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consensus and conflict resolution
11 years ago
| aspects of community
mel and i have talked on and off about having a reading club sort of thing. this thread can be for that purpose. if it's a book, whoever wants to participate can read a chapter a week and people can comment on it as we go along. if it's an article, we could just read the whole thing at once.

mel found the perfect book to start:  ON CONFLICT AND RESOLUTION. it's on ic,org and can be down loaded.
11 years ago

week of feb. 17=23  chapter 1 and comments
i love this part...
11 years ago
While decisionmaking is as much about conflict as it is about agreement, Formal Consensus works best in an atmosphere in which conflict is encouraged, supported, and resolved cooperatively with respect, nonviolence, and creativity. Conflict is desirable. It is not something to be avoided, dismissed, diminished, or denied.

conflict is encouraged, supported...sounds a bit crazy...but then the next part is what makes it work while we tend to avoid, dismiss, diminish, or deny...this method brings it all out in the open and recognizes it and works with it. i like that.
11 years ago
Nonviolence expects people to use their power to persuade without deception, coercion, or malice, using truth, creativity, logic, respect, and love.

so unlikeour politicians! so unlike theway things are decided in our world.
Nicely put!
11 years ago

I agree, PW.  I remember telling my ex-husband....many, many years ago when we were new together...that I wanted someone that I could argue with.  He didn't get it...thought that I was admitting to being "argumentative" and that I liked to fight.  What I was really trying to say was that I wanted to be in a relationship where I was loved and respected enough to be able to not feel afraid to express myself when I disagreed with something....where we could calmly and lovingly and respectfully discuss our differing viewpoints until a "consensus" was reached.  It would seem almost idealistic to live in that sort of a community where that sort of process is possible...but I guess I'm an idealistic sort of person. 

I'm looking forward to reading thru this and commenting more when I get my home computer working again.  I wish some of the others would jump in with some comments about it.

11 years ago
i've been posting on the host group and feedback and suggestions and have found that on strictly technical issues they are helpful, but on interpersonal issues they get into incredable picky arguments with each other that go on and on and the proverbial dog with a bone...this sort of thing shouldn't happen if consensus is used correctly. i was trying to figure it out last night...those groups are larger and seem to have some cliques and they seem to be generally a younger group than we are. i think we may have more of a community loyality and protectiveness toward each other at least for the most part and maybe being recognized as being right isn't quite as important when we're older....or maybe we're just too tired to argue! i think as i get older in some ways i've become more tolerant and forgiving, but at the same time i need more space and alone time. i think this is because i've experienced my own faults and short comings and have become more set in my ways.

i like this more gentle, thoughtful way of dealing with issues. no one is left out, overlooked...if done correctly. care would need to be taken to be sure everyone is being heard. i think maybe this book or something like it should be required reading for anyone joining littlewhite pines.
11 years ago

That's a good idea, Ro.

Anything I've ever seen or read about building community says that the members (or at least the core group) should have received some instruction in how to do consensus.  It's not as easy as it seems.  One thing that we have done (in my "spiritual community") that helps make sure everyone gets heard is to use a "talking circle".  That is, everyone sits in a circle.  We start by doing something ceremonially (like smudging everyone) that sort of "calls the meeting to order". Then something (a stick, a feather, etc) is passed around the circle.  Only the person holding the object has the right to speak.  No one can interrupt them or comment on what they say...and they can speak as long as they want/need.  When the object gets to you, you can comment on what people before you said and add your own piece.  Usually the item circles the room at least twice so that everyone has a chance to hear and comment on everyone else.  If there is a particular subject up for discussion, the facilitator might try to steer the topic back on course when it's his/her turn...cause you know we all wander.  It's also the facilitator's place to kind of sum up what everone has said and offer the choices for consideration. And it may take several meetings to get a consensus.  But the process itself brings people together.

reading on concensus Mel gave us a link to
11 years ago

I liked the reading and felt the concensus process outlined in the little book was good, and meant to be inclusive, though directed for the agenda items. It seemed to be more geared for businesses, many of which may have a sizeable number of people, which may explain the emphasis placed on time. That was the main shortcoming for me. I feel that an aspect of "free market" globalized culture is that things are reduced to fit some time scheme. It is also a major failing of academics. Studies fit into a semester, regardless to whether they really require years of work.

I really like the idea of Mel's spiritual circle where (like in the book) everyone is given their say, (but unlike in the book's recommendations) they are given all the time they need, which for people indoctinated by this day and ages time constraints may often seem like far too much time. The facilitator seems to be advised to be too slavish to time -- granted, having the option to table things for another meeting, but also too much discretion to steer by the clock.

In the book a given amount of time is only a means to an end, and too much time taken on an issue treated as if against the means. In other words, the process is like an end.

Things today (government, administration, institutions, and everything else -- keeping up the GDP -- the free market -- most corporations -- "consumers," rather than active citizens) are all part of the means. There is no ends any more like an IC. People like Jaques Ellul (in The Technological Society), even Mumford, and especially Langdon Winner have written about this failing.

One book, though I have not finished it, that my daughter Rebecca gave me by Langdon Winner, is The Whale and the Reactor.

For purposes of studying consensus, while not specifically for the broad area of IC's many of us are considering, that I recommend, is, The Company We Keep: Reinventing Small Business for People, Community, and Place . I have met Abrams a few times at the North East Sustainable Energy Conferences (NESEA.ORG). He is a green builder from Nantucket. He gave up ownership of business when he turned his baby into a worked owned coop, and in his book he dicusses many of the issues of consensus you may be interested in, that are very much a part of the community he is a part of on the island, and the IC/business he and his partners have created.

I was only up to page 58 when I had to lay his book aside temporarily, but the following quote relates to what I was saying earlier about letting the process (or means) take over.

