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What movie are we going to see?

Family Decision Making Techniques
Your family has chosen to paint the exterior of the house. Everyone agreed without much discussion. Some might see this as a result of the process of consensus – but it wasn’t. You were lucky enough to have a 100% perfect majority. Now, what color scheme for walls and trim on the interior common rooms? We can pretty much guarantee you won’t get a perfect majority on this topic. Some people will have little interest in what the colors will be. Others will be quite opinionated on the subject. What’s a civilized line family to do?

Your family has options in the decision making process. We will look at a few of these processes and their pros and cons. Our book covers 11 decision making processes and why Robert's Rules of Order is not recommended for family decision making. Remember that your family does not have to pick one method and use it exclusively. We feel that each option has its place. Return to top.

Majority Rule:
Who hasn’t used this? We find majority voting in elementary school classes, groups of friends and occasionally for the presidency of the United States. For a small group it’s a quick and brutal way to make choices. Quickness is its major positive. Majority voting does have its place. If the question being voted on is of limited consequence, it might be the way to go. For example, a non-binding vote can be used to see how the group stands on an issue. In the best case, it is a shortcut to resolutions. Otherwise it could indicate how much work is needed to find a solution to a question. In the worst case the process can involve adversarial debate and the formation of competing factions.

We do believe that majority voting has one critical use… admission of a new member. Our guess is that a vote for a new line family member must be 100 percent yes. Consensus can be used, but we feel that little discussion should be needed as any new member should already be well known to every member of the family. This would be accomplished by whatever family rule you have for vetting potential members. Some of those rules might include living with the family for a year, spending a minimum amount of time with each member of the family and/or getting involved in a family business or project. Everyone should have a good feeling about the person before the vote. Family members should also feel comfortable talking with each other about the potential member during any trial period. Hopefully the vote will be a formality.
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Rotating Planning Board:
Twin Oaks has used this method for decades. Planning boards consist of three people who are given staggered18-month terms. Every 6 months a new member joins the board as an existing member’s term end. Planning board members are executives. A proposed member of the planning board can be blocked by a membership minority of 20% voting against them. Planning board decisions can be overruled by a simple majority of the membership (hardly dictatorial powers). Members are encouraged to have private conversations with board members, write opinion papers and take polls to influence the board’s actions. Weekly community meetings are also held to further discuss issues in the community with the board.

Twin Oaks success speaks well to this kind of management. After all it has worked for Twin Oaks for most of its history that stretches back to 1967. They have several businesses with associated managers and team members. Twin Oaks’ population floats at around 100 including children. Your line family will probably not be that large. Though I suppose it is not out of the question to have 2 or 3 line families in some kind of intentional community relationship.
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Knowledge Expert:
A family would be wise to use its human capitol when making choices about technical or professional issues. If your line family includes a lawyer, nurse, electrician, etc. it would be foolish to not give weight to their expertise when applicable. If the question before you is a matter of contracts, real-estate or tax laws, it would only make sense to give more weight to the lawyer. However, other individuals may have specific information that the subject matter expert does not have.
Check out a true story of this at Random Notes.

It is unreasonable to expect a professional in any field to know absolutely everything about their subject. Therefore, it is not advisable to give your subject matter expert total control over a decision in their field of expertise. However, individuals who bring up positions contrary to a professional's judgment must provide documentation to back up their objections or modification suggestions.
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Individual Initiative:
Situations can arise that call for immediate consideration by an individual family member. It’s hard to believe that in a world of cell phones, wi-fi and the occasional pager that anyone is ever out of touch with anyone. But cell batteries die, cell coverage fails and the wi-fi coffee shops close occasionally – and there you are with a killer deal on two full-cords of wood or the perfect truck with overload springs and diesel engine that will run on peanut oil for a fair price. These items have several folks interested and on the way, but you are there and have a family account checkbook.

Should the family allow for individual initiative so as not to miss the great deal or purchase of an item for which the family has been searching for a year and a half? What review process should you have in place to review such individual actions? If an individual makes a poor choice, what should be the repercussions? Restricting the individual from making initiative purchases? More drastic or a big hug and saying, "nice try"? Does your family want to allow individual initiative purchases at all? Your family might want to discuss this possibility in advance.
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Voting Credits:
We believe that important family decisions require more negotiation than a quick majority vote usually allows. Voting Credits encourage deliberation and puts something at stake for each member. Our suggestion is that this system not be used for admitting new members to the family (see Majority Rule).

The Mechanics -
New members are given 500 credits upon family membership approval (the number is just a suggestion). Having some credits give the new member some voice in this system.

10 credits/day is given to all family members. The longer you are in the family, the more credits you accumulate up to the limit.

The maximum number of credits any member can accumulate is 10,000. In this scenario it takes just under 3 years to maximize your account.

In any issue to be decided by this system you may use up to 20% of credits. If you have somehow amassed the maximum 10,000 credits, it means you can put up to 2,000 credits into the voting. Using your maximum allowed voting credits means you are “all in.” This is a powerful position to take and should not be done unless you are extremely passionate about the outcome.

