RE: DSM: Majority Rule vs. Consensus

Scott Gray (
Sun, 23 Jan 2000 11:13:14 -0500 (EST)

On Sun, 23 Jan 2000, Kenneth Winchenbach Walden wrote about consensus:

> agrees. Rather, the intent is to come to a decision that is the best that
> this group can create, and that everybody is willing to let go forward.

That is also the intent of a group functioning under Robert's Rules. I
believe Robert's Rules does this better, for a variety of reasons.
> I would highlight two essential differences between consensus and majority
> decision making. The first is more obvious, that each individual in the
> group is empowered in the decision. While an individual blocking a decision
> is exceedingly rare, the basis of the system is that each member of the
> group is an essential part of the group process, and is trusted with that
> ability. The second difference is the one that is most often missed, I
> believe, and the one that makes comparing the two systems hard. In
> consensus decision-making the intent is to arrive at the best decision for
> all the people involved. The purpose is not to pick between two options, or
> to say yes or no. The purpose is to examine a proposal, find all the
> concerns that would make the members unsure about going forward with it, and
> examine those concerns. Rather than a majority voting down a proposal,
> those who don't agree with it will explain what they feel is wrong about the
> proposal. Or rather than a minority being against a proposal but outvoted,
> those few are able to voice their concerns. This allows the opportunity for
> a group dialogue, that may change some members' minds. More importantly, it
> may lead to an improvement of the proposal, that settles the concerns of
> some of the members, and perhaps allows the decision to go forward.
> Consensus is more about a group dedication to making good decisions than it
> is about voicing opinions and decisions. In majority voting, you have a
> chance to voice your opinion, but nothing more.

Yes, decision-making by traditional Parliamentary procedure is an
"adversarial system" in which people argue for or against a particular
proposal. However, individuals can express particular concerns -- and
make motions to ammend or change the standing motion in such a way that it
would answer those concerns. If the meeting is run by consensus as you
describe, and a person in favor of the main motion feels that the
ammendment would neuter it, s/he is stuck -- whereas in a Parliamentary
system any individual can ask the group as a whole to consider ANY
proposal unencumbered by a move towards the lowest common denomintaor (by
making ammendments, or promising to make a new motion with a particular
set of different features).

There is a reason that an adversarial system is better. Foremost, is that
fact that sometimes people REALLY ARE DIVIDED as to their fundamental
interests. Pretending that they all have the same goals is an INSULT to
those who do not share the goals of the majority.

> Of course there is no guarantee that such discussion and improvement will
> ensure that everybody ends up liking the proposal. Consensus allows for
> various means of dealing with that. Stepping Aside is the individual's
> ability to voice their disapproval of the decision. When a person steps
> aside, they not only are showing that they do not approve, but they are not
> to take part in the implementation of the decision. It is a sign of the

Why not call a spade a spade, and call that "objecting?" I, personally,
find it valuable to have my objection noted when I am in the minority.
>From a legal standpoint, too, an organization is better able to defend a
decision in court if it can be shown that there was debate and an honest
attempt to explore the problems with a motion in an adversarial format.

Imagine your legal position, if when called into court you are asked "were
there any onjections to the proposal?" you are forced to answer "no, those
oppopsed to it stepped aside and let it happen".

> respect for an individual's values, that they have the option in the end of
> not taking part in a decision they do not agree with. However, if there are
> several people in a group who are stepping aside, that is a sign to the
> group and the facilitator that this decision is a weak one, and it should
> either be discussed more, or perhaps dropped. A decision that is not able
> to garner the support of a consensus of the group is probably not the right
> one for that group. A member also has the power to stand in the way of a
> decision that they feel is not correct for the group, and is in fact
> dangerous for the group. This however is a very rare thing to happen.
> To bring things back to the topic at hand, a school's decision on whether to
> use consensus is a big one. For the positive, in a non-coercive
> environment, there could be no more suitable method than a non-coercive
> decision-making process. While I understand that some people have had bad
> experiences with the process, that does not mean that consensus is a bad
> system. It either means that the version of the formal consensus process
> they were using was not a good one, or that the group has issues they need
> to deal with. If members of the group are being coercive, then that issue
> needs to be dealt with. Certainly in a majority voting setting those
> coercive members could be ignored, but that isn't making the issue go away.

If a person is being "ignored" in a Parliamentary meeting, s/he can make
sure that her/his objections are heard. S/he is not put in a position in
which s/he is expected to go along with a decision done in the name of the
lowest common denominator.

"Stepping aside" is CERTAINLY not an oppropriate course to insist that the
minority take, if you really want those issues to go away. If I step
aside on an issue of importance, it is a sign that I either don't care
about the issue, or that I have become disgusted with the majority. It
makes those issues fester, and it takes away the ONE PLACE in which those
real adversarial and divisive issues can be confronted in a formal and
polite manner.

> Consensus is for groups interested in facing their group dynamics honestly.
> My experiences with consensus have been exactly the opposite, they have been
> exhilirating, and have supported and respected all the members, especially
> those who would normally have little to say or do in a voting situation. We
> were able to hear the members' concerns and make better decisions that took
> them into account, rather than ignoring them. When members have been
> displeased with the way parts of the process have gone, we have been able to
> discuss and take care of those concerns as well, to assure that group
> dynamics don't make for bad decisions. Most importantly, although consensus
> decision making takes longer on average than majority-rule, the decisions
> made are ones that have been agreed to by all the members. Therefore the
> decisions are easier to implement, because you are not working against the
> inertia of a minority who didn't want to do this thing in the first place.