"As business ecologist Paul Hawken once remarked, 'Do you want to be a mushroom or an oak tree? Spores beat out acorns every time in growth rates, but never in longevity or durability.'"

Perhaps the favorite thing for me said in the book is that they think of themselves as cathedral builders in the housing they build.

11 years ago
some montessori classrooms use thefeather for disputes in the classroom and we used an object that was pastaround ourcircle in a similar manner.
Glenn & Andrew
11 years ago

*greenstars* *cheerleader* *yay**greenstars* *cheerleader* *yay*   

*thanks* guys, for contributing such valuable resources.  There are quite a few of these I'd like to read. But this thread is supposed to be about "consensus & conflict resolution"...discussing the chapters I'm gonna resolve this "conflict" by moving your posts to the "reading material" thread.   is there a consensus on this?  *wink*

Moving the posts
11 years ago
I'm cool with having the posts moved.  My head is spinning with so many threads so I am putting stuff in the best known location.  Move at will, Mel.

Ps.  I have read the first chapter of the consensus book.  More to follow on that.  So many books, so little time.  Makes me wish I was Immortal. *sigh*

reaching concensus
11 years ago
Dear Mel, you have reached consensus. I feel like Andrews post was not as inappropriate here as mine here, because it was brief. I went into details about a number of books that were more about views on progress, and may not have been good even for another thread devoted to CC's, but only for a select type of CC's where people view progress, and the lack thereof in the same way. In short, I feel progress has been made on your thread. Also the book I mentioned on another thread, by John Abrams, "The Company Keep" is about a business model for a coop building business where consensus is used. I will review it in case a chapter would be worth considering in the future. Glenn
conflicts due to selective perception
11 years ago
Mel, I feel that you have displayed a perfect example of facilitating (hosting) that is described in the reading you posted and Rosemarie assigned, which I like. I only wish when I was in planning school they had actually taught some of us how to facilitate things like town meetings and workshops, rather than to just say those of us entering that field must do it -- but how effectively! - not at all if I were doing it. The last thing a facilitator should do is get on a hobby horse, and that is mainly what I do. In trying to reach concensus, however, like even on the subject of this thread, you have more to contend with than just a diversity of opinions, people's piccadillies, and getting off topic for concensus, but miscommunication and selective perceptions we all have. I am bringing this up to proudly point out how well you are a host when my last response was about being perfectly happy to have my post removed from here. I am also proud of myself, because as your reading pointed out, being a facilitator in reaching concensus can be tough. The person who remains silent is often not helping the process, but perhaps wants to be more easily liked, and certainly is not likely to be disliked by keeping his or her mouth shut, regardless to what they maybe should add. In my case here I selectively read what you posted, and responded to the removal of my prattle that was off the topic. I did not read further or understand you had merely moved what I posted to a better place, which is nice to know, but does not change my original reaction that your facilitation and hosting here was perfect! I was just responding to the immediate flow and got onto my hobby horse at a gallop, not stopping to think what I posted had nothing to do with reaching concensus, conflict resolution, or your specific reading -- I only knew the wind was in what's left of my hair. This brings up another consideration that is also addressed in the reading optionally assigned. Often the facilitator has to deal with (as does the whole group) with individuals who bring private personal things to the process that have nothing to do with the issue at hand. This could have been the case with me, when what I brought to the table had nothing to do with anything here -- that my best friend had in effect removed me. There are four broad ways someone could react to what happened to me in my personal life: a person will feel they should be removed from the face of the earth; (or in my case -- not that I should be but that I wanted to be); they will not budge and try to keep from being removed (perhaps being full of resentment or anger -- not me); or, they come to a more balanced place, perhaps coming to a greater understanding or at least having enough empathy regardless to whether they agree with the other's feelings or positions. In a microcosm, my reaction to having only realizing my post had been removed from this thread was in the fourth way, where in addition I agreed with your view. I bring this up in light of an important point I found to your reading Ro assigned. The facilitator must always deal with the issues and make sure the people involved realize they are not the Issues or possibly extraneous Conflicts they may actually be bringing to the process of reaching concensus. In this area you and Ro excel. By the way you facilitated this thread I knew immediately that what I had posted had nothing to do with it, and was happy to have it removed from here. Only later I realized you had only moved my post to another place. Also, I think it said in your reading that if a facilitator feels someone else may more easily talk to the individual gumming up the works who may be emotionally charged, that another person could be assigned to take them aside where calmer heads may prevail. I am excited about what else I may learn here about concensus, and what new readings may later be considered. Thanks for helping me in practice understand the reading. That is the best way I learn, and enjoy learning.
my post disappeared...
11 years ago

i posted earlier today about chapter 2 and i see it's not here...maybe i'll try tomorrow...this is getting very discouraging!

11 years ago

by the way, i changed the title of the thread...hope it didn'tconfuse anyone.

it's too bad thatthereare so feww people here...

we're on chapter 2 this week...i thinki forgottopost that, not that it matters.

the chart would be useful to put on a large poster to have at a consensus meeting especiallyfor people new to the process. perhaps elaborated on a little.

the facilitatorhasa hard job. should besomeone skilled at consensus...think diana suggested having someone from a nearby community. don't think facilitator can participate in discusson and decisions. think a lot will become clearer after reading coming chapters.

i need to print thi, so i can re-read and highlight.

