We make important, long term decisions (capital improvements, new members, changes to existing agreements, adding more children, keeping pets) by consensus of community members. We delegate more detail oriented decisions to individuals or small committees. We value personal empowerment, trust, and accountability in our decision making process. A key concept of consensus is that members know and communicate their individual truth and desires, while holding the well being of the community above their personal preferences.
Consensus Decision Making Process
For La’akea Intentional Community -revised 4/22/08
1. Defining Consensus Process:
By “consensus”, the La’akea Community means that agreements are reached through a process of gathering information and viewpoints, discussing such, and creating proposals/decisions that all can agree to, or at least agree to live with. Ideally, consensus synthesizes the ideas of every member of La’akea into one decision. Consensus does not necessarily mean total agreement. Rather, it means that a proposal has gone through a process in which everyone has had a chance to express feelings and concerns and in which no decision is finalized until everyone in the group feels comfortable with the decision and is able to implement it without resentment.
2. Requirements of La’akea members:
- Mutual respect.
- Time, patience, and commitment to reach mutually agreeable outcomes.
- Hold the assumption that each member has ideas to offer and that the sum of the parts are greater than the whole.
- Listen with respect, and trust.
- Be sensitive and open to new and different ideas.
- Make an honest effort to accommodate the feelings and ideas of others with one’s own.
- Be dedicated to pursuing a mutually agreeable outcome.
- Be willing to “stand aside” in decisions with which one may not totally agree, but with which one can live with.
- Exercise power to “block” responsibly, i.e., only in cases of profound disagreement with the rest of the group. If one does feel that strongly, it is vital for the good of the individual and the community as a whole to block consensus without feeling guilty, and for the group to respond to this without resentment or anger.
- Understand that not everyone will have an “equal voice” under consensus. Individuals who have greater involvement in the matter under discussion will have more developed viewpoints and will usually have stronger concerns. At the same time, there must be a strong commitment to avoid patterns of domination and passivity.
3. Guidelines for Consensus Process:
A. An issue is raised: This may be in the form of a concrete proposal, or as a general discussion. In the latter case, a go-around or brainstorm can be used for everyone to express their point of view, and these ideas can then be synthesized into a proposal. The working proposal should be clearly stated in simple, non-biased language by the facilitator.
B. Clarifying Questions and Amendments: The facilitator asks for clarifying questions, modifications or friendly amendments. Modifications acceptable to the originator of the proposal are considered, or a counter proposal is offered. The proposal(s) is then restated and clarifying questions are asked.
C. Further facilitated discussion and debate: At any point in the discussion process, suggestions may be offered on how to proceed. Process suggestions are given precedence. Dividing the proposal into several parts, breaking into smaller groups, calling for a break when discussions become long, forming a committee to rework a particularly difficult proposal outside of the meeting, or pointing out a mistake in procedure are all examples of process suggestions that can be helpful in overcoming difficulties.
D. Testing for Consensus: As general agreement emerges, the facilitator restates the original or evolved/amended proposal and tests for consensus. This is done first by asking for reservations and concerns to the proposal as stated. Even though a proposal may be acceptable to a member, it is important nonetheless for reservations and concerns to be voiced. If the reservation or concern rises to the level of objection (meaning that a member can’t tolerate the proposal as is), the proposal needs more facilitated discussion and debate.
E. Resolving Reservations and Concerns – Amendments: If reservations or concerns are expressed, (ie: a person concerned about proposal, thinks it may not be the best choice and wants small changes), the facilitator asks for amendments (small changes or rewording to meet reservations).
F. Testing Again for Consensus: Facilitator calls again for consensus (ask for objections or concerns to the new, evolved proposal). If all agree, consensus is achieved. If one or two members are not in agreement, there are three options:
- Individual(s) Can “Stand Aside”: If no successful accommodation is made to a member’s objections after a reasonable group effort, it is the individual’s obligation to examine whether (s)he feels strongly enough to maintain the objection. If not, (s)he consents to “stand aside”. If the individual(s) is/are willing to stand aside, it means they do not agree with the decision but do not feel strongly enough to “block”. They are willing to have the decision go forward.
- The Group Can Set the Proposal Aside: If more than two or three members start to stand aside, then the facilitator should question whether the best decision has been reached. The proposed decision may be set aside for another time or considered in a different light.
-Individual(s) Can “Block” the Decision: The majority should consider whether they truly understand the reasons and feelings of those dissenting and have exhausted all reasonable compromise. Individuals who are holding the group from making a decision should also examine themselves closely to assure that they are not withholding consensus out of self-interest, bias, stubbornness, vengeance, etc. That said, a member does have the option of “blocking” the decision. A block should be used cautiously and in a principled way, reflecting deeply felt convictions about the issue in question. A block is not just a “no” vote, or an expression of disfavor. A block says, “I believe what the group wants to do is wrong. I cannot allow the group to do it and I am willing to impose this view on other group members because I feel so deeply.”
No Decision is a Decision: A member blocking a decision forces a decision on the group. To not be able to make a decision is a decision. At this point, it is almost always best to table the item in question and to return to it another day, after those involved can reflect, and possibly talk about it outside the meeting.
Consensus Achieved: If the proposal has been fully discussed and no one blocks it, it can be consensed on. When consensus is reached, it is determined how the decision will be implemented.
4. Roles and Responsibilities at Consensus Based Meetings:
- Helps move the meeting along.
- Takes suggestions for the agenda and arranges them in order of priority.
- Makes sure all other meeting roles are filled.
- Calls on people to speak in turn – keeps a written list if many are in line to speak.
- Helps insure that everyone has a chance to speak, and that no one dominates the discussion.
- Helps group resolve conflict and make decisions by summarizing, repeating, or re-phrasing proposals as necessary.
- Remains neutral on topics being discussed. If an issue arises about which the facilitator feels strongly, and s/he wants to actively participate, the facilitator should ask someone else to take over their role.
Timekeeper: may be filled by the facilitator
- Warns the group near the end of the time period allotted for an agenda item.
- records minutes, especially all proposals, amendments and decisions the group makes. It is especially important that decisions and implementation plans including who is responsible for what is noted.
5. Who La’akea Consensus Decision-Making Process Includes:
-Members present at the meeting are the decision- making body. We recognize in our consensus decision process an inherent need to be in the presence of each other to fully participate.
-We realize members will be gone for periods of time. To assure absent members the opportunity to participate in important decisions the following procedures will be used:
- The community will notify absent members when new people are accepted as trial members and their “window of time” to apply for membership.
- To block a ‘trial to new member’ proposal, the blocking member must have been present for at least 3 weeks of the trial membership.
- The community at La’akea will do everything within reason to inform absent members one month in advance of any proposal being considered to:
-Accept a new member
-Sell the land.
-Change our consensus decision-making process.
-Change our mission statement.
-Issuance of debt or capital improvement expenditures over $5,000 in a one month period
-Terminate a member.
-Any decision significantly changing the amount, or timing of returning equity to a departing member.
Members forfeit their right to participate in decisions if they have been notified via e-mail, of the date and time of the meeting at which the above mentioned actions will be considered and they are not present.
6. When asking a member to leave the community, the consensus process will not be used. A 75% majority vote is necessary.