DSM: Re: Majority Rule vs. Consensus

The Booroobin School (booroobin@squirrel.com.au)
Mon, 24 Jan 2000 08:39:19 +1000

Hi Martin,
Good luck with a School in Berlin. It would be great if it is founded on
the Sudbury model.

I have read the dialogue on majority vs. consensus. It is clear that
experiences have resulted in a disparity of opinion about these different
forms of decision making, with most down in favour of majority voting. I
appreciate much of what Kenneth says. I don't agree with adversarial means
of reaching decisions. I wonder still whether consensus is the mechanism
that best serves people, rather than achieving things. I sort of feel that
it does, because it strives the most to be inclusive. I like both, but in
terms of getting business done, majority voting seems to be necessary. I
have a lot of experience in both forms of decision making. This School and
its history have experienced both, with consensus being the chosen model of
decision making almost from day one. It is no longer the process in place
according to our constitution. However, the majority of decisions are made
by consensus, using good meeting process of motions, amendments, etc. Both
my and the School's experiences follow.

In any meeting of people, there is a wide variety of opinions, backgrounds,
exposures, values, interpretations and "baggage".

In the past I have been a great advocate of consensus decision making. I
have researched it, and the best means of achieving a decision by consensus.
I have come to the conclusion, after working in and fulfilling elected
representative executive positions in entities which are essentially
communities of interest, that whilst consensus can, should and ought to work
most of the time, it does not work all the time. I can provide a flowchart
of the processes that can lead to a consensus decision.

At The Booroobin School in Maleny, Queensland Australia, we built consensus
into the constitution of the incorporated Co-Operative which was the
original not for profit operator of the School. For similar reasons that
the Co-Operative (at the time the only one in Queensland to operate a
School) converted to a not for profit company, we also decided not to
include consensus as the means for making decisions. The reasons come back
to people who were not prepared to compromise or give ground in order to
arrive at a decision in a reasonable time.

Consensus involves give and take (and to a certain extent, so does majority
voting). If no one persons opinion is accepted as being perfectly reasoned
with all the facts (and perceptions) perfectly in order, then it has to be
logically accepted that "actively listening" to the views of others is
vitally important. The group's decision will be the sum total, in summary
form of the inputs of all the people. Those without any view on the
subject, those with some of the facts all have input, and all need to take
in the information, digest it, reorganise it and arrive at something and be
accepting enough of each other's opinions to arrive at the decision. In
business, as we are, in order to operate our private, independent school
there is a need to make decisions effectively, within reasonable timeframes.
The requirements put upon people to let go a little of their personal
desires or objectives in order for the opinions of other people to be heard
or to have sufficient input, at times, is too much to ask. I have found
that people (nearly always adults) too frequently will not move, will not
let go enough of their personal position in order for the group to arrive at
a decision which accommodates the views of others. In consensus, there is
also the opportunity for people to stand aside from decisions in order for
the group to move on. I haven't found that happen much, because people tend
to dig in and stand firm, in an uncompromising way, although I have stood
aside to enable the decisions to be made. For that reason, we now have
different levels of majority voting built into our Constitution, from simple
majorities to differing proportions based on the decision to be made. As a
Director for some years of a long standing Co-Operative which operated an
retail, organic food store, I found that the hard, necessary decisions, were
not made because consensus could not be reached. Sales continued to slide,
until dramatic changes had to be made, which hurt the people involved.
Consensus ought to have been a tool to rectify the situation, but it in fact
made the business worse.

Having said all of the above, working with Students in a democratic School,
from 4 years and up, and now about to start our 5th year we generally arrive
at consensus decisions most of the time, probably in 95% of instances.
However, although we still hear from all people, requiring properly
formulated written proposals with good lead times, and we employ the
processes of consensus (the flowchart for which sits at the front of the
Directors, Trustees and School Meeting Minutes books), we will revert to
majority decisions in those cases where consensus cannot, for whatever
reason, be reached. This simply seems to be the way of people.

Regards, Derek Sheppard
-----Original Message-----
From: Martin Wilke <martin.wilke@gmx.net>
To: Discuss Sudbury Model <discuss-sudbury-model@sudval.org>
Date: Sunday, January 23, 2000 10:06 PM
Subject: DSM: Majority Rule vs. Consensus

>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
>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

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