My name is Diana Leafe Christian. I'm an ecovillage researcher (informal and anecdotal, not academic) and advocate of various aspects of ecovillages and intentional communities. Permies.com asked me to come in this coming week for some posts. Thank you! I'll start off by describing why my own ecovillage, Earthaven in North Carolina, recently changed its decision-making method.
Increasing numbers of Earthaven members over the last several years (including me) have been dissatisfied with our consensus decision-making method. So in October, 2012 we agreed to modify our consensus process. For 18 years we used consensus-with-unanimity, which requires 100 percent agreement (not counting stand-asides) to pass a proposal. We also had no recourse if someone blocked — no criteria for what constituted a valid block against which blocks could be tested, nor a requirement that blockers meet with proposal advocates to draft a new proposal to replace the blocked one.
The power of individual Earthaven members to block with no recourse — meaning anyone could block anytime for any reason, and thus effectively destroy ideas or projects that most other members wanted — was the primary source of concern for many of us. So some began to find out what experienced community-based consensus trainers are currently advocating, and learn about innovative decision-making methods in other communities. I wrote a series of articles about the topic in Communitiesmagazine in 2012, and several community-based consensus trainers wrote articles too.
“Blocking potentially gives tremendous power to one or a few individuals, and the only way for that to function successfully is with a check and balance,” advises community-based consensus trainer Tree Bressen (Communities, Summer, 2012). “ . . . in order for consensus to function well there must be a robust response to bad blocks.”
She and other community-based consensus trainers advocate a limited number of blocks in one’s lifetime.
Community-based cnsensus trainer Caroline Estes (Alpha Farm in Oregon) recommends only three to four blocks in a lifetime. She says that in her 50+ years of facilitating she has seen legitimate blocks less than a dozen times.
Community-based consensus trainer Bea Briggs, author of Introduction to Consensus (Huehuecoyotl Ecovillage in Mexico), recommends only three to six blocks in a lifetime. She says that her 20+ years of facilitating she has seen only one legitimate block. “I understand your concerns about consensus and appreciate the on-going discussion,” she recently emailed. “I also no longer am a ‘consensus evangelist,’ for many of the reasons you mention in your articles.”
Tree Bressen suggests community members remind each other, “If you’ve blocked consensus half a dozen times for all the groups you’ve been a member of, you’ve used up your lifetime quota,” (Communities, Fall, 2012 issue). “In my experience,” she adds, “every successful consensus system . . . restricts blocking power in order to guard against tyranny of the minority.”
“Our meetings are a dysfunctional nightmare,” wrote Cecil, a member of another North Carolina community in a Letter to the Editor (Communities, Fall 2012). “Founded in love, trust, and generosity . . . we now have paranoia, suspicion, and fear, thanks to what I had also begun calling ‘dictatorship of the minority’.”
“Two problems became visible during our 25 years of using consensus,” the members of Kommune Niederkaufungen in Germany state in their article about their new decision-making process. “When no consensus could be reached . . . one person, through the veto, was given power over the whole group. . . . (Therefore) some individuals withdrew from the decision-making process.”
These concerns resonated with many Earthaven members too.
I'll write more about this in the next post, “How Some Other Ecovillages Changed to ‘Check and Balance’ Decision-Making Methods”
Diana Leafe Christian wrote:Hello,
(Therefore) some individuals withdrew from the decision-making process.
From your experience, how does that usually happen? Do people just stop participating or do they mostly just cave in to whatever the "loud" minority advocates for?
I remember that in podcast 037, Paul talks about an issue he saw in a community where some people would always get there way by being hysterical. My understanding is that this attitude from the other members is a sort of withdrawal. Is that one of the most common withdrawal type you have seen?
Hello, Here's an even better link to the first article in my article series, "Busting the Myth that Consensus-with-Unanimity is Good for Communities."
http://www.ecovillagenewsletter.org/wiki/index.php/Busting_the_Myth_that_Consensus-with-Unanimity_is_Good_for_Communities,_Part_I It has photos and is easier to read -- it's on my free newsletter Ecovillages.
Yes, Adrien; that's it. Over and over I see, in ecovillages and cohousing communities and other kinds of communities too, that when threateing to block, "premature proposal death," or too-frequent or personal or frivolous blocking occurs, people withdraw. First they withdraw emotionally. If it continues they often withdraw physically too, and quit coming to meetings. And if it's too bad for too long a time, there's a very good chance they'll just pack their bags and leave. This takes longer when they have to sell their homesite or cohousing unit to an incoming member -- as compared to just up and leaving and not looking back. But it still happens when they have a big financial investment too.
Diana, given your critique of consensus decision making I wanted to know what your current opinion is regarding Sociocracy? Our emerging intentional community is right now exploring a model for decision making and in my opinion Sociocracy seems to be the best for larger (25+) groups. Thank you!
"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
amazed you made it this far. is so hard to bring people up to speed on research, even with instantaneous communication.
watching the Occupy folks try and hammer out consensus with hand signals is magical and painful to watch.
i quit going to town meetings over 10 years ago....
nice write up, and thanks for sharing.
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