Consensus Decision Making

I have chaired many committees and have lots of experience with Robert’s Rules of Order. When I first heard about the use of consensus decision making and it’s use in cohousing, I was intrigued about this new way of making decisions. I learned that in consensus, the test is not “am I in favour” of the motion or not, but rather “can I live with the decision. ”

In voting, a proposal is presented, amended, and voted on. Some will be opposed to the proposal but will be out voted and a proposal that is approved is said to have the support of the majority of the constituents. Those who voted against are simply ignored as part of the minority. This is the form of decision making we are all aware of. Usually decisions are pretty cut and dried and the number of dissidents small so voting works well, but when the number of dissidents is large we have a large number of disappointed voters.

Consensus requires that everyone can live with a proposal. When everyone has to be ok with a proposal you have to listen to and accommodate everyone. This can take time and it is the extra time which is listed as the main impediment of consensus. It does take longer, especially as you are learning to do it, but as we gain experience the time difference is minimized.

The decision made by voting is often felt to be the best decision, but it is the best from the perspective of at best the majority, but generally the decision is only optimal for the person who made the proposal or latest amendment. In consensus the decision is a compromise and people sometimes think that this is a sub-optimal decision. Whether the decision is the best decision or not, comparing the initial proposal to the final decision shows that many times, the decision made by consensus is a better decision then what would have been arrived at had the proposal simply been voted on.

In addition to making better decisions, consensus decision making doesn’t alienate minorities, results in better buy-In for the decision which makes it more actionable and doesn’t erode the sense of community that cohousing is all about. Consensus decision making is right for cohousing. It might be right for a lot of the worlds problems.

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