Re: Responses to question about criteria for a principled block
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Tue, 29 Sep 2009 15:20:36 -0700 (PDT)

On Sep 26, 2009, at 10:17 PM, Diana Leafe Christian wrote:

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.

Sociocratic/Dynamic Governance is used by the US Green Building Council, Center for Non-Violent Communication, Eco-Village of Loudoun County, Legacy Farm Cohousing, Champlain Valley, and others. I don't have the specific wording of their documents but the options are:

CONSENT. The basis for consent can range from love it to can live with it. "Can live with it," however, means that the person will actively support the decision. It isn't a passive acceptance because they can ignore it.

The low standard "can live with it" is balanced by the practice of measuring and evaluating the results of a decision in order to improve it. This practice makes it much easier to resolve objections.

OBJECT. An objection must be "paramount." This means a person can't live with the decision. They can't support it enthusiastically. They can't "do their work" as a member of the community.

Objections must also be "argued" or explained. An objection cannot be resolved if no one understands it and it is everyone's responsibility to resolve an objection. In a sense they have caused the objection by bringing forward a decision that a member of the group can't live with.

Only the person with the objection can decide that the objection as been resolved. This is necessary to maintain an optimally functioning group. If even one person is begruntled, the community won't be functioning optimally.

To resolve objections, the aims of the decision must be clear. What is our vision? What is our work? What's the role of each person in the group? What is this decision supposed to accomplish? Objections at the end of a process usually mean the work wasn't done upfront. As writers say, the problem in Chapter Nine is in Chapter Two.

Gerard Endenburg, who developed this method of governance based on the principles of cybernetics, says that a group must agree to its membership and the members must share a common aim in order to use consent as a decision-making method. Since cohousing can't always choose their members, they need to work harder on developing a common aim.

In cohousing we jump into a lot of things without ensuring that we have a common aim. That's why, I think, we come up with such complex systems and definitions and processes. All of them seem like ways to avoid the basic fact of having to work toward consensus on many levels, all the time, not just when a policy decision is needed. We spend a lot of time avoiding consensus by establishing reasons why we are justified in avoiding it.

Sociocratic governance is designed to ensure that common aims are developed and consent is used to make all policy decisions, and "policy" is broadly defined to include delegation of tasks; allocation of resources including people, money, furniture, etc; strategic planning, etc. Anything, really, that involves the functioning of the community.

I really did try to make this shorter. You should have seen the first draft.

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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