This post was modified from its original form on 27 Feb, 15:17
discussion of chapter 2
11 years ago

february 24--march1   happy leap day!

we're on charter 3 now this week
11 years ago

if i forget to put the weeks chapter, it would just be the next one

march --8 chapter 3.

good chapter!
11 years ago

i'll have to read that over a few times at least!  the part about trust is one that is probable hard for us all. this is so contrary tohow we have in our society been taught to see things...our politicians  could certainly use training in this! i think this should  be required reading and an acceptance of it's principles would be a good criteria for acceptance of new members.

i remember mel saying that she had experienced the use of consensus inbusiness where it didn't work well...i wonder if theproblem was, that the ideas onwhichitis based my not have been fully understood.  i can see that it will take me  quite a while toassimilate these ideas even thoughi i find them very sensible and positive. i liked the idea of consensus before without really undersatanding how it, the more i read, the more i am convinced that this is the best way to deal with decisions.

hey, isanyone else reading these chapters?
11 years ago

it's an important topic as many communities operate on consensus and maybe more of them should. diana thinks it would be good to have new members take a training course before they are accepted. i think they would need to at least prove that they have a good understanding of the process.

I supose that it Could Be Useful info in other Situations than the Strict Cosensus System
11 years ago

However I Feel That Based on my Past Experiences Consensus as an overall Practice Bogs thing Down and prevents independant though and action. I preffer the 75% majority on major Issues and Representative democracy on Day to Day Leadership Roles.!

i say give ita fair chance
11 years ago

i'd be willing to bet...even though i'm not a gambling sort...that most instances where it has failed, people have not had proper training or experience with consensus...i know this was true with my one experience. it is so contrary to how we are used to operating or even thinking, that i believe it could require a lot of consentrated effort to understand and implement it properly. i t seems to me that the benefits would be well worth thateffort. it seems obvious to me that majoity vote is not a workable alternative and anything in between is a cop out.

the reading
11 years ago

Yes, PW, I have been reading the chapters, only I read them all at once in the first place, and then left a couple of long posts as to how I was experiencing conflict resolution with the site you and Mel are hosting. Basically I said there was no conflict for me, or for you, but that some people bring things to the table that are totally unrelated to the issues at hand. They may have a bunch of emotional baggage. So let's say someone like me who was a community member had that baggage, and refused to communicate constructively with the faciliator (or host in this case) someone else could be delegated to try to take this person aside and try to work things out.

i'm new to consensus
11 years ago

i have to take it one chapterat a time so that i can assimulate it...i think i will need to re read several times...i'm a slow learner and asi said before, it is so very different from mainstream thought. if well done, i feel that it could be a very possitive way of dealing with healthy one loses and in the end everyonewins.

i don't see taking someone aside as a consensus technique.

another wonderful chapter to read!
11 years ago

chapter 4  march 9--15  

i think i need to take a course in this!
11 years ago

so many important and sensitive roles! glenn, i guess you werereferringto the advocate who would take  a person who because of emotional involvement was unable to wellpresent his/her point of view aside so that the advocate could them clarify and present that point of view in a less emotionally charged i understand it, this would not be at all to change the point of view, but only tofacilitate the presentation. a very important distinction to make.
you also in one of your post referred to the time limitation. i think because it's a formal meeting there would need to be time allotments made, but these can be changed if the group by concensus wishes to change the schedule which was agreed upon at the begining of the meeting. so i would suppose that if something came up that need to be agreed upon then and there, a consensus of the group could decide to table less crusial matters and continue their meeting until the break of dawn if necessary...hopefully that would be a rare occurance! and the good will of the groupwould prevail.

i personally am convinved that this is a superior method of decision making, but not at all an easy one to learn and adapt to. it probably would need refresher classes to like cpr...i still don't think i can do that!

11 years ago

Hi PW, it seems you are assimulating it well. I am a slow reader, but sometimes I read through something so that for a few moments I have an idea about it, before I forget it. I agree that there needs to be time constraints with most things, and if agreed upon in concensus making they can work. But I also think things may be lost via so called efficiencies. When more routine matters are being considered then nothing important should be lost -- but now we have another issue for consensus, what is routine and what is not.

All I know is that when I studied regional planning we should have been given readings like the one you and Mel are considering, instead of assuming when we are given degrees we should know how to do it, which is not the case!

what makes this hard is that it's against what we're used to...
11 years ago

the whole idea that disaggreement is a good thing, but the idea is to not to fight to win, but to learn to understand other points of view and and be open to change so that everyone has a say and is satisfied with the will take longer intially, but the end result isn't a victory/loss situation...everyone should feel their opinions and ideas were taken into consideration for the end result...howwondrful is that!

There are 2 things...
11 years ago

...besides training in consensus and conflict resolution that Diana L.C. says are ESSENTIAL for making consensus work.  Those are 1) an equal voice among all those participating and 2) a shared purpose or vision.  It's impossible to get anything settled when the people aren't in agreement on what they are supposed to be accomplishing.  But even when there are very clear goals,  and while it may be easy for everyone to have an equal "say", it's not always so easy to make sure that everyone is listened to equally. In any group of people, there are bound to be cliques and politics and some who are more popular than others.  I think that's where the training is so essential because people taking part in consensus have to be very aware of those sorts of biases and try to avoid them whenever possible.  That's also where a good facilitator comes in.  He/She is able to keep the conversation steered towards the goal that the group is trying to reach consensus on while making sure that ALL input is seriously considered.

11 years ago

she says that in her other book too and i would trust that any training in consensus would emphasize strongly the philosophy behind the techniques and what is necessary for it to work...chapter 3 covered it well in addition to those 2 points.  as a montessori teacher, i've seen the method practiced by people who i felt didn't really understand the philosophy underlying it and that made all the difference in the world...both are important, but the spirit of the law is more important than the letter and it's most likely why some people have a negative experience with consensus...the people practicing it don't understand why they are doing it and/or the observer doesn't understand. 