The result of your 2,000 credit vote is that you now have only 8,000 credits. If there were a second issue on the table that day, your maximum number of available credits would be 1,600 (20% of 8,000 is 1,600). The more you throw your weight around, the lighter you become – quickly.

Feel free to use different numbers and percentages. This has just been an example. If you want to learn more, check out the website of the folks who developed this system Conceivia website.
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Reasons To Use Voting Credits -
1. It captures the relative importance each member brings to the issue. For example, maybe you’re the bicyclist we discuss and have little interest in the type of motor vehicle being purchased. You can use few or no credits to influence the result.

2. It tames people with control issues. It’s true – there are folks who try to be right on all issues. A person can not dominate every issue that is brought before the family.

3. It allows for people with strong feelings about a particular issue to demonstrate how important it is to them. The group will take notice if someone who normally has an even temperament when working on family issues suddenly goes “all in” to buck the trend of the talk. Take careful note of what this family member is trying to say.

Most people originally thought the airplane was a bad idea. Actually most new inventions are viewed with skepticism when first introduced. Good ideas are considered often considered bad ideas by the majority at first. We therefore can't rely on the majority to make decisions. We must make it possible for the individual to create. We must make it possible for a visionary to create a vision.

Note: We don’t think that the majority is always wrong, but hindsight is often better than foresight.

4. The system encourages negotiation. You choose how many votes to risk. Votes are lost only if there is opposition to your proposition. Talk to other family members, make compromises, listen to concerns, incorporate other’s ideas if possible and iron out disagreements. The more you negotiate answers the more voting credits you retain.

5. It reduces the formation of voting blocks, though it doesn’t eliminate them.
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Reasons Not To Use Voting Credits -
1. Someone has to be the system accountant.
Note: The folks who run the Conceivia site do not seem to understand the consensus system, the Amish or the scalability of this system (we don’t think voting credits would work for a billion people).

A detailed discussion of the consensus process is not possible for this website – this is only an introduction.

Consensus is a family decision making process that calls for participation by everyone. The process assumes that each person's contribution is valuable. It encourages active listening by everyone to everyone. It is one way family members can get to know each other better. Respect for all voices is one of the fundamentals of consensus. Consensus allows us to practice a better way of dealing with each other, otherwise there are people who might never be heard if it were not for consensus.

Consensus also avoids the disenfranchisement and dissatisfaction of the minority. If people feel that they are having a decision forced on them they are likely to complain and cause discord in the family. People can consciously or unconsciously sabotage decisions in small or large ways, all because they don’t feel their objections were really heard. Most proposals can be modified until they are at least acceptable to most and tolerable to the rest.

Consensus has no winners or losers. Individuals put forward their own ideas, modification and compromises in the goal of ultimately arriving at an outcome that all can share at some level.
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In consensus everyone is heard.

You have probably been involved in informal consensus. For example, you are out with two or three good friends for dinner and a movie. Generally you will all have different ideas about what movie to see. Do you drag a good friend to a musical who hates musicals? Or do you find a film that you can all agree to see? The point is to spend time with friends, not see exactly what you want to see. So you compromise on a silly comedy that you’re just OK with attending. After all, you’re good friends and you can bust his chops about his taste in films later.

Consensus takes time and can be hard work. Voting is simple and quick. Then, of course, a dictatorship is the most efficient form of government. Frankly we are more than a little suspicious of people who really want (or need) to be in charge.

Consensus meeting procedure outline:
  1. Assemble at the agreed time and location.
  2. Breathe together. *
  3. Declare safe space. *
  4. Check in.
  5. Choose and/or introduce facilitator(s), note taker, mood monitor, optional peacekeeper and timekeeper.
  6. Review the agenda or call for agenda items, establish priorities, set times for each.
  7. Read out a proposal.
  8. Take breaks, call for rounds, check periodically to see how everyone is feeling.
  9. Query for consensus.
  10. Repeat 8 through 10 as needed.
  11. Evaluate the meeting.
  12. Close.
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Deconstructing the consensus process:
The family assembles at a predetermined time and location.

Get comfortable as a group. This could be as simple as everyone taking a few breaths together.

Declare and establish the meeting as a safe and respectful space. (Cast a protective circle if that is your tradition).

Have everyone "check-in," with a brief introduction giving a name and saying how they are feeling at that moment. We feel that “being in the moment” is particularly important in this process.

Appoint a facilitator and optionally co-facilitator(s). Co-facilitators should trade off during the process, especially if one facilitator wants to express their concerns or propose modifications about the topic at hand. Otherwise the facilitator must strive to be neutral about the issue being discussed. The facilitator’s main concern is making sure that everyone in the room feels heard by getting their ideas fully expressed. Optimally facilitators would have had formal training in the consensus process. Otherwise it is desirable that they would have had some experience as a co-facilitator with a trained facilitator.

The process starts with the facilitator stating the proposal. If some family members don’t quite understand or have questions, the facilitator answers questions and restates the proposal in different terms until everyone is sure they understand what is being proposed. The proposer and others with a clear understanding of the details and intent of the proposal give occasional help in explaining the issues.

