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Consensus minus 3 in Niederkaufungen

Knowledgebase > Consensus minus 3 in Niederkaufungen

Consensus minus 3 in Niederkaufungen

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Foreword about the decision making process

Or "How do we carry on when no consensus can be reached?"

All those who live here or who have lived here in the commune in Niederkaufungen in the last 25 years have tried to reach consensus about subjects and themes which are relevant to the whole group. The idea was that it would be a way out of hierarchic structures and into freedom from hierarchy. Our wish is that no one, not even one lone individual, should be overruled and so fall out of the group. Each one of us needs a lot of self-awareness, self-confidence and self-efficacy.

Two problems became visible during these 25 years:
– Some individuals withdraw from the decision making process.
– When no consensus could be reached, the preceding situation remained and old rulings remained valid (conservative principle). This in turn meant that one person, through the veto, was given power over the whole group.

Now, a 25 year old community, grown up, developed, in a new phase of life, we want to see if our practice of consensus can be improved.
After 25 years, change is pending for the generation of communards who are living here today. Conserving the established values and core principles of the commune, we are trying new methods to determine the form of the decision making process.

Further Developments

In practice, there are 3 alterations or further developments which have been made in the past year:

– a refined process of sampling the mood and opinions in the group that makes the views of those who have not contributed written or spoken contributions to the process visible and gives them a public airing

– standing aside as a conscious act of abstention with the possibility of giving reasons for this

– we attempt to create a balance between those who want change and those who wish to maintain the existing situation. Here it is necessary to strengthen the position of those who wish for change. In the future, a veto will not automatically block a proposed decision.

For this, we have developed a decision making procedure from which we hope to obtain more participation in the decision making process, more acceptance that criticism is valuable and therefore more identification with decisions, independent from the end result. In short, we hope for better quality decisions and more satisfaction with them.

We hope that, through this new procedure, we can reach consensus more often than in the past. At the same time, this is an attempt to develop solutions that come as close to consensus as possible in situations in which in the end there is no consensus to be found.

Consensus minus 3

The following experiment is being tested in 5 „decision making procedures“ or for a maximum of two years from summer 2012. It does not apply to the acceptance and entry of new members.

Step 1: Just as now, the written proposals for decisions will be made public and hung up on the notice board two weeks before the target date. A week later, it will be read out during the plenary meeting as being up for decision in the following week. The process of sampling the mood and opinions in the group will take place at this date.

Step 2: If someone raises an existential objection to the proposal during this opinion sampling process, the chairperson of the meeting expresses her/his thanks for the efforts to reach a better decision and gives enough room for the person to express and explain the objection. In addition, the chairperson can, at her/his discretion, allow other people time to express their opinions.

Step 3: In the case that, either during the opinion sampling process or afterwards as written notices, it becomes clear that there are other pressing concerns about the proposal that need to be discussed, attempts at clarification will be made during the following week.

A week later. The decision is being faced.
A query will be made: Who can only „stand to the side“ ( „Beiseite Stehen“) over the decision? We want to give this possibility plenty of space and value, for example, in that time will be given to the people to explain their position and/or that they and their position will be noted in the final decision.

A second query is: Who can not live with this decision and can also not just abstain from it?
If there is a veto, the chair people of the meeting explain how the process is to continue further to reach a decision which is acceptable to all.

Two cycles of our normal small work and discussion groups are set aside for this. When this still doesn’t bring consensus, then the fourth step can be taken when someone from the small work group so wishes. The group continues as normal for further cycles if there is unanimity for this in the group.

Step 4: There is to be a maximum of six meetings and two months time to arrive at a decision which can be accepted by all. The meetings are to take place at a time when all participants are alert and can concentrate. As an ammendment to our current practice of how the work groups are composed, we have decided that the persons expressing criticism or vetos can or should name 2 or 3 three people of their choice to take part in the work group. To be chosen is then to take on a moral duty to the commune. All structures which may possibly be of assistance, such as facilitation, use of representatives in discussion, Non-violent communication and so on, will be offered by the chair people of the plenary meetings on behalf of the commune as a whole.

Step 5: If there is no consensus reached after the two months and six meetings, a vote on the originally proposed decision will be taken involving all members of the commune. The ballot is to be announced a fortnight in advance and a written survey of opinion and mood will be hung up. The proposed decision is taken as being valid when there are three or less vetos. Four or more vetos are needed to reject the proposal and it will remain undecided.


Every time that this process leads to a ballot, a folder for written feedback will be hung up on the commune noticeboard and afterwards there will be an evaluation meeting about the contents.

After one and a half years, a small work group will be convened for a complete evaluation of the process during the experimental period.

„Existential Needs“ create a space where the individual can display something to the group and should therefore be explained and accompanied by reasons.

See Also

Governance in Kommune Niederkaufungen


Sampling mood and opinions in community

Recommended Reading

Busting the Myth that Consensus with Unanimity Is Good for Communities by Diana Leafe Christian

Published in the Summer 2012 issue of Communities magazine – Issue #155, with a number of other articles on the same theme.

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