Good points, PW
11 years ago

I agree.  The "why" is very important...perhaps even moreso than the "how".  That's why I mentioned the "equality" part. From my (admittedly very limited) experience, consensus within a caring community where everyone has respect for the other person is completely different from consensus in a business atmosphere where "pecking order" is implied...even respected. 

before reading this....
11 years ago

i was feeling kind of luke warm about consensus, but now i'm really excited about it...i'm a convert...and can't wait to see it in action...and i want to take a coure when i can.

by the way, not using new computer yet...but it's way cool!!!

This post was modified from its original form on 12 Mar, 13:58
okay, the last chapter...
11 years ago

march 16--22  chapter 6

it's not to late to join us in discussion!

well, i finished the reading,,,
11 years ago

but that's just a begining. i have to see if i can hook up my printer and make a copy...reread and highlight and probably read again.

i think the objections to consensus were covered very well. i don't think it would work unless everyone participating had a really solid understanding of all the techniques and methods involved and that every one accepted the same group vision.

the larger the group is would make it more difficult and there would probably have to be more breaking down into smaller groups as discribed.

i wonder how large a group this could work with.

More consensus reading
11 years ago

Laird Schaub from Sandhill Farm has an excellent blog on "Community and Consensus".  It's kind of nice to hear from people who are actually walking the talk.  He gives actual situations and tells how they were handled...or gives advice on how he would have handled them.

I second the recommendation for Laird's blog
11 years ago

I will jump out of lurkerdom and second the recommendation for Laird Schaub's blog. I find his writing to be useful in everyday family life and enlightening about the workings of larger communities. I've not had time yet to download the book from the ic page so I'm just listening in on the larger discussion. To give some basis for evaluating my opinion, I will point out that my husband and I were part of the founding group for Live Oak Unitarian Church in Austin TX and that this was the first UU church to use consensus for all decisions. As the church has grown, they've instituted training for new members so that's another possible source of information if anyone is interested. We left Austin in 1999 so I'm afraid I don't have more detailed info than I've given. Liz Copeland

i just read your post...
11 years ago

sorry, i didn't see it before. how did you feel about you consensus experience. i've had very little experience. the putney graduate school i attended years ago was founded and directed by a quaker...we only used consensus once when we decided that one student was having a very negative effect on other students and it was decided by consensus that he should leave. it was a very hard decision.

i look forward to experiencing's hard to just read about things, but i am convinced that it is a good and fair method.

This post was modified from its original form on 25 Mar, 15:11
this is an article from ic...
11 years ago

it's not as long or detailed, but i good brief explaination.

my consensus experience with UU church
11 years ago

Pickeril asked what I thought of my consensus experience.  I liked it, especially for our small church.  It was sometimes frustrating, as decision making was a much slower process, with the emphasis on everyone having a voice, and being comfortable with the discussion rather than making a decision quickly.   We were fortunate in that several (three ?) of the core founding group had experience with consensus prior to the forming of the church.   Our longest meeting was when we had to decide whether to keep the preacher we had or the building we were renting as we couldn't actually afford both.  That we did, in fact, arrive at a consensus after a couple of relatively calm hours of talk amazed me.  This sort of decision can tear a community apart.  Instead, everyone talked about what they valued, and wanted to see for the future of the church, and I learned quite a bit from hearing the others talk.  Both about what they wanted, and about different aspects I hadn't considered before.  I suspect the last point is one of the most important.  We can all learn from others with different views and priorities, especially in a safe environment.  I am perfectly willing to enter into a consensual decision-making community again, as long as there is some training or guidelines for those unfamiliar with the process.  We were lucky in that we had no problem personalities and a group willing to work toward the common goals at the beginning.    I did go look at the church's webpage, and the process is explained well on their webpage at

I particularly like the comment about never having the poison individual blocking for other reasons. 


I have read some and it does seem alot more Civilized and Fair than my Experience
11 years ago

I still feel that in some instances a majority vote is appropriate and in Daily Buisiness or Work crew  Decisions; there needs to be a  elected or Volunteer Leader; I remember reading about a Comune in The last whole earth catalog that Got Bogged Down Because they had to Throw the I Ching for every decision Even Minor Constuction Issues(I think that come under the "WooWoo" Catagory ;) 

consensus and minor decisions
11 years ago

I think there's a place in the Live Oak process description where they say that the consensus can be to delegate the decision making to a subcommittee (or even an individual).  And certainly, that's what we did in practice.  My husband and I did the newsletter for several years and we pretty much made the decisions for daily work as needed.  Major choices were presented at the Steering Committee, which is the decision making body, and that's when discussion about goals and direction would occur.  Then we were trusted to fulfill those goals using our creativity and best judgment.  I think Live Oak did a good job of balancing community decisions and individual iniative in doing specific jobs.   The Steering Committee set direction and the discussion phase of decision making made clear the concerns of the community.  Then anyone doing a particular job took those things into consideration but we didn't try to run everything by committee.  That way lies paralysis.

well By next week I hope to know if I willl be involved in the process
11 years ago

of working things out in Sacred Grove Comunity; thier approach seems Very Peacefull and 2 of the members work in Counseling Fields; So that Should Assist in Training and Keeping things Smooth.! I just hope Maya Doesn't Feel that her Autonomy is threatened By the Group process But actually I feel that having Some Compassionate Women friends Could Be The Best thing For her.! 

