-and-error as they live with delegation across
(hopefully) a great many years. I suspect it is mostly about whether the small group decisions work for most of the people most of the time - and not speed of decisions, although speed is sometimes highly valued too. Working for most of the people most of the time is, I think, a "lower" standard than expecting each decision to be embraced by the whole community. Communities can decide to empower sub-groups and not require overall group consensus on some/all of the smaller group's decisions. The whole community can choose to
embrace that smaller groups do make lots of decisions - serving the
community as best they can.

A great many decisions are made at Songaia without attempts to reach overall consensus of the community - and sometimes these smaller group decisions are questioned by others, and then require more work prior to implementation. For example, a small group, the Fabulous Food Folks decides on waht specific food items are in our common pantry... and lots of people living here simply
don't like (or want) some of our food items for their personal use.

I do not currently eat cereals or granola. If I was asked to agree to buy each type of cereal - and decided to put my personal needs/wants about "my food" above the community - I'd simply say "No." If everybody did that, our food pantry would be much smaller, some type of lowest common denominator - and our overall program would be impoverished rather than abundant. To seek consensus on each individual food item we stock would just be silly. As a
result, we usually empower the Fabulous Food Folk to do their best to
balance our various individual preferences, needs, and values... so we do
buy four cereal foods.

I'd urge folks to question the sacred cow of:

"consensus all the time = good"

When the cow doesn't respond with a "moo," you might focus more on what
works and what feels good for most of the people most of the time.

In community, Craig

On Tue, Aug 5, 2008 at 7:29 AM, Racheli Gai <racheli [at]>wrote:

It seems to me to be important to define what is meant by the term
Is an effective community one which makes decision fast? Is it one where
decisions, once reached, are embraced by the whole community and
are carried out effectively, or? ...

I think that a high level of trust is a precondition for high level of
(so that decision are seen as supporting the whole community, not this
or that
faction).  If this is missing, delegating becomes very problematic.

Racheli (Sonora Cohousing, Tucson).

On Aug 4, 2008, at 7:18 PM, Craig Ragland wrote:

Here Here Joani!

My opinion is that more effective cohousing groups using consensus do
delegate LOTS of decision-making - especially ones requiring detailed
and understanding. I believe a common misunderstanding about consensus
that ALL decisions MUST involve EVERYBODY in decision-making process.

When individuals and sub-groups are appropriately empowered, they
their effectiveness as they create plans that are both (1) consistent
their mandate and (2) that truly serve the broader group - including
with minority views.


On Mon, Aug 4, 2008 at 6:49 PM, Joani Blank <joani [at]> wrote:


Here's part of an email exchange I had with Tim Mensch about his
recent post on this subject:

A good agenda or steering committee will only put on the table/agenda
for general community meetings, items of some significance that
really need community buy-in to be effective.  In the example you
gave (leaky roof damaging some of the common property), a committee
(Maintenance, perhaps) can have blanket authorization in advance to
arrange a repair in such an emergency.

Here at Swan's Market Cohousing (Oakland, CA), individuals and
committees are authorized (by consensus) to make decisions about all
manner of things after there has been an opportunity in the general
community meeting for a variety of views on the proposal to be
presented, and sometimes a straw vote to get the "sense of the
meeting."  This seems to work fine, giving everyone who has an
opinion, a chance to have their say on the matter (and to be
respectfully heard), and not tying the whole community up on matters
where it really doesn't matter if one or two people object, even
strongly object, to what will probably be the decision made by the
individual or committee that's been authorized to make that decision.


Joani Blank
land line : 510-834-7399 (preferred)
cell: 510-387-1315
Swan's Market Cohousing.

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Craig Ragland

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craig [at]

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Craig Ragland

Coho/US executive director
craig [at]

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a call: 425-487-3550 (Pacific)... communicate!
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