Consensus Decision Making Webinar Notes

David Oesper

On July 28, Yana Ludwig offered an FIC-sponsored webinar on Consensus Decision Making. As usual for anything that Yana presents, it was excellent. Here are some notes and highlights.

Sociocracy is a high-structure form of consensus decision-making. [I later attended a Sociocracy webinar and will post notes from that session when I get a chance.]

If you get the culture of your community right first, then the decision-making structure you choose is not as important. The converse is not true. In other words, even with a well-thought-out decision-making structure, if you have an incompatible group of community founders that don’t work well together, no decision-making structure is going to work for your group.

You want to develop a Sustainable Cooperative Culture, somewhere between an Extreme Competitive Culture and an Extreme Cooperative Culture.

What is consensus?

  • A decision-making system AND a culture change tool
  • Everyone’s input is taken into account & we do what’s best for the group
  • “Everyone has a piece of the truth”
  • Always references the mission of the organization
  • We are obligated to work to understand each other, to find the best solution for the group and project as a whole
  • Working together to make decisions while tending relationships

And what consensus isn’t…

  • NOT: everyone gets their way or is happy about every decision. This is a long-term relationship; expect times of unhappiness
  • NOT: we agree 100%; in fact, if done well, you will be more aware of genuine differences
  • NOT: a fix for negative power dynamics (by itself)
  • NOT: everyone is involved with every decision directly; however, how decisions are being made & by whom is consensual

In consensus decision-making, we are obligated to work to understand each other, not necessarily to agree with each other.

Not everyone is involved with every decision directly. You can consent to vote, and consent to delegate.

In consensus decision-making, you as an individual within the group have three choices: Approve, Stand Aside, Block.

Options for individual responses in consensus

Approve (or Agree to Consent): MOST responses will be this

Stand Aside: disagree for personal reasons or haven’t been present enough

Block: disagree for reasons tied to group purpose, group-held values, or group survival

When you block, the group can’t go forward. All it takes is one block, and it's back to the drawing board.

Logistics vary. Do what works for you.

About Blocks

Blocking MUST be a real option...or it’s not consensus.

Criteria and Process for Legitimate Blocks:

  • Participation
  • Good Faith Effort to Hear Others
  • Alignment with Group-Held Values and Mission

A block must always be about the group’s purpose, not your personal preferences.

Test: Can at least X# of folks see how you got there?

Repair: All blocks are painful but are absolutely needed. Tend to relationships.

Bubbles Before Boxes

Bubbles: Gather input - make sure everyone is heard

Boxes: Present proposal

Recommended Bubbles and Boxes Sequence

  • Present & clarify issue or area of work a proposal will address
  • Round 1 of bubbles (what would a good proposal need to take into account?)
  • Round 2 of bubbles by different means, OK to participate again
  • Last call and closing bubbles phase; figure out who will do proposal creation
  • Proposal creation, taking into account bubbles
  • Presentation of the proposal back to community, check against bubbles, problem solve any left out bubbles / talk about why they can’t be accommodated
  • Pass the proposal, with or without modifications

Some things to keep in mind…

Not everyone is verbal.

Not everyone thinks fast on their feet.

NO “bubble popping” in the bubbles phase!

Having power without being a part of the process is not good.

Good consensus topics (“plenary worthy”)

  • Your community’s Vision
  • Direction of your organization
  • Annual Budget & Planning / Big $$ items
  • Strategic planning
  • Land purchase & selling
  • Purpose
  • Defining membership; approving new members
  • Items that have a major impact on how we are living
  • Business plan factors
  • Land use planning, yearly planning

Plan your meeting agenda carefully. Consensus needs time--don’t put too much in the meeting.

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