[Noisebridge-discuss] consensus process meeting project postmortem (worth reading)

Danny O'Brien danny at spesh.com
Mon Feb 14 17:18:57 UTC 2011

On Mon, Feb 14, 2011 at 1:42 AM, jim <jim at well.com> wrote:
>    My take on the Consensus discussion meeting of Friday
> 20110211 was similar to Patrick's. It seemed a good
> discussion.
>    Here are some points that I recall.
> * No one presented an example showing that the consensus
> process is broken. The examples presented illustrated that
> the consensus process has been working (examples included
> accepting new members and one or two other things that i
> have forgotten).

I think there may be some deep deep history to this. I defer to people
who have been around longer than me and have attended meetings more
regularly, but complaints about consensus going haywire (as much in
the sense of actually causing acrimony rather than not being used or
being able to come to decisions) go back a long way:


This is a thread from 14 months ago that refers to a previous bad
period six months before that.

One of the first meetings I attended a long time ago (but in the new
space, so it can't have actually been that long) was pretty
spectacular, with people who seemed to know each other well arguing
flamboyantly and without much aim (shouting, threatening to block,
personally insulting their "opponents" in creative and apparently
well-aimed ways). I didn't know anyone involved and to me as an
outsider it mostly looked like Defcon-ic pranksters enjoying
themselves a bit too much at the expense of some quiet onlookers. The
quiet onlookers, though, looked highly pissed off.  I'd come in late
too, so I wasn't sure how long this had been going on.

Now I know more people in the space I don't know whether it'd look the
same to me now, but I think some of the reputation for dysfunctional
consensus comes from this kind of socially uncomfortable meeting as
much as it does from it being a hard way to get things done.

Moxie and Patrick have I think alluded to meetings that were more
recent that were also painful in this way, but I have to say  the
meetings I've attended recently have been uneventful and kind of fun
in an amicably bureaucratic kind of way.


> * A question is whether people are avoiding the consensus
> process because it's burdensome.
> * Is there a contradiction between doocracy and consensus?
> If someone does something doocratically, they haven't
> gotten consensus. The example was moving furniture to a
> drastically new configuration. The result seems to have
> been an unpleasant surprise to some people. Should there
> be consensus on taking drastic actions? Is the act of
> moving furniture part of a conversation? I.e. others can
> move the furniture back or to a different place.
> * For what issues should we apply consensus? This question
> was not answered.
> * We want to invite ideas of all kinds.
> * We want to avoid talking on and on without taking action.
> * Voting lets us make a decision based on a majority (or
> probably more correctly "plurality") that are for a proposal;
> it seems a quick and simple means of making a decision.
> Objections to voting are that those who vote are not
> necessarily informed, or not well-informed, and also that no
> accommodation is given to those who are opposed.
> * Consensus lets us make a decision if no one is opposed.
> One value is that if no one cares, why not agree, and
> anyone who is opposed will have some reason, i.e. will be
> informed at least with respect to some affect of the
> proposal. Another value is the protection of minority
> interests from being overrun by a possibly uncaring majority.
> Note that if no one is opposed to a proposal, decisions
> can be made very quickly. If someone is opposed, the cost
> is putting up with discussion and it is probably a case-
> by-case issue, depending on the importance of the objection
> (and possibly the person objecting).
> -------To be clear, here are some terms and definitions:
> "Process" is a sequence of steps taken to achieve some goal.
> http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/process.html
> "Consensus" is a process.
> The steps for consensus are to present a proposal for some
> decision and ask if there are objections; if there are
> objections, the group must resolve the objections so that
> no objections remain in order to make the decision; if
> objections cannot be resolved, the group cannot make the
> decision.
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consensus_decision-making
> "Doocracy" is a style of working together without formal
> process. Someone may suggest some action, but should do
> so with the willingness to do the action, asking for help
> with some parts of the action. Someone can just perform
> an action without prior notice or discussion. Those who
> dislike the result are welcome to undo or modify it. There
> is a claim that this doing and undoing business is a
> conversation.
> http://www.communitywiki.org/cw/DoOcracy
> "Conversation" is communication between people. Note
> that communication may be non-verbal.
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conversation
> "Anarchy" is a philosophy for holding together a group
> without a formal authority. Some people at noisebridge
> believe in anarchy: "anarchists love rules, they just
> don't want rulers" (an approximate quote from someone's
> post to the noisebridge-discuss list.
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchism
> "Voting" is a process of polling a group to determine
> how many are for, against, and neutral with respect to
> some proposed decision. Determining outcome can be by
> majority, where some percent greater than 50% (e.g. 60%
> or 2/3...) is required to decide, or by plurality, where
> the greatest number of "for" votes, no matter that the
> number is a majority. Note that Noisebridge seems to
> use plurality, not majority, for choosing board members.
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voting_system
> On Sat, 2011-02-12 at 13:29 -0800, Patrick Keys wrote:
>> I'm starting this new thread for everybody to benefit, share opinions,
>> and hopefully gain interest in joining a subsequent consensus process
>> meeting.  It's been decided off-list that consensus process discussion
>> should remain on this main discuss list because everybody at noisebridge
>> has a stake in how we reach consensus at noisebridge.
>> My personal take-away from the consensus process meeting was many
>> things, as follows (PLEASE COMMENT ON ANY AND/OR ALL OF THESE!):
>> * people claim the noisebridge consensus process is broken but nobody
>> knows exactly why
>> * the hassle of the consensus process results in circumventing the
>> process in favor of the do-ocracy
>> * do-ocracy is also referred as "autonomous action" or perhaps even
>> vigilante action
>> * a random sample based on the consensus process meeting is that half
>> the people that participate at noisebridge aren't noisebridge members
>> * everybody at noisebridge can participate in the consensus process but
>> only members can block an item up for consensus
>> * the only benefit of being a noisebridge member is the right to block a
>> consensus item
>> * some people at Noisebridge will block any consensus item based on
>> their personal general opinion against consensus
>> * comparing bringing an item up for consensus versus just handling a
>> matter do-ocracy style, there is absolutely no incentive at all for
>> bringing an item up for consensus (quite the opposite!) because that
>> could just result in a block of the item.
>> * although we have weekly meeting notes, the details of any consensus
>> item and the reasoning of any consensus decision are ultimately at the
>> discretion of the weekly meeting note-taker.
>> Patrick
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