A qualm about consensus

How Mandorla Cohousing will look when it is built in 2016

How Mandorla Cohousing will look when it is built in 2016

In my last blog, I spelled out some of the plusses and minuses of consensus, as I see them. I ended by saying that none of the minuses that I have come across in my reading quite hit the mark, in relation to my experience with Mandorla Cohousing. In this blog, I’d like to explain the main difficulty that I have come across.

That difficulty has to do with the nature of consent. In a formal consensus procedure, as I understand it, the consent of everyone involved is sought, whether given actively, or by standing aside. Now, that seems to me unnecessary. I trust my fellow members. We give issues that matter space on the agenda of our monthly meetings for several meetings before trying to decide. We have opportunities to challenge and change decisions in subsequent meetings.

The result is that I would have been quite content had I not been present, whenever the cohousing group taken a decision. As it happens, I think I’ve been fine with pretty much every decision, but I would make the same point even if I had not.

Consent, I have concluded, is important, but it does not need to be given afresh for every decision. I gave my consent when I became a full member of the group, and my experience over the last three years has reinforced that feeling.

I’m not saying that my presence was useless. The food is always excellent, and I may have contributed to the discussion, or helped it along if I was the chair, and I did my job well. But I am saying that if we had not adopted a consensus model, we might have felt more able to delegate more tasks to small working groups, and then to trust them to decide and act.

I’ve been thinking a lot about decision-making recently. There are a couple of aspects that I think are vital: building common ground between people; and looking for creative solutions that give all parties as much as possible of what they want. I don’t think consensus procedures are explicit about how to do this. I’ll make some suggestions on how I go about both aspects next time.

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One thought on “A qualm about consensus

  1. “Consent, I have concluded, is important, but it does not need to be given afresh for every decision. I gave my consent when I became a full member of the group”

    Perry’s articulating a really important point here, and describing a common frustration with the consensus decision-making process as it’s widely used. So many groups attempting to use consensus assume they must all consent to each and every decision, and that that consent requires them all to be in the same room at the same time. Impractical and not how consensus decision-making was designed to be used.

    When we set up working groups, for example, we mandate them to undertake a piece of work. Implicitly (though explicitly is preferable) we consent to them undertaking that work, which might include making decisions. If we’re working well together enough trust exists for individuals to be reassured that the working group will have sensible discussion that take into account the diverse opinions of the group. We may not agree with the outcome, but we can be happy it was the result of good decision-making process and offer our consent.

    With trust and good communication, consensus decision-making does not have to be a full group process.

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