Responses to question about criteria for a principled block
From: Diana Leafe Christian (
Date: Sat, 26 Sep 2009 19:18:09 -0700 (PDT)
Recently I asked for examples of cohousing communities that use criteria for assessing whether a block to a proposal is a "principled block," also known as a "valid" block" or a "legitimate block." This means the community and/or the facilitator can test a block against the group's agreed-upon criteria, and if it doesn't meet that criteria, they declare the block invalid and the proposal passes.

I also asked several consensus trainers in the wider communities movement if they knew of any communities that did this.

I wanted to know because I hear about personal blocking in communities I work with as a consultant. My understanding is that consensus requires that people block only when the proposal violates the _group's_ shared, agreed-upon values, purpose, lifestyle, and/or behavioral norms, but not someone's _personal_ values, lifestyle, etc.

I've learned about people blocking a proposal for the following personal reasons: * Since I want my pets to have total freedom, I block our community's even _talking_ about creating a pet policy. * Since I don't like how a member of that committee treated me once, I block the proposal that the committee should continue to meet and do its business. * Since drawing water from a well is ecologically unsustainable and violates the Earth, I block our creating a water policy committee that would assess various kinds of water sources (springs, wells, ponds, etc.) that we might use here. (This block was declared invalid.) * Since insurance companies force you to bet against yourselves, I block our getting a liability insurance policy. (This block was also declared invalid.)

While several Coho-L responded with criteria that they as individuals use to assess a block, I only learned of two communities whose members have actually adopted criteria for this: Eastern Village Cohousing in Silver Spring, MD, and Eco-Reality Co-op, a forming ecovillage on Salt Spring Island, BC. Here are their criteria:

1. Item #11 on Eco-Reality Co-op's draft "Consensus Document" reads: "Consensus is blocked only upon someone making a principled objection, which means that: (1) the proposal is contrary to the community's vision, values, mission, or purpose, or (2) if the person blocking believes the proposal would result in a catastrophic outcome for the community through some way that is unanticipated in the organization's guidance documents."

2. The Governance Policy of Eastern Village notes that a member who:
* in good faith reasonably believes that a proposed action is not in the best interests of the community or its values, and who * is willing to work with proponents of the proposal to seek a better course of action, may legitimately block* the proposal — under the following two conditions:
* (The term Eastern Village uses for blocking is "intervening.")

(1) The blocking member(s) must explain or demonstrate to the other meeting participants that there is a reasonable basis for believing that the proposal would:

• Financially endanger the community, meaning the decision would likely commit the community to financial obligations beyond those which could be paid with the community's current revenue.

• Legally endanger the community, meaning that the decision would likely lead to a violation of the community's legal responsibilities.

• Physically endanger the community, meaning the decision would likely lead to a serious violation of building code.

• Endanger the security of the community, meaning a strong possibility that the decision will threaten personal safety.

• Be clearly contrary to a value expressed in the community's statement of values. (I believe Eastern Village means that one item constitutes criteria for a principled block; thus these items are meant to be "or," rather than "and.")

(2)  One or more members from each of at least three other households
must also block the proposal on grounds specified by the first blocking member.
         (Thank you, Jessie Handforth Kome)

I found these examples really interesting. Hope you do too.


Diana Leafe Christian

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