Of course they are easier to implement; this is because the minority has
either given up OR (and this is worse) has been effectively brain-washed
into feeling that their job as individuals is to agree on the fundamental
aims that the group should work towards.

The minority that finds something FUNDAMENTALLY WRONG with the proposal
(rather than in the details) is put in a position where they must either
nickle-and-dime the proposal ("how about we do it this way instead") or
"stand aside" (give up their voice).

> However, consensus is not for every group. If your group does not have a
> common purpose, and some common values, you will not be able to run a proper
> consensus meeting. A group that has no shared basis for making decisions,

This is the point. A proper Parliamentary system is not put in place to
deal with the everyday motions that people agree with. It is put in place
to deal with those times when the group does NOT have common purpose or
common values. The Parliamentary system ALLOWS a person to feel free to
say "my values ARE different than theirs." Again, while consensus
protects the MAJORITY a Parliamentary system protects the MINORITY.

> won't be able to agree on anything. Other important values are respect for
> all group members, a sense that all are equally valuable, honesty, and a
> belief in common ownership of ideas - not private ownership. I think it's
> also important that the group learn about the basics of consensus, and
> follow a formal process. Informal consensus will undoubtedly lead in the
> direction that the previous messages pointed towards - coercion by the
> stubborn, and frustration by everyone. For anyone looking for some
> information on the subject, I'll recommend this -

I've looked through it. My initial reaction to it (though it will require
a more careful study) is that it requires more "expert knowledge" by
participants than a meeting run by Robert's Rules.

The manual describes at great length the responsibilities of members, and
how they are expected to engage in debate. Robert's Rules, on the other
hand, is written in such a manner that only a few officers (a chairperson,
a secretary, a parliamentarian) need to know the "rules" in order to
proceed. This is because the FUNDAMENTAL RESPONSIBILITY of the officers
in a meeting run by Robert's Rules is to help see to it that when
individuals wish to put a matter before the assembly, they are given
assistance. This means that a newcomer to a meeting run by consensus has
a lot more homework to do before s/he can participate without fear of
being swamped by the peple who are already "expert at reaching consensus."
> I apologize for the length. I didn't want to take up too much of the list's
> time, but I think that it's important that those who have no experience with
> consensus not be given a one-sided view of it. However, I respect that
> there are many decision-making processes, with different strengths, and that
> each is simply a tool in the hands of a group with good intentions.

I guess the fundamental different between our positions is this: I
believe that meetings are important becase it is a place where REAL
DIFFERENCES are aired in a polite forum, and business gets done quickly.
Those who favor consensus really view the point of a meeting as not only a
place for making decisions, but as a rally designed to make the entire
group feel good about the group -- and that sounds like a formal sort of
brainwashing to me.

Frederick Douglass once wrote: "Those who profess to favor freedom, and
yet deprecate agitation, are men who want rain without thunder and
lightning. They want the ocean without the roar of its many waters."

> Ken
> "In short, I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain
> one's self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live
> simply and wisely."
> -Henry David Thoreau-
> >-----Original Message-----
> >From:
> >[]On Behalf Of Scott David
> >Gray
> >Sent: Sunday, January 23, 2000 9:01 AM
> >To:
> >Subject: Re: DSM: Majority Rule vs. Consensus
> >
> >
> >I have been part of meetings run by consensus, and meetings run by Robert's
> >Rules. Consensus is VERY coercive. In practice, a consensus meeting says to
> >the minority "we don't get to end this meeting until you CONSENT
> >to what the
> >majority wants". I have felt obliged to depart more than one group, because
> >I was made to feel uncomfortable and unwanted when I refused to CONSENT to
> >things I thought were wrong. In a regular Parliamentary Meeting, I am never
> >denied my right to voice my objection, maintain that the majority is wrong,
> >and yet submit to the will of the majority. As a perpetual member of the
> >minority in many gatherings, I cannot tolerate the intrinsic DISRESPECT of
> >my individuality that comes from a consensus style meeting.
> >
> >The most fundamental right of any minority, is the right to stand
> >by and let
> >the majority do what it will without ever letting go of their personal
> >belief that the majority is wrong.
> >
> >Consensus equals government by the stubborn, and encourages people
> >to act as
> >rubber stamps.
> >
> >As far as discussions being ended as soon as it is clear that a motion will
> >get the majority, advise that your collegues actually read
> >Robert's Rules --
> >the rights of the minority to be heard are taken very seriously (much more
> >so than in any consensus meeting in which I've participated). Shee
> >
> >
> >Martin Wilke wrote:
> >
> >> Hi all,
> >>
> >> I and three parents are going to (try to) start a non-coercive school in
> >> Berlin. On our first informal meeting we found that we have quite
> >> different ideas of how decisions should be made in a non-coercive
> >> school.
> >> While I think majority should decide they insist on consensus. Their
> >> main argument is that the majority would oppress the minority. That
> >> discussions would be ended as soon as it is clear that a motion will get
> >> a majority, and thus the minority would simply be ignored. What
> >> experience do you have in School Meetings or Assemblies with this point?
> >>
> >> Martin Wilke
> >
> >-- Scott David Gray
> >reply-to:
> >
> >Phone: 508/650-9639
> >ICQ: 27291292
> >

--Scott David Gray
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