This post was modified from its original form on 25 Mar, 18:05
11 years ago

they are following not just the letter,but the spirit of consensus and that's what is important.

rod, i hope we have the opportunity to be in groups where this will happen. as they said on the live oak website, it has contributed to a sense of community. i think consensus involves a different attitude in relating to others, to resolve conflicts by finding a way to agree or accept without having the need to "win" or be the one who is "right"...that divides people.

what is consensus and why groups use it
11 years ago a medium lenght article..ifyou are interested in community, you probably will want to know as much as possible about consensus.

catching up
11 years ago

I liked the blog by Laird that Mel posted and Liz liked.

glenn, but why?
11 years ago

what did you like about it? i'm interested in hearing your thoughts about it. i liked that he discouraged the use of voting as a last resort. whatever method outside of consensus would be decided by consensus...i liked the humor of deciding paint color by throwing darts and using a oiji board to help clarify a decision. whether a decision is made to throw darts, 50/50 vote or whatever, that decision to use one of those methods should be made by consensus. i liked the church link that liz gave us describing their successful use of consensus and how neighboring churches wanted to start using it also...a wonderful way to influence the world by example! a quiet revolution. they had some variations on the theme as the book suggested you can use techniques and methods that work best for your group as long as consensus is the basis

his experience
11 years ago

I take Laird's word that he has lots of experience in both reaching consensus and conflict resolution. He generally found voting to be corrosive to using consensus. I am not sure, but I think he used the example of picking paint with darts more to make the point that we needn't fear that using consensus has to bog down decisions when some things may be trite enough not to require major meetings and deliberations, such as paint in some cases, but clearly something that everyone does not agree that they are not concerned about would not be subject to throwing darts. I also found it interesting that the IC he lives in has only a few members, as I remember, seven. One thing that he alluded to is that even in small groups they may tend to usually split into various factions. But no matter what, voting can be the worst, when the norm is to over-ride individuals. So some peole who tend to be quiet, or do not want to be stigmatized by the group may tend to never voice what they really want when different from how voting is likely to go. My sense is that in using consensus the norm of the process is to have just a few people, or even one person have a different opinion with no stigma attached, but just part of the process everyone embraces -- consensus building, which by its nature does not have loosers. Look at the Clinton/Obama contest. I do not think Hilary is very far behind Obama, and yet she is coming under intense pressure to drop out. Voting disinfranchises a lot of people who thereby will not have an IC they want. I even liked what he had to say about parsnips. I picked mine just before the winter, and now wish I had left them in the ground until now. If you don't gag on my metaphor, I think voting doesn't tend to let things ripen and allow for the best outcomes.

the url on consensus pic posted 1 day ago
11 years ago

It seems to be a good overview of the use of consensus with the idea of cooperation being stressed. Preperation and trust are important, and trust is something often built up through repeated use of consensus making. The article also address some ways to deal with people may block decisions, howwever I do not think Laird would agree with how it was stated in the article that when there is blocking often a vote in that case can be resorted to. I think he would say that would tend to erode future use of consensus making, certainly taking away peoples' patience for it. I wonder who is the author of the article when I see it must have been posted on the web site? Laird claimed that even some IC's that have voting in their bylaws (or whatever they may be called) voting may never be used, which he found to almost always be preferable.

11 years ago

yes, trust and goodwill, those qualities that make up a supportive and peaceful community would make consensus run more smoothly and i like your suggestion that using consensus will help create that diana talking about the pebble smoothing effect of living in community. i would try to avoid any kind of vote fall back with the exception on relatively minor issues and then it should be a consensus decision to use a vote...if we're choosing the color of the common room, form a small committee to select a choice of colors that i can pick 1st, 2nd, and third that i like the most and like the least and if the color turns out to be laundramat orange, what would i do then?

couldn't find who wrote that...
11 years ago

i went back to look and found this list of sources...the tree bresson website looks interesting, but i don't feel up to it right now with the flu bug i brought back from chicago. if anyone finds something really useful from the list, please post it.

sandhill is much smaller than i thought...
11 years ago

i looked it up on ic...5 adult, 1 child; 6 interns during growing season, and 4 members living there...doesn't seem like they would need much consensus. maybe sacha could enlighten us...haven't heard from him for a while. i can see that in large groups a consensus process would become more complicated and need more use of creative techniques, especially in a less homogenous group.

i really liked this topic...
10 years ago

so i reactivated it in case anyone wants to read it.

10 years ago

I'm the kind of person who does consensus by default..I don't do anything involving others without consulting them first..(I think most people do that). Rule by consensus..more traditionally known as direct democracy...has pretty much been the rule of survival in deep rural small towns in this country (and others). I'll be reading more on this subject when I get the time.

10 years ago

I'm very stand-offish about organized or "institutionalized" consensus, yet I do think it addresses the flaws of intuitive consensus. It can develop into too much structure and reduce the quality of life for the group..or at least, it can burn everyone out.

Everyone has been a part of a consensus at some point in their it family, peers, religion, or a corporate level job. It doesn't strike me as something that requires just is. If you own shares in a company, you're part of a consensus..and will attend meetings and keep track of your portfolio..because you WANT the company to succeed, because you will prosper from that success (ideally, I'm not talking about what's going on currently in Wall Street, which can be best described as a pillaging)

People either want to work together for a common goal or they don't.

I'll admit that I'm a bit lax at giving the kind of opinion that would be most welcome about the subject..because I've been burned too many times by the process of consensus. Structure doesn't improve the prospects of minority representation..because it only crystallizes the tribal nature that is inherent in all humans. Forget net-worth, material success, and good looks, because these things eventually won't matter. However, on the base tribal level, he (or she) who has the most aesthetically pleasing personality has all the power, and no one, regardless of how talented or how much they can contribute, will be as valued as the one with the magnetic personality.

In my own values system I've come to believe the best results come from fostering autonomy in all individuals, because people are more inclined to be giving when they aren't coerced to do so. People have less to lose and more to gain when they aren't "leeching" from each other, but rather, building each other up. I think that encouraging people to function without others (because we all have had hard times, and we know that it's those times when everyone whom we'd fostered trust with suddenly began to avoid us when we most needed them). People are stronger of character when they can take or leave group decisions..but the group decisions are also not infringing upon them in a bad way under those circumstances.

