|Family Decision Making Techniques
Your family has chosen to paint 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? 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?
You have options in the decision making process. We will look at these processes
and their pros and cons. Remember that your family does not have to pick one
method and use it exclusively. We feel that each option has its place.
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Who hasn’t used this? We find majority voting in elementary school classes,
groups of friends and occasionally 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 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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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
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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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
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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 (the link is 4 paragraphs down).
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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.
The Conceivia website says it best,
“Most people thought the air plane was a bad idea, and most new inventions for
that matter. Almost all good ideas are considered bad ideas by the majority.
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 they do
make an interesting case.
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
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:
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- Assemble at the agreed time and location.
- Breathe together. *
- Declare safe space. *
- Check in.
- Choose and/or introduce facilitator(s), note taker, mood monitor, optional peacekeeper and timekeeper.
- Review the agenda or call for agenda items, establish priorities, set times for each.
- Read out a proposal.
- Take breaks, call for rounds, check periodically to see how everyone is feeling.
- Query for consensus.
- Repeat 8 through 10 as needed.
- Evaluate the meeting.
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
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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You need ‘em. Like the facilitator, a good note take 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 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
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
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,
the ability to resolve conflict