Policy Example: Consensus Decision-Making Proposal

Current members of community have joined without having had to agree to a clear mission statement and common goal. Some have not undergone a well-organized, incoming membership process, and some do not have an interest in the training workshops offered within Windsong.

There are often no clear steps of the consensus process being followed with a proposal or issue. 

Fears around the following concerns continue to create anxiety and disharmony within meetings and certain community interactions:

not being heard and/or validated when sharing openly with a yellow/red card

the threatening “red card” blocking proposals from moving forward

tyranny of the minority

tyranny of the majority

facilitators can feel unsupported in their efforts and are often standing alone without a community voice to back them up when conflict arises

When even one person with voting power in community doesn’t fully understand how consensus can work, it can create disharmony and structural conflict in the decision-making process and community as a whole.

History of this issue:

Concerns that arose during and after the DLC workshop/Tree’s Consensus workshop, which prompted us to revise our current policy to better meet the needs of our unique community. The steps below needed to reach consensus will be placed in the hands of the facilitation team to use either as a flipchart or post on the walls in the common house during community meetings.

Steps of the Consensus Process

Step #1: Introduction to Issue

Why are we discussing this?

History of the issue

Goal for this item at this particular meeting

Offer as issue or proposal

 

Step #2:Clarifying Questions  -  Questions of understanding only

 

Step #3:Discussion

Further questioning

Bring out diversity of ideas, concerns and perspectives

Deal with the bigger picture before getting into details

Note agreements and disagreements on general direction and the underlying reasons for them - discuss thoroughly

 

Step #4:Establish Basic Direction

What would best serve the whole?

Sense of the meeting

General or philosophical agreement; agreement in principle

 

Step #5:Synthesize or Modify Proposal

Note agreements and disagreements on specifics and the underlying reasons for them – discuss those underlying reasons and needs

Generate ideas to address and resolve concerns

Evaluate potential solutions

Synthesize proposed ideas/solutions or come up with new ideas in the supportive atmosphere of the meeting

Stay aware of how much detail the whole group really needs to go into vs. passing to committee

 

Step #6:Call for Consensus

Re-state proposal clearly

Ask: “Are there any remaining unresolved concerns?”

Official decision point: use structure for clarity, such as Agree, Stand Aside, Block

Check to see if all parties genuinely consent

 

Step #7:Record

Note taker to read back decision to the group

Record: decision, tasks, timeline, implementation

 

 

Steps 1 – 5 in the Consensus Process require the following:

 

Green card: express opinion on the issue

Yellow card: have a question about the issue or can clarify something on the issue

Red card: can be used to clarify process issues, but NOT block content

NOTE: To avoid using a red card to signify a block at this point, use action or discussion methods other than cards to assess energy or opinions around the proposal.

 

Steps 6 – 7 in the Consensus Process require the following:

 

Green card: go ahead with proposal (in agreement). When seeing a need, the facilitator or a community member can ask for the level of energy held with green carders (holding card high/med/low)

Yellow card: serious concern with the proposal, but is not willing to hold the community back if all other members are in agreement (standing aside) (see section on yellow card concerns

Red card: blocking the proposal. At this stage in consensus process, the person or persons must feel that the proposal would have an overall negative impact for the group which 1) outweighs the perceived benefits from the proposal itself and/or a consensus agreement on the matter or 2) crosses group’s core principles and feels responsible to stop it (see section on red card concerns)  

NOTE:

yellow card is to be taken very seriously, as it signifies a lack of support and can drain energy around the proposal. The goal of consensus is to either bring a proposal to the point where all can agree to and support it, or to understand clearly why this cannot happen, and assess whether the proposal should be dropped. Sometimes, either putting a proposal away for a while or dropping it altogether is a successful outcome from the consensus process.

attention red carders: the following are not valid reasons to block: 

To get your way or because you prefer a different proposal, or no proposal

To fulfill your personal moral values or how you want to live

Tradition; because things have always been done this way

Because the proposed action doesn’t fit your personal needs (or finances)

Because you’d have to leave the group if the proposal passed

 

Yellow cards in the Consensus Process include the following:

Discuss: “what would you need to change your yellow card to a green?”

Once the yellow card holder has expressed his/her concerns and is listened to and understood by the community, the community can agree to go back to Stage 5 and make amendments to the proposal or propose another course of action.

The facilitator can make a second call for consensus.

If there are still yellow cards after the second call for consensus, the facilitator (with the support of the community) can request to either:

halt the process completely if no agreement can be reached.

request that the yellow carders work with the committee/presenter before the next community meeting to resolve their concerns. If there are more than two yellow cards, the facilitator can decide to halt the process depending on the nature of the yellow cards

pass the proposal on the grounds that the yellow carder(s) will continue to work on the foreseen challenges with the presenter/committee outside of the community meeting and have everyone in agreement. 

if concerns are felt to be irresolvable, if agreed upon by those displaying yellow cards, the proposal may be passed with the yellow carders’ concerns recorded in the minutes.

 

Red cards in the Consensus Process include the following:   

The facilitator and community has attempted consensus on the proposal in Step 5 - 6 of the Consensus Process. If the red card(s) still stands, the person(s) will be expected to:

continue ongoing discussions/meetings with committee/presenter outside of the community meeting to work on amending the proposal with everyone in agreement. The possible solution(s) are to be brought forth to the following community meeting. If: 

at that meeting progress has been made, but consensus can still not be reached, the process may continue.

during this process, a month elapses with no progress being made towards a solution, the community may decide to:

utilize voting fallback (see Defining Voting Fallback) 

decide to drop the proposal, or

set the proposal aside for a period of time

in the event that a decision is time-sensitive, critical and can be described as an emergency, the facilitator (with community support) can, within the same meeting as the first:

call for consensus or

resort to voting fallback for the proposal to move forward immediately to meet the issue’s time-sensitive constraint

 

Defining Voting Fallback

Voting fallback is defined as 95% green cards

For example: if there are 40 members at a meeting and two individuals continue to red card the proposal, it could be passed providing there are NO yellow carders. For 95% consensus to apply here, it would mean that 38 of the 40 people attending would be holding a green card.  

 

NOTES

   

relying on voting fallback is considered a last measure, and must never become a common occurrence. For voting fallback to be used, the presenters must demonstrate that they have taken all possible measures to avoid having to resort to this.

if there are amendments to the proposal which come out of meetings with red/yellow carders, the changes must be brought back as an amendment for a new call for consensus, with the modified proposal being clearly restated. If the concern focuses on aspects of implementation not outlined in the proposal, these implementation details may be added without the need for a further community meeting.

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