Saturday, May 4, 2013

Issues in Community: Decision Making

The Spring 2013 issue of Communities magazine has a very interesting article by Diana Leafe Christian entitled "Consensus and the Burden of Added Process: Are There Easier Ways to Make Decisions?"  This is part three in a series that she has been writing on the problems with consensus and alternatives to it.  What I find interesting about it is that with previous articles she focused on her issues with 'consensus-with-unanimity', here she seems to realize that it actually does work for some communities.

In this article, she seems to be saying what I've been thinking for a while.  For certain communities it seems to work (she suggests these are communities formed in the eighties or earlier, but Acorn is one of the communities I know where it seems to work and Acorn was founded in 1993--I also know several co-op households, founded in this millennium, where consensus seems to work as well), whereas for others ('founded after the 1980s' and she specifically cites cohousing and ecovillages) it often becomes a burden and can "lead to disharmony, distrust, lower morale, and dwindling meeting attendance".  The whole article is worth reading--even multiple times.  (In fact, the whole series, including various people's replies to the articles, can give you quite an education in the nuances of consensus and other forms of decision making.) Here I'm simply focusing on which communities consensus works for.

I think she's absolutely right on why this type of consensus doesn't work for most cohousing and many ecovillage-type communities.  A large, very diverse group will probably need something more structured and less open to what she (and others) refer to as 'tyranny of the minority'.  She points out that not everyone is willing to go through the intense processing that this type of consensus can require. On the other hand, it's been my experience that many smaller households and communities (regardless of when they were founded), especially if they share common core values, are willing to do the work of building closeness with each other by working through conflict.

I want to be clear--I don't think that one situation is superior to the other. Diana has a sidebar to this article listing the reasons that 'Cohousers and Ecovillagers Join Community', and I can really understand them. Many of them become impatient with endless processing, especially if building the closeness and trust that comes with this isn't one of their priorities.  I don't believe in 'one size fits all' when it comes to community. In one of the earliest posts on this blog (Looking for The Answer?, 6/28/08) I wrote that I didn't think there was any one solution to our problems.  Like anything else, consensus is just one of the tools in the decision-making toolbox.  It's quite useful, but I know that it won't work for all communities.  I'm glad that Diana has pushed us to look at this, and I'm glad she's realized that this can vary from community to community.  The moral here is that as you're building community, think about what kind of community you want, and then explore what decision-making tools can help build that.

Quote of the Day: "I agree that some people do join communities mostly to experience deeper relationships and are willing to put in the time required.  But I don't think most people join for this reason.  Most cohousers and ecovillagers that I know seem to have other reasons for living in community." - Diana Leafe Christian


vera said...

Well stated. And even those of us who do join a community in part for the deeper relationships do not want to sit in interminable meetings doing endless processing. To me, that's a relationship killer.

Deeper relationships get built as people work together on community projects, while also having good process that aids in getting things done, in solving conflicts, and in keeping the process humming (as opposed to bogged down).

MoonRaven said...

"Deeper relationships get built as people work together on community projects..." Absolutely--I like that a lot. And good process is also necessary--whether you're doing consensus, sociocracy, or whatever.

And, yes, endless processing can be a relationship killer. Thanks for this thoughtful comment.

Austan said...

When someone solves the problems in decision-making in a group, the world will be a better place. It's often good when it's done, but it's never easy getting there. Nice topic to tackle, Moony.

MoonRaven said...

Thank you--and you're quite right. It isn't easy getting there.

I'm tackling decision-making b/c you need to do it. If you don't, you set yourself up for bigger problems later.

Thanks again, I always appreciate your support.