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Other Ecovillages’ “Check and Balance” Decision-Making Methods

Posts: 45
Location: Earthaven Ecovillage, North Carolina; Ecovillages newsletter http://wwwEcovillageNews.org
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“Consensus . . . allows each person complete power over the group.”
—Caroline Estes, Communities Directory (FIC, 1991, 1995).

As noted in the post I did on January 4 [ https://permies.com/t/20249/community/Earthaven-Ecovillage-Changed-Decision-Making ] in order to create checks and balances to counter the effect of “complete power over the group,” a few other ecovillages besides Earthaven, where I live, have changed their decision-making methods too. Some of their methods have influenced Earthaven’s new process.

* In 2011 ZEGG in Germany and Schönwasser Ecovillage in Austria each switched from consensus to Holacracy. Schönwasser also uses Systemic Consensus, a mathematical measuring method developed in Austria. (Here’s a description of Systemic Consensus in my Ecovillages newsletter, "Systemic Consensus: Fast, Visual, and Hard to Argue With." http://www.ecovillagenewsletter.org/wiki/index.php/Systemic_Consensus_%E2%80%94_Fast,_Visual,_and_Hard_to_Argue_With

* In 2011 Lost Valley Educational Center/Meadowsong Ecovillage in Oregon switched from consensus to Sociocracy. (Here’s a video about how their members like it Scroll down to fourth video.) http://sociocracyconsulting.com/resources/videos/

* Dancing Rabbit, an ecovillage in Missouri, US, is considering switching from consensus to an 8-person "Town Council "model. If they approve this, the elected 8 people will decide things instead of the whole group. (!)

* N St. Cohousing in California uses what I call the N St. Consensus Method, in which blockers meet with advocates of the blocked proposal in a series of solution-oriented meetings in order to co-create a new proposal. If they cannot, the old proposal comes back for a 75 percent supermajority vote.

* Sieben Linden Ecovillage in Germany changed from three decision options in consensus (approve, stand aside, block) to four (approve, abstain/don't know, stand aside, block). Seventy-five 75 “approve” is required to pass a proposal. They also nominate and elect each member of their five committees — members with the highest number of nominations for each committee serve on that committee (although they can decline the honor).

* Kommune Niederkaufungen in Germany switched from traditional consensus to a modification very much like the N St. Consensus Method, with blockers and proposal advocates holding a series of solution-oriented meetings to create a new proposal. (Here’s a description of their new process in Ecovillages newsletter.) Here's an article in Ecovillages newsletter about that:

* L'Arche de Saint Antoine, a spiritual community in France, uses consensus with three different decision-rules (the percentage of agreement needed to pass a proposal) for different kinds of decisions:
(1) Decisions in community-wide business meetings — 75 percent supermajority vote.
(2) Decisions in committees — 66 percent supermajority vote
(3) To approve potential provisional members and approve new full members, elect their director, and change their ByLaws — 100 percent consensus.

As you’ll see in my next post, tomorrow, Earthaven’s new process has similar elements to Lost Valley’s, N Street’s, and L’Arche de Saint Antoine’s methods.

Diana Leafe Christian
Posts: 356
Location: Portugal (zone 9) and Iceland (zone 5)
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Hi Diane, I really like your books and especially your recent interest in decision making methods! I think this is key for our future, and intentional communities are paving the way for new methods to be experimented and that one day might be uses in mainstream society and groups.

From what I understood, sociocracy is an ideal way to create a community where several of its members become disengaged from discussions and their active role, as opposed to consensus or majority consensus, where everyone saying is critical.

It also can create lobbies which exert their power and even secrecy in decision making. Just imagine the business committee making a decision that affects person A, which is not part of the committee. This occurs widely in mainstream society and I see no reason why it would not repeat in intentional communities !

Yes, I know this is a negative criticism, but this is a serious risk. I am afraid that many communities might eventually corrupt themselves if they do not adhere to the highest possible integration of every member. Having specific groups to specific topics always has the pitfall of leaving others behind. I am not familiar with Dancing Rabbit change, but it seems that is was not the best decision. We will see if this change will improve or not the community in years ahead. Other communities seem even less horizontal, like Damanhur.

I, my self, live in a intentional community with a rather highly hierarchical system with several topic-specific committees and I feel this is highly un-egalitarian and often unfair. People feel left aside, they feel others yield too much power, etc, creates a feeling of alienation, as I do, and many others feel. The people up remain, while the people down keep leaving after a couple of years. This is not a healthy way of keeping a community running. The infrastructures and the community remains, as it has for 80 years, because it always had a link with the people in the government and finance, but this is no difference than a business car or food company. Other members of our community might see my comment here, but I speak freely and without fear, because basically most of our members know what I talk about. I think this is the only way to make an improvement, to direct challenge what we think it is highly unfair.

Many of these problems comes down to power and possession: like "who owns the land", "who owns the community", "who created the community does not want to share its power with new members", etc...

I often struggle with this point: I would like to start a community one day, but I fear I would repeat the same mistakes as people that start communities and remain attached to their power positions. Sometimes I feel so disencouraged that I lose my entire faith in intentional communities.

But I know there is a way forward. I feel a majority based consensus is still one of the most desirable systems; the decision making by L'Arche de Saint Antoine seems perfect to me. Everyone is engaged. And to be even better, by setting the meeting between the blockers with the proposers of the blocked proposal, as Kommune Niederkaufungen, one assures that everyone feels rather satisfied and integrated and engaged.

Of course in a large community not everyone has time or patience to get to know about every tiny decision. Let's say, the gardening group can invite everyone, and not everyone comes. But I think it is the most important decisions that must try to involve the entire group of members in a mix of majority consensus making and meeting between disagreeing factions. Say topics like money, housing, new members: if one feels left behind on these topics, that person is going to be feel alienated from a part of the community. And so you start the slowly gradual breaking-up of the community.

Finally, the other day I was discussing with a friend within our community about the most ideal decision making methods and we agree in our point: we think that it does not only has to be with the method itself but also with the state of education/ethics and even what we could call "inner tuning". Well, what we do mean? We mean that if one is attuned to its own nature and to everyone around him/her, that this member knows what is best both for him/herself and for the entire community, and for every member. If the group is tuned and in good joy, I think disagreements are not going to be the main thing. A 90% consensus would perhaps easily work. The remaining 10% needs to be also somewhat satisfied. Otherwise, it is just like in democracy, a duality of positions, where the minority feels left behind.

Basically, we must not alienate ourselves from our inner nature, as well as we must not alienate from each other. We must understand every member of the community, its intimate needs and wishes. Just like a couple works, a community must work in similar fashion.

We also came to the conclusion that the smallest the group, the easiest this is (say a group from 2 up to 10 people). The largest the group, the most complicate it is (say the common 50-150 number for most well known ecovillages) and the easiest it is to fool itself by believing in less horizontal decision making methods. Sooner or later people will feel left behind.
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