Decision Making Process
We use a combination of consensus and majority voting.
Working Definition of Consensus
A group decision process which actively seeks and considers the opinions of all members in an open atmosphere and arrives at a decision that best satisfies everyone's preferences and feelings without anyone feeling an unacceptable level of conflict.
In consensus, blocking should not be done lightly, but should be a well thought-out conclusion. One should withhold consent or block a proposal only based on some concern, truth or understanding that in the best interests of the group, one cannot, in good conscience, let the decision go forward. The underlying concern should be based upon the group's principles or foundation, rather than a personal preference.
When there is a block, we send the concern to a committee of mixed perspectives (set up at the time needed), whose function is to check with the person/s blocking to:
- Clarify the concern, by respectfully asking questions of the person/s blocking to understanding the underlying needs, reasons and issues;
- Ascertain if the reason for blocking is personal or for the greater good of the group (based on group principles or foundation)
- Bring back new creative options to the group.
It is also possible to Stand Aside, which is where the individual disagrees with the proposal from his or her own personal values or experiences, but will allow the group to make the decision. This is, in effect, a decision by that individual to release his or her concern in favor of the group's interests, and to consent to the proposal. The person standing aside is bound by and required to help implement the consensus decision (just as any other member, present or not), unless an individual exception is approved.
Consensus Fall-Back Process
When we use consensus, we have a fall back decision making process that involves voting. If we have been unable to reach consensus after discussing an item at three separate meetings, we will use the voting process outlined below (3/4 majority with a priority scale). Any general meeting, special meeting or committee meeting (including a break-out meeting during a general meeting) to discuss this particular issue will be included in the three meeting count.
Committees may be authorized to determine in advance that a proposal be brought to a vote in the same meeting following an unsuccessful attempt at consensus. In this situation, at the end of the allotted agenda time, the group needs a ¾ vote to extend discussion time before the vote on the issue takes place.
When Voting is the Decision Making Method
In addition to using voting as a fall-back process when we are making decisions by consensus, there are times when voting needs to be the decision making method. Committees may be authorized to decide when an e-mail vote is required and call for that vote. In addition, the whole group may decide by consensus to put an issue to a vote.
Criteria Which Need to be Met When Deciding that an Issue Will go to a Vote
- When there is a time deadline more important than resolving everyone's preferences.
- When the dissenting household(s) is not disproportionately impacted by the decision.
Process for Voting
Before we vote, a clear statement of the pros and cons of each choice is made.
When we vote we use a 3/4 majority and also use a priority scale for close but not quite majority votes.
The way we vote in a meeting is by secret ballot on a scrap of paper. Everyone lists their choice and a number from 0-5, which indicates how much one cares about the issue (a priority scale). If there is not a 3/4th majority, but the vote is within 10% of a 3/4th majority, the priority scales are tallied. If those who have voted in the minority have a priority scale total that is higher than those in the majority, then we start the process over from scratch. If the almost majority has the higher priority scale total, then majority is assumed and we move on.
People who cannot attend a meeting are encouraged to make their opinions known through others who will be attending the meeting. However, under no circumstances will people who are not at a meeting be allowed to block consensus. In particular, a member is not allowed to block a proposal on the basis that his or her spouse/partner does not approve, if that spouse/partner is not available to work out the issue as part of the consensus process.
If someone is absent from a meeting and disagrees with a decision that was made at the meeting, s/he cannot challenge the decision if the item was clearly listed as one of the agenda items to be discussed and circulated in advance of the meeting.
Those Entitled To Make Decisions
Each member household is entitled to one vote in the consensus fall-back (voting) process. All adults have equal decision making power in the consensus decision making process.
A quorum is a simple majority of member households.
Re-opening Decisions Reached by Consensus
Once a consensus decision has been reached, a member may re-open the discussion if new information comes to light that changes the intent or effect of the decision.
There are three sequential ways of re-opening a decision:
- An interested person may present the issue and reasons for re-opening it to the Facilitation Committee or Executive Committee who may recommend re-opening the topic to the group.
- He or she may have 3 minutes on an agenda to explain why the topic should be re-opened, and the group may choose by consensus to re-open the topic, at which point the decision will be made to consider it on this agenda or a future one.
- He or she may gather signatures of 25% of member households who are in support of re-opening the issue.