I suppose the best way to illustrate this is with this video (It's the now infamous UCLA tasering incident from last year...some disturbing scenes STRONG LANGUAGE)

The operation of consensus in this video. Everyone who was a student had "ties" to the system..the educational institution that they were paying a good chunk of their future earnings..or their parents were paying for.

Doing the right thing would have been to be vigilant..meaning risking their educational status or their prospective careers for just a few of them to dogpile on the security staff and stop this incident. That would have been self-sacrifice. Common sense should dictate that this kind of force should not be used on unarmed individuals who pose no threat. (his violation was that he didn't have his student ID on him that very moment). Common sense should also dictate that the other students, including the ones who were recording the incident with their phones, should not have stood by and passively accepted what was happening.

Autonomous individuals would have behaved differently. They would have thought "I need the career I'm pursuing..but my life direction will have other opportunities if I get expelled from this school. I cannot accept a career if I'm expected to be quiet about injustices just to have it. What it it's ME next time? If I don't stand up for others, I'm not standing up for myself."


In summation..consensus seeks to pacify the unruly individuals by eliminating individuality itself. But the reality is that the people who contribute most to society are neither beneficiaries of their own work, nor are they accepted by group consensus. Consensus seeks constant same-ness, and eschews the kind of progressive thought that it eventually reaps the benefits of. I'm a big fan of sharing resources, but not at the level of being a detriment to the individual's freedom of movement, thought, or expression. People naturally work together for common goals all the time..and oblidge themselves to do things they don't want to do in the process..but I think that forcing agreement is not natural.

Consensus is "the sum of all parts", versus my view of what's best, which is more "holographic". Consensus is the conveyor belt of what our society is right now. Our education system, based upon the industrial revolution (and still in the 17th century, in my opinion) is a factory for consensus process output. It has produced well, making a society of mindless consumers who can't understand or reproduce the products they consume. Consumers are the "parts of a sum". If most homes produced their own power, the system would collapse. If most people used transport that required no constant fuel supply, the system would collapse. If people created their own arts and entertained themselves and others on the local level..the institution that "provides this service" for a price, would collapse. Same with growing your own food, etc.

These are incomplete ideas, but I would like some opinions on the subject..maybe what's right about it, versus what I'm saying. Your thoughts.

consensus isn't just going along with the group for convenience...
10 years ago

everyone's viewpoint is heard and evaluated and discussed until a solution is found that is acceptable to everyone. it seems to me that this is better than a majority vote where 49 per cent may have to follow the 51 per cent or the decision is made by a dictator or everyone disagrees and tries to do what they want resulting in chaos.

10 years ago

I didn't watch the entire video, but more than half. Assuming I had some of the same view as the person making it with his cell phone, but only getting impressions from when it was being recorded, I have no idea of what initiated the lengthy incident. Did the person being tasered threaten anyone? From your description, and knowledge about this after the fact, I presume when more evidence had been present at a later date, the evidence was that someone lacked proper identification and was asked to leave the library, but refused to. I couldn't see much of what was happening, but it sounded like he was being tortured for refusing to get up and leave, or get up to be possibly arrested.

I argue that in emergencies people dive into icy waters, or jump into flames to save people. There is, however, a tendency to trust authority, and consider police and security people to legitimately have authority in the USA. Had the guy being restrained earlier been a menace to others, even though he was protesting his innocence when being hurt? Were I there, should I have acted to save him, or were people potentially being protected despite his distress?

Certainly it takes more for people to forcefully resist people in positions of authority, but in a dire emergency, let's say someone is being billy clubbed to death, kicked to death, or whatever; when they are clearly subdued, I do not think that bystanders (who in some instances will come to a persons aid) will rationally weigh the trouble they could get in with the system -- i.e. be arrested, or expelled from school. They will be fortified by adrenaline and will not have time to think things through, and then make the assumption they will be the ones caught. Therefore I would make the assumption the people who didn't physically defend the person being tasered didn't do so because they had weighed what may happen to them.

Clearly some people were asking for the badge numbers and names of the security people. This was their way of pressuring, or coercing the security people to stop being brutal. After all, the security people could lose their jobs if found to be committing abuse. Thus I assume that the people demanding badge numbers and names, hoped doing so would be enough to diffuse the situation. After the fact we can say it was not enough, and if enough people had piled on they could have subdued the security people. However the quarters were cramped in the library between computer terminals, so anyone physically challenging the guards would have had to do so more or less one-on-one, rather than as a human wave. By the way, remember Leik Wielensa (spelling) and then others standing in front of tanks?

It is also true that there are many examples of instances when people have looked through their windows and not tried to save people being murdered in the streets. However I do not see a lesson about consensus in a fluid situation that later may have been determined was the result of guards abusing their positions.

The US government is supposed to be run by majority rule (though most do not vote). Consensus is almost never reached whether in votes, committees, or all the way to the Supreme Court. Often a large percentage of people are disenfranchised. But when consensus is done right no one needs to be disenfranchised. There may be a little give and take, but if I willingly enter into that I do not have to lose my identity. If through a process people are losing their identities, becoming mindless sheep, or forced against their wills, maybe just pretending to agree when feeling they really have no choice, then that process is not worthy of being given the name of a consensus process. If consensus is not reached, then what is under consideration is not done. For example, if the Iroquois Nation goes to war, everyone must agree. If one person dissents, they do not go to war. This may not be practical for a county as large as the US, but there are other democratic systems that add up second choices, and minority party candidates' votes, etc. that can be more representational than simple majority rule between two people. The issue here is for a smaller scale.

I just visited the MA eco village of Serius on their 30th anniversary, and had a chance to speak to some of its founders. I am not sure they use consensus deliberations or not, but one interesting comment was that in a more communal setting they found it was a little like living in a fish bowl. This made me think, I wonder if I would like that when I consider myself to be quite an individual?

