This section is about our first core principle: how our community operates, how we organise ourselves and what we do to foster our community and relationships.
We do our decision making by consensus. This turns out to be much more than just a way of agreeing on things. To operate consensus, we need to be all on the same page – not necessarily agreeing about the details, but working from the same sort of vision and assumptions. We need to value our relationships, and develop good communication to maintain them.
We’ve developed a range of workshops and activities for this.
The more we understand how to do consensus at more than just a superficial level, the better it is for our relationships in meetings and in general.
Consensus doesn’t mean everyone has to agree on a topic. That isn’t realistic or even desirable, even if we are on the same page. We’re not clones. There’s a process of working out what people’s views are: what each individual would like to see happen is often very different. Consensus is coming to a workable agreement, which encompasses everybody’s points of view. We don’t have to all line up and agree about everything.
Our group process aims to foster everyone’s individuality, while at the same time cooperating as a group. This requires some skill.
Our Consensus Model
We operate by Formal Consensus, a well-established and defined model of decision-making. It requires a commitment to active cooperation, disciplined speaking and listening, and respect for the contributions of every member. Likewise, every person has the responsibility to actively participate as a creative individual within the structure.
Skilled use of Consensus can be more efficient than majority rule or top-down approaches. Any decision has universal assent, so there is no difficulty in getting people to implement it. Because all stake-holders help shape the final decision, there is more opportunity for working out any problems in advance and finding creative solutions. And because no-one gets disenfranchised it very powerfully supports community solidarity.
Avoidance of conflict and denial of feelings is a common trap in traditional meetings. In Formal Consensus, however, differences of opinion and honest expressions of feeling are seen as being vital to good decision-making, as long as they are approached in a non-adversarial manner. This may feel a bit confronting at first for some people, but it is a key part of the openness and honesty we are trying to foster.
Our rules do allow one exception to Formal Consensus: in urgent situations there is the option to resort to a vote, with a 75% supermajority required to adopt a proposal. We have never yet used this rule.
Consensus in practice
At each community meeting we discuss proposals from the running agenda. Each proposal will be adopted unless the group decides it would not further the community’s common goals, and may be modified in the process to make it the best decision for the community. Usually, everyone at the meeting participates, whether they are members or not, though only Full Members can block.
- The proposal is presented and any questions to clarify the meaning of the proposal (rather than its implications) are answered.
- There is initial discussion of broad-level pros and cons, avoiding getting into detail or conversation sticking on any one point. If there’s widespread support, there may be a call for a decision at this stage.
- People raise any concerns about the proposal, even vague ones. There should be no attempt to respond to or address any concern at this stage, though factual clarifications are allowed.
- The concerns are organised into thematic groups and prioritised. Often, this may be as far as we get in the first meeting.
- Each concern or group of related concerns is discussed in turn, to seek a resolution.
- When no more concerns remain the proposal is adopted.
Sometimes unanimity is not easily reached. A member with strong reservations may stand aside, recognising that it is in the group’s best interests to reach a decision. In this case, their concern will be recorded as part of the decision, and this concern may be re-raised for discussion at a future date if they wish. Blocking a proposal is an extreme measure, only to be taken if you truly believe the proposal would undermine the Core Principles or a prior decision of the Society, or endanger the community. If no other member believes this is the true motive of your block, then it will be declared invalid and overruled.