Earthaven’s New Decision-Making Method

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:

  1. 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.
  2. To approve incoming new members we retained our previous consensus method.
  3. 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).

About Diana
Diana Leafe Christian is an author and consultant on starting new ecovillages, finding community, and sustainability. www.dianaleafechristian.org

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