The facilitator keeps the family on track making sure all are given a chance to voice their ideas and their concerns. Sometimes a specific topic within the proposal needs to be resolved before moving on. It is up to the facilitator to focus the attention of the family on that item so that progress is made in a timely fashion. The facilitator also refocuses people reminding them about the proposal being considered and declares breaks. After a break the facilitator will recap what has been agreed to and what still needs work. Working with note takers, the facilitator makes sure side issues are documented for later consideration.
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Note Takers
You need ‘em. Like the facilitator, a good note taker should be fairly neutral on the item at hand. Otherwise co-note takers can cover for each other as each present their ideas and concerns. Note takers query family members when they are unsure of what the person said or meant. All family members should also be taking their own notes. Audio recording can be a valuable tool for review if needed. The facilitator is never a note taker.

Mood Monitor
Mood monitoring can be done by anybody and everybody. During a discussion, people are encouraged to look at the person talking. However, a mood monitor will scan the circle watching for indications of irritability, sleepiness, restlessness. A group stretch is a good idea. Get the blood flowing with a group laugh. Breathe together loudly, hug each other. Drink water, get a snack and visit the restroom. After whatever activity get back in circle, ground and continue.

Watch for pent up emotions. Let the family member release and process them. They can be a huge block to progress. Be aware of personal attacks. You are a family and personal attacks cut deeply in a family. Negotiations where emotions run high will be tough. Deal with these issues as they come up so that progress is not halted.

One way of dealing with an issue that is a hot topic for several family members is to call a “round” to deal with it. We will look at what a round is in a moment.
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Optional Offices in a Consensus Process:
Timekeeper is a title that is pretty self explanatory. Only the timekeeper should have a watch. This helps habitual clock watchers focus and not worry about the time. The timekeeper also monitors the time limits – if any – on discussion topics, suggestions and proposed modifications.

A family member designated as a Peacekeeper can act as a guide for new family members unfamiliar with the consensus process. They might also be called on to perform as a mediator. Like mood monitors, they also stay alert for developing emotional problems.

Almost everyone’s hand is up. Everyone has important input to be shared about the point being discussed – right now. It’s time for the facilitator to call a round. A talking stick (pillow, rock, pen, microphone or other item) is handed from person to person. Everyone else remains silent except the person holding the speaking item. If someone has nothing to say, say nothing and pass the talking stick. A time limit may be set, or not, for each family member speaking. Do not try to cover too much territory in a round. Stay focused on a specific topic. There are no limits to how many rounds that may be called.
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A facilitator will test for consensus if it seems like everyone’s issues have been addressed. Essentially the facilitator will ask if anyone has objections that have not been addressed. If not, the question is asked if there is consensus. It is done by asking each family member in turn. They may respond in one of three ways:

1. A family member may consent.
This means the member will help put the proposal into action. It doesn’t mean that the family member is necessarily in love with the proposal, but that they at least tolerate it. Serious objections have been answered by modification of the proposal or additional information reduced or eliminated the concerns.

2. A family member may “stand aside.”
This person is not quite convinced about the value or advisability of the proposal, but doesn’t feel it poses a significant potential problem to the family. Standing aside means the family member will neither help nor hinder the implementation of the proposal.

A proposal can have an enthusiastic team will to do all the work. In this case, everyone else might stand aside and the proposal will still pass. Whether the proposal is implemented depends on the continuing enthusiasm of the team. If the proposed project is not completed, that is fine. People who have stood aside have no interest in the outcome.

3. A family member may “block.”
This stops the consensus question cold. Use this option with care. The family member and their concerns and objections are thrown into the spotlight. This may be the intent of the person blocking. Intent to block may be stated any time during discussion to demonstrate how strong their objections are. Use this move with care. Be prepared to talk in detail about the objections. Also be prepared to actively listen to responses to the concerns raised. Consensus is about communication, not about wielding power.
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If no one blocks and everyone else consents or stands aside, the proposal is adopted. However, know that the consensus procedure is not a guarantee that all proposals will receive consensus - even if it is not blocked. The proposer might be the only one with enthusiasm for is issue. It is usually not considered consensus if everyone else stands aside. The proposer might learn things they had not considered and withdraw the proposal. When a lack of consensus seems inevitable, the facilitator can call for the process to end.

If you have read all of the consensus information, congratulations and thank you. We must warn you, however, that simply reading this quick introduction does not make you a trained facilitator or consensus guru. We strongly recommend that your family have at least one adult trained in the consensus process. There is lots of information online. This review was only a brief introduction to this powerful tool.

Quite a list of options to ponder. The method your family uses to make decisions and plans will no doubt vary with the size of your family, the number businesses you develop, the number and ages of children (if any) and your relationship with other neighboring families in various community models. All of this is more grist for your family agreements document.

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 * See random notes: The logic of magick.


If war is
the violent resolution of conflict,
then peace is not
the absence of conflict,
but rather,
the ability to resolve conflict
without violence.
C.T. Butler