Re: Consensus decision making
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Mon, 11 Aug 2008 07:05:53 -0700 (PDT)
The definition of what is "valid" in "blocking" seems antithetical to the basis for using consensus as a decision-making process. How you get back on track once you begin (1) considering an objection a "block" and (2) ignoring it. How can you say you have consensus once you decide to ignore a member of the community and then justify doing so?

The purpose of consensus decision-making is to ensure continued commitment to a community. If a group decides that only these objections or those objections have to be resolved, isn't it limiting that commitment? Isn't it, in effect, using majority rule decision- making?

In sociocratic consensus the people who have raised the objections determine when those objections have been resolved -- not the rest of the group.

Once an objection is raised it is the obligation of the objectors and the rest of the group to engage in a process of resolving those objections. The objections belong to the group, and the objectors are included in that group.

Consensus decision-making is only expected to work if:

(1) the group has a shared aim/goal,
(2) the group can and will deliberate together, and
(3) the group consents to its members, those with whom they will make decisions.

The last criterion is usually the one that causes the most trouble in cohousing. In the beginning, there is great optimism and commitment to embracing on an equal basis everyone's feelings/beliefs/desires. Then it emerges that not even the initial members of cohousing groups share the same goals.

Somewhere along the way the group either limits consensus decision- making to certain decisions or begins changing the definition of consensus. Most often this happens not by deliberate decision but by entropy. Community members withdraw their energy and governance no longer involves the full group. The community becomes more superficial and less encompassing. Not necessarily a bad thing, but is consensus decision-making still appropriate, even as an ideal?

In sociocratic organizations, the group uses consensus to decide which decision-making method will be used for each type of decision, that some decisions will be made autocratically by a leader and others will be delegated to a smaller group or an expert. All decisions are reviewed on a clearly determined regular basis. Consensus itself is thus reexamined in relation to its appropriate use.

Consensus is still consensus, however, not 99%. And all issues may be brought into a meeting for consensus when prior decisions are not working for a member of the group.

As cohousing communities grow in size, I'm not sure when consensus decision-making is either appropriate or productive. Cohousing groups do not choose their members. After a few years, are groups still willing to deliberate until all objections are resolved? Do they share a common goals beyond those that all residential communities share?

Because of the architectural design and the presence of the commonhouse, members have more interaction and thus may form closer relationships. Are these individual relationships like those in small condos everywhere, or group relationships?

Can the requirement of consensus actually be divisive and in the end create entropy? I think this is important to discuss. And to discuss alternatives. Delegation is not a panacea for this because to whom do you delegate? Do you have consensus on this? Are teams chosen or self- chosen? When decisions are delegated to experts, are they chosen by consent?

How does a governance system steer and correct itself when it is based on self-selection by its individual members?

Sharon Villines
Coauthor with John Buck of We the People
Consenting to a Deeper Democracy
A Guide to Sociocratic Principles and Methods
ISBN: 9780979282706

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