Then I learned how everyone had taken a psychological test, and it was found that Serius was comprised by a much larger percentage of very individualistic people, yet many of them have been living there for decades. Maybe to some extent, with the growing number of IC's, it is a bit of a myth that they are all about following a strong leader. It all depends upon how they are set up and run. The idea of a true process of consensus is that everyone is given a voice who wants one, and indeed giving the weaker members a voice should be a goal, and part of the consensus methods when done right.

My final thought may be counterintuitive, but in light of what I learned about the psychological profile of people from Serius (with a couple of its founders having lived in Finhorn first) were I to live in a more communal setting, and I am more individualistic than average (while also not being a natural leader precisely for being too individualistic), for me to make it and be satisfied in such a living arrangement, I would have to learn more social skills (and technogical skills for living more locally) than I currently possess). In short, I would have to become more diverse as a person, than to become a more simple minded member of a flock.

What do you think of such a notion?

10 years ago

I would just like to add to PW's comment of not finding the rule of 51% to 49% to be best. In the US when less than half of us vote, it is quote possible that were everyone required to vote, the outcome would be far different, and the 51% of a minority of voters the way it works today, could really be a vast minority of how all people would vote, were the required to. On the other hand things could be skewed the other way too.

My Feeling on the State of Consensus in this Country (USA)
10 years ago

is in line with Mel L's opinoun most people have either Been Coopted into Compliance by thier Education Costs/credit/job/Family and are afraid to Stand up and Be Shot Down (Figuratively But Soon Literaly);

and The Charming/Charismatic Do Rule: From TV EvilAngelAsses, to the Lobbyists, and thier Pets; Our Corrupt Representatives to BiG Biz CEO's.....
No Matter what the Group is; there will Always be those with Comunication/manipulation Skills that they will use to thier advantage; even if it is only an instinctive act.

10 years ago

You are probably right, Rod. It all boils down to some people are more persuasive than others, and some are in positions of leadership no matter what the system. And as to an idiot (and one who deserves to be impeached for war crimes, torture and so many other things) like G W Bush, it is all about his ego and its weakness, with the presidency giving a false prop to him when everytning is really meaningless and nonsense to him. That is my sense of him, really an amoral person solely on a power trip to try to give meaning to his life. If people are too far from the norm, be they in education, an instution giving them employment, their church, thier bikers club -- whatever their reference group, if they are too far from the norm, they are at a disadvantage to obtain any power. But the more downtrodden we are, there will always be some people who will give us the shirts off their backs, or a piece of their hearts. Some people do not live mainly for their egos, and they can help in a well run consensus situation.

What? you or I have a problem going along, well after they give us a piece of their souls, maybe we will be more likely to go along with them. As to the culture in the US, we are far too materialistic. The system is broken. We need to fix it or find some new ones. Each of us individually needs far more to survive than we were we share and do things together. The planet in the 1970's surpassed its carrying capacity. There are going to be a lot of losers the more we follow the myth of getting by only as rugged individualists who live more atomistically.

10 years ago

In the USA were are a very commercial culture, and the means, rather than an ends, runs everything. We have almost no choice. Freedom doesn't exist for most people, except for transnational companies, or exceedingly rich individuals, but there is little consensus where everyone agrees...take the financial melt down, there are people from the extreme right, and the extreme left who may not agree to the bail out, while there are plenty of other people who do. Most people will not rock the boat, but there are always some of us who will, and those who will do not agree with the mainstream. Consensus Vs. anarchy, maybe that is more the question. I agree that consensus for a bad ened is not good. Also, if the charismatic usually rule, then the question becomes are they good or bad, i.e. Bush Vs. someone like Ghandi.

Rule by comittee
10 years ago

To give an answer on the subject I did have to address my issues against it. I absolutely agree that any constructive community needs to be organized in order to survive..but I find myself dealing with folks from this country who've never taken the dive into this lifestyle..or if they have, it was an excursion in youth (the hippie movement) and was treated like a social fad..but the economy and their lack of basic survival skills forced them back into the mainstream.

My biggest point is that I think the person should define a characteristic of the group..versus the group defining the characteristic of the person. This is why I think people are better toward one another when they help others because they want to, not because they have to. Needs play a part, but I've found that our current pop-based culture, people use each other until they get what they want, then move on to the next host.

Interestingly enough, I've been talking to some YouTubers who've been hit hard by the housing bust..most of them staunch Ron Paul supporters..and I've been trying to tell them the same thing about stockpiling and hiding until the storm passes. To them, I come off as a communist because I'm trying to stress that they need to gather communities together and share resources. Yet I don't understand how they think they can survive by heading to the hills with 7 years of dried food, guns, and total isolation.

But having been raised in a cult, I'm very leery about too much emphasis on "the group" outweighing the needs of the individual.

10 years ago

Having been raised in a cult also.. or, as they now say.."a high demand religion". I totally agree with you.  The individual must define the group.. not the other way around.  The individual is the seed.. the group is the plant that grows from the seed.. to me, a community is like a garden that grows from the seeds that are planted.  It would be foolish to think that some "agenda" could alter the true nature of the seeds.  My ideal community would be a group of people (hopefully/eventually expanding to include the whole world) who would understand that we are connected, and giving is the same as having.  We would, while dealing with body identity.. strive to rise above individual needs for the good of the whole.  Not in sacrifice.. but in realization that we need each other to survive.  I am fighting the same fight Mel.. and in Texas.. it pretty tough goin.

10 years ago

I do not disagree with Mel or Leeda, if I understand correctly. You are both speaking of ideals I agree with and wish to contribute to, not wanting to impose myself on others, nor do I want to be bound. I have broken more rules (often that I did not respect) than you could imagine, and have sometimes been punished.

I am sure there are lots of horrendous IC's, and Rod has described some he experienced that were not only dictatorial (if I remember correctly, but corrupt and thieving).

