Saturday, February 6, 2016

Making Decisions in a Community

When I am excitedly describing the benefits of a cohousing community to someone, it is not uncommon to run into resistance about the prospect of consensus decision-making. Since I grew up a Quaker, consensus is part of my culture. But for most folks, it can sound confusing and difficult. We're used to settling differences by voting.

However, if you really think about it, voting automatically castes the voters into two groups. One group gets the most votes and wins. The other loses. It tends to polarize a population, at least on certain subjects. And with simple voting, the whole group never gets a chance to hear the thoughts of each of its members. Even if there is discussion before voting, it is easy to hang onto your own opinion. In consensus, in contrast, the objective changes. Instead of voting for your own preference, you look for the choice that most benefits the community as a whole. For this outcome, you need to listen to everyone, try to understand from the perspective of people other than yourself. This process strengthens relationships and promotes a thriving interaction and acceptance among members.

discussion at an all-member meeting last month

Cohousing communities in this country and abroad have been using consensus decision-making for most of their decisions since the beginning of the cohousing movement. I imagine that is because community is one of the most important concepts in cohousing. Friendly and comfortable relationships with your neighbors is a priority, and anything to encourage that is a plus. We at Prairie Hill can benefit in many ways from the work that has gone before us, and community decision-making is no exception. At the National Cohousing Conference last May, a number of our group attended workshops on decision-making. We've also sent a delegation to Arbco, a cohousing community in Madison, to attend a consensus workshop. We've drafted our own process of decision-making, and so far we seem to be doing fairly well when we have decisions to make. 

One of the popular ideas in cohousing circles at the moment is governing a community by the principles of "sociocracy". It is a fascinating system in which everyone is of equal importance, everyone has power within their own domain. The aspect of sociocracy that most caught my attention is that when decisions are made, it is for a certain length of time (1 month, 6 months, a year...), at which time the decision is re-evaluated and changes can be made. I love this! It is a bit like a sailboat, tacking with the wind, continually adjusting to the changing environment. 

The good thing is that we have lots of resources out there as we develop our own unique way of living in our own community. It is an exciting process, and we can take it a step at a time.

Nan Fawcett

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