The Consensus Process

Specific goals of the decision process include:

  1. Every member of the community has an opportunity to be involved in all community decisions
  2. Enough personal and meeting time is allowed such that decisions are adequately studied and discussed before approval is sought.

  3. Every decision is recorded and disseminated in such a way that every member has the opportunity to know exactly what was decided.

  4. The process by which members can bring forth their ideas for changes in the community is described so that all members can learn what to do to have their ideas considered by the community.

The following describes how decisions are made using the consensus process in our community. These are the steps that are to be followed from the initial idea to the community decision. The community may decide to delegate a decision to a committee or task force as described in section 3.6 of the Bylaws, but the delegation itself is a consensus decision.

Types of Decisions

In order to associate the appropriate level of scrutiny to a given decision, each decision will be classified as either minor or major. Major decisions will involve more consideration and time by the community than will minor decisions. The sponsoring committee initially classifies a proposal as minor or major. If 3 or more people at a General Meeting believe that a minor decision is actually a major decision, then it will be classified as a major decision.

Lifecycle of a Decision

When one or more members of the community would like to change some aspect of the community that requires a decision, the following procedure outlines the steps that should be followed:

  1. Idea sponsorship. The member or members approach the appropriate committee of the community for feedback and potential support of the idea. If the committee supports the idea, it becomes the sponsoring committee. If not, other committees may be approached as sponsors.
  2. General Meeting hopes and concerns (major decisions only). If the sponsoring committee believes a General Meeting hopes and concerns session is needed to help in the creation of the proposal, the sponsoring committee will schedule such a session.

  3. Proposal creation. The sponsoring committee works to create a proposal that implements the original idea taking into consideration the hopes and concerns of the community.

  4. Request for comments. Once the sponsoring committee has created a proposal, the proposal is to be submitted to the community as described below in Submitting Proposals.

  5. Discussion at General Meeting. The proposal will be discussed at a General Meeting following the steps noted in the section Decision Making at a General Meeting. The proposal may be brought up for a decision immediately following the discussion if the decision is minor or at a subsequent General Meeting if the decision is classified as major.

  6. Decision at General Meeting. Consensus may be sought for a proposal that was discussed at a General Meeting. The details of the consensus process are defined in section 3.2 of the Bylaws. If consensus is reached on the proposal, the exact language of the approved decision is recorded. This decision will stand until another decision replaces it. If the proposal is not approved, it may be referred back to the sponsoring committee and the process repeated.

Submitting Proposals

Proposals to the general membership must be submitted in writing before the General Meeting at which they are to be discussed. This can be accomplished either by posting on the discuss list and by posting a copy on the decision board.. All proposals should indicate whether they are judged to be minor or major by the sponsoring committee. A proposal should contain the following two sections:

  1. Rationale for proposal (i.e. why)
  2. Proposal statement (i.e. what, who is going to do it, and when)

Decision Making at a General Meeting

The following steps will be used at General Meetings to consider new proposals for consensus. It is the job of the General Meeting Facilitator to ensure that this procedure is followed.

  1. The proposal is presented in writing.
  2. Clarifications are made, questions are answered.

  3. Opinions about the proposal are solicited.

  4. Changes are suggested and accepted or rejected by the sponsor of the proposal.

  5. The facilitator will ask to have the proposal read and then will ask if everyone understands the proposal and is ready to vote on the proposal; if anyone is not clear or not ready, clarifications and discussion will continue until everyone is ready to make a decision or until it is clear that the proposal be sent back to committee; if everyone is ready, a consensus decision will be attempted.

  6. If consensus is achieved, the decision is recorded; if consensus is not achieved, the process may be repeated.

Recording Decisions

Once a proposal has been approved, it needs to be recorded as a decision of the community. The decision will be recorded in the decision logbook, printed in the Newsletter, and added to the appropriate community databases as they become available in the future. If the decision relates to community policies or procedures, it will also be added to the community handbook.

The Decision Board

The majority of decisions arising in our community have limited effect on the overall community and therefore generate limited interest. Many of these decisions are made in committees, subject to review by the wider community. The Decision Board allows a small group of interested people to frame a decision while allowing review by the wider community before the decision is actually made. There are two major benefits of this approach. First, having this form of decision-making allows decisions to be made outside the General Meeting, thereby saving General Meeting time for major decisions. Secondly, the Decision Board allows decisions to be made faster.

Procedure

  1. Issue Notification. A committee writes up an issue about which a decision will be made and posts this description on the Decision Board. The notice should include the date, a description of the issue, the committee's current position (if it has one), and the date and place that the meeting will be held to make the decision. The notice should be posted at least 7 days before the meeting.
  2. Feedback Solicited. Comments and concerns from the community are registered by writing on the posted sheet. All comments should be classified by the author of the comment into the areas defined by the colored card system we use for discussion (e.g. information, minor concern, major concern, etc.).

  3. Preliminary Decision. At the committee meeting, the feedback on the sheet will be considered as the committee members discuss the issue and work towards a decision. A preliminary decision is reached when the text of the decision has been written and everyone present has heard and agreed to the decision.

  4. Community Review. The text of the decision should be posted on the Decision Board along with the date the meeting occurred and who attended.

  5. Final Decision. The decision is considered made 3 days after it is posted on the Decision Board unless a "red note" blocks it.

  6. Serious Objections. Any member of the community may block the process at any time by placing a "red note" in the committee's mailbox. The note should be signed and dated and state the grounds for the serious objection. If such a note is received, the committee convener should contact the member and discuss the concern. If the concern can be addressed through a minor change, then the reworded issue or preliminary decision can be reposted (for the necessary time period). If the concern cannot be addressed, the Decision Board Procedure can be repeated or the regular General Meeting Decision-Making process can be used.

- Bill Huber, Ben Benjamin