Consensus Decision Making in Cohousing

The intention in cohousing communities is to ensure that power be shared equally among the members of the community. Most cohousing communities use some form of consensus decision making. Generally, it works like this:

Members don’t vote yes or no on motions. Rather, proposals are introduced, discussed and eventually decided upon. Proposals don’t necessarily remain as they were introduced, but are improved or modified to meet people’s concerns as necessary.When it’s time to decide, people either give consent to the proposal, stand aside from it or block it.

Giving consent doesn’t necessarily mean loving every aspect of the final version of the proposal, but being able to live with it and being willing to support it.

Standing aside is what is sometimes called “principled non-participation” in which someone can’t personally support the proposal but does not want to stop the rest of the group from adopting it.

Blocking the proposal stops it from being adopted, at least for the time being. Blocking is a serous matter that should not be exercised out of self-interest but only when one truly believes that the pending proposal, if adopted, would violate the morals, ethics, or safety of the whole community.

A proposal is passed when everyone in the meeting gives consent, even if one or more people stand aside. It is not passed if one or more person blocks the proposal. A proposal that has been blocked can be further discussed, modified and reconsidered for consensus.

Conflicts and differences can arise under consensus as as often as they do under other forms of decision making but in consensus decision making conflict is seen  as a catalyst to creating more innovative solutions and crafting an agreement from all the different concerns the members of the community raise.

It’s not a perfect solution, but everyone gets to voice their concerns and everyone is involved in the decision making process.

This material comes from Creating Life Together, Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities, by Diana Leafe Christain