Thursday, May 28, 2015

Riff on Decision Making in Self-governing Groups

[May 28, 2015]

In this article, L.A.Kaufman challenges the consensus on consensus decision making in many activist communities. I answer this well argued commentary.

It seems to me that every form of decision making offers benefits and dangers. They are screens which select the kinds of divisions and unities we are going to allow, but there will always be opposition to the current form, and proponents of the current form. Since the form of decision making merely smushes around upon whom the injustices will be levied, there is no principled "best" form. The politics will always go on, and the participants will always seek ways to game the process.

I would like to propose a ranked system of decision making. When a  group first gathers, they decide by consensus on the rules of conduct, and on the principles of the group. The second rank of decisions, such as objectives and measurables, must meet a high standard but not consensus. A third rank, such as actions to pursue, and how to spend money, can be decided by majority. The goal is to protect the ability of members to identify with the decisions made. Decisions with which a person can disagree, and agree to support anyway, are decisions which do not require consensus. Decisions which do not affect the goals of the group (how to set up a tent) are delegated to competent persons.

But if a minority in the group feels it cannot maintain affiliation with the group because of a lower ranked decision, or a higher ranked decision, the group must decide whether unity is more important, or a principle is at risk. Can members of the minority remain affiliated if the decision is not changed? Members of the group can propose to elevate an issue to a higher rank, requiring a stronger agreement, if they think they must otherwise divorce, or a lower rank if they think they can maintain unity without the higher rank agreement. The decision of whether to elevate an issue to a higher rank, or a  lower rank, expresses the sense of the group over the relative importance of the principle, against maintaining unity within the group, and would be made according to the level of agreement currently required. 

This process of course does not eliminate the dangers to group unity and group principles. It merely allows the members to express their sentiments about which of these is more important, and thus sets the debate at its proper level, gaining efficiencies in time and energy, and increasing democratic value, while referring the most important decisions to the highest rank of agreement.

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