This week's social reporter theme is People and Connections. Others have written beautifully about their colleagues and friends and what it feels like to be part of a group. I'm coming at it from a different angle, focusing on consensus decision making.
There's something a bit childish about the traditional adversarial style of making decisions. You know, the idea that there's more of us than you so we get to win. I say childish because it's a kind of badly thought through technique that works, in that there's an outcome, but which resorts to a kind of bullying brute force to get there. Of course it doesn't really work. A system that has built-in winners and losers has built in its own demise. The losers have never bought-in to the idea, they've had it imposed on them, and now they'll never want to agree with it. The psychology doesn't work, the process is self-defeating. It's weird how we've got this process of decision making right at the heart of our society.
But look at consensus decision making. Now there's a grown up way to get things done. I've been reading a little about it recently on the wonderful Seeds for Change website. I love the underlying principle that so long as the group has a shared aim and that there's respect between us, we can come up with a solution that takes on board the diversity of opinions that exist. The process encourages us to have a mature acceptance of what is – that people have different points of view, that people do not have different ideas without reason. Instead of just steam rollering over others by out-voting them, consensus encourages us to actively listen to their point of view and the proposal (the proposed solution you're working towards) will get modified to take what they've said into account.
Although consensus can take longer than voting, it's much more powerful. It means that everyone has buy-in. It also forces us to be more creative in coming up with more sophisticated solutions. Because the underlying principle is that there's a shared aim, people who don't really agree with the idea but don't want to stop the group moving forward can express their reservation or not get involved with the implementation of the proposal. They can “stand aside” and let the proposal pass. The point is, they're explicitly saying that in spite of their concerns, they support the group moving forwards. Resentment is being built out. Win. Win. If it comes to it, people always have the right to block a proposal if they fundamentally cannot allow it to happen.
I don't have that much experience of consensus decision making but I've seen enough to have confidence in it. I saw it happening at climate camp on Blackheath with at least 50 people, at one of their morning meetings. The proposal was something to do with whether they should let a certain group of people sell non-vegan beer in the camp. Here were some of the views:
- Of course the beer should be vegan since all our food is and that's always been our position.
- This is just vegan fascism. We shouldn't be dictating what people eat or drink.
- Why are we letting people drink alcohol in camp? It's disruptive and alcohol does lots of damage in society.
- Why are we letting people make money in camp? We're trying to come up with an alternative economic model here.
After discussing this some more, the proposal was modified and the facilitator “tested for consensus” by asking if there were any blocks and then stand asides. There were still too many stand asides, so the proposal was modified again and this time there was enough of a consensus to accept the proposal. The facilitation was skilful and I was truly impressed.
If, as a society, we're looking for a new way of doing things, a way to avoid recreating the process that got us into this mess, consensus should definitely be part of our kit. At the moment, decisions that affect our lives are made so remotely they are almost meaningless. It's easy for decision makers to exploit / pollute other people when the impact isn't apparent. And we've kind of allowed this to happen, due to, I don't know, a collective inertia? Apathy? We don't feel responsible for decisions that are made, because, we aren't. And then we end up doing things as a society that we know we wouldn't personally do. But decision making IS going to become more localised, either officially (e.g. the new Localism Act) or unofficially (e.g. your community's improvised response to some kind of shock). Let's start modelling and utilising this process now so that we can take more active responsibility for our decisions. Let's make decisions that are truly 'ours' and be able to look our neighbours in the eye afterwards. Consensus allows us to be truly adult, to be the best that we can be, considering other people's point of view, getting past our egos, being 'right'. As the lyrics to Pow Pow by Lcd Soundsystem go “From this position / I can see both of them / From this position / I totally get how the decision was reached”. And in the hugely interesting film, “The People Speak”, Pink says, “If you don't stand for anything, you'll fall for anything.” We need to stand for consensus because the spoilt brat fist of traditional voting doesn't serve us. We've simply grown out of it.