We seem to have instituional living arrangements, IC's and various family units down to single person households. I can only speak form the experience of a four person family I grew up in where my father used many forms of coercion on me short of physically beating me up. I had no say in anything, and at times was forced to live in other places where I was at risk of all sorts of abuse.

My mother would often not speak up for herself or anyone else, but was not that happy for a long time, having been stifled in many ways. This story may not be that unique, nor may my current family be. But I am the odd one out, and do not get any help from anyone else in what I do when even working for the benefit of my family. There is nothing eqalatarian here. All to often in living arrangements in what may have at one time been consider more tradional as a marriage with children, or in other ones that are not IC's, there are people who dominate in one way or another, and others who submit, or act out in whatever ways.

There are also example of things working well, and people pulling together for mutual well being. But with half of marriages ending in divorse, and the other half possibly having a large degree of disfunctions that are kept private, with most people wanting to put a good face on for the public, I find it easy to be a critic, but do not give up hope for the ideals I seek, whether in more traditional settings, or in a few IC's that may be doing things right.

Check with me in a year or two if I do some searching and find any sterling examples. When I say I like to see consensus, it wouldn't be by being a member of a cult at whatever scale. The first consensus I would be looking for would be that there will not be a cult, but that indivuduals would get along, respecting each other while not being indentical.

WOW! this is a great discussion...
10 years ago

while i was being distracted by other things, i was missing this! i don't know where to begin...

that was a hard video to watch...were the people there consenting and agreeing with the rightness of what was going on or were they yeilding and allowing this to happen out of fear of what might happen to themselves or the brainwashing that society has done to us to obey and not make waves, which is also fear of what people will think. i don't see this as truly consensual in the depth of ones soul and i don't think most people feel good about themselves when they allow such things to happen.

i became a montessori teacher because i believe very strongly in developing a sense of community in children from the youngest age...a true sense of caring for each other which must include first, a caring for ones self. we should act in a way that is good for all, not because the authority says so...that's the tail wagging the dog. i like what leeda said about the seeds...

our society viewpoint has become quite backward. we have come to distrust each other, looking out for only ourselves, which is self defeating. we have to overcome our training to get back to what is real.

consensus as a technigue of decision making must take practice to make sure we are not preventing anyone from expressing their true feelings and beliefs and taking them all into's hard and probably when it is unsuccessful, it's because we are not used to thinking that way. i've had very little real life experience with consensus, but i believe it can work...probably it would become increasingly difficult in larger populations such as a state or country. i agree with glenn that our countries voting process is a joke in many ways!

i believe that each one of us is a part of the whole and no part can be sacrificed for the whole without having ill effects on that whole. consensus is a time consuming process, but in the end, it is worth it and probably results in less time being wasted.

This post was modified from its original form on 28 Sep, 12:17
okay, i walk in the room...
10 years ago

and everyone stops talking...what happened?

9 years ago

i'm reactivating this thread because most communities use some form of consensus. it really require some study to be able to understand it and use it successfully. if i ever get a core group together, i'd lik,e at least some members to take a course in it and have everyone at least read this article.

9 years ago

this is part of a post from glenn that he made on another thread:


Consensus is a very illusive thing, really, as many of us have learned upon reading things posted here. For example, where do we draw the line in the group

I work with part time? Do a couple of people need to go to the entire group for changes to the web site they were making? When I am getting material for a project does everyone have to agree, or is there some things that the rest of the group does not even have the experise to assess? Maybe what could come from petty case, by some definition, would be the point at which consensus would't be required. But just because consensus seems to have been reached due to there not being any dissent does not mean it really has. There is always group dynamics at play, and some of us do not like the role of being disenter, even when we are.


i think these and other potential problems are delt with in formal consensus much more fairly than in other systems.


formal consensus needs to be studied and understood by all the participants. this is an excellent article for starters. mel and i had hoped more people would participate in this thread.


i need to print it out when i get my printer working, read it again, highlight, write in the margins. most communities use this form of governing for a good reason. while i'm trying to get a community together, i can learn about this now.


7 years ago

this is a shorte explaination of how consensus works than the one on i'm not sure that i agree with it completely, but i haven't had much experience with consensus in practice. i think a lot depends on how knowledgable the group as a whole is about it's processes and i think if is important to have access to people who are experts. it is'nt a simple process, but i think the more equitable results are worth the effort and should make a stronger group.

can there be a leader in consensus?
7 years ago

i think a leader in the traditional democracy sense is one in which, at most, more than half of the people think they agree with, most of the time. less than half don't agree with, most of the time and then there are those who aren't sure. in consensus, a "leader" is more of a coordinator like in a meeting using roger's rules of order, one person needs to be in charge of the meeting and run it according to those rules. everyone has a right to challenge the decisions on how the meeting is run. it might be more time consuming at the time, but since everyone has a part in the decisions, there won't be the possibility that half the people under this system will be unhappy with decisions and reluctant to follow them. everyone should be heard. a leader in this sense is one who helps impliment what the group consensus decision is. the position is important as a coordinator and holds no additional powers. everyone in the group has the responsibility to see that no one or no group is abusing their position. in a sense, there are no followers...every voice is heard and considered till a consensus is reached. i'm sure it would take more time and effort when this method is first introduced, but with correct practice and understanding of its method by all concerned, i think if would be more efficient  and satisfying to all concerned.

6 years ago

i like the idea of consensus. it is very different from the way we usually operate, but if done properly, everyone is heard and to reach a decision, even though it may take longer, might end with a better solution for everyone and a solution that everyone can feel a part of.

6 years ago

we think in a democracy that if we vote, it is fair, but if 51 percent want it and 49 don't, how fair is that? i can see how that would lead to apathy.


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