Because increasing numbers of members over the last several years have been dissatisfied with our consensus decision-making method, in October 2012 Earthaven agreed to modify its consensus process. For 18 years we used consensus-with-unanimity, which requires 100% agreement (not counting stand-asides) to pass a proposal. We also had no recourse if someone blocked — no criteria for what constituted a valid block, against which blocks could be tested, nor a requirement that blockers meet with proposal advocates to draft a new proposal.
“Blocking potentially gives tremendous power to one or a few individuals, and the only way for that to function successfully is with a check and balance,” advises consensus trainer Tree Bressen (Communities magazine, Summer 2012). “In my experience, every successful consensus system . . . restricts blocking power in order to guard against tyranny of the minority,” she adds (Fall 2012 issue).
Here’s how Earthaven’s new “check and balance” method works:
- To choose officers in our annual meeting, we adapted a technique from Sociocracy: a series of “go rounds” to nominate and choose people for these roles. We used this method successfully in annual officer elections in our November 25th and December 9th Council meetings.
- To approve incoming new members we retained our previous consensus method.
- For all other proposals we added criteria for a valid block and a way to test blocks against that criteria (i.e., a block is declared invalid if 85% of Council members present say it’s invalid).
For any remaining blocks that have been declared valid, we use an adaptation of the N St. Consensus Method, in which blockers and several proposal advocates participate in up to three solution-oriented meetings to co-create a new proposal that addresses the same issues as the first proposal. If they cannot, the original proposal comes back to the next Council for a decision using consensus-minus-one (meaning it takes two blocks, not one, to stop the proposal).