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

Shannon Lee shannon at scatter.com
Mon Feb 14 19:03:42 UTC 2011

One of the things that got discussed on Friday was conflict and its place in
a well-run consensus process.  I think that one of the points at which
people see the consensus process as "broken" is that places where we attempt
formal consensus are often accompanied by flamboyant displays of conflict.

Avoiding, suppressing or ignoring conflict are not necessarily the signs of
a good system, but I think sometimes we see the existence of overt conflict
that isn't immediately squelched, managed or Dealt With (especially when it
involves individuals saying stupid, wrong, or hurtful things) as being signs
of a broken system.  Conflict is where you find the "growing edge" of an
organization.  Paying attention to conflict is how you keep an eye on what's
changing within a group; and a group like Noisebridge changes all the time.

In Noisebridge in particular, we have been consciously do-ocratic, not just
in the sense of Going Ahead And Doing It but in the sense of Just Talking
About It: I think much of the reason we're not seeing a lot of Formal
Consensus is that most problems get handled by people Just Talking About It;
so naturally the things we see come to Formal Consensus tend to be the
things we were not able to handle either by do-ocracy (Just Doing It) or
through informal consensus (Just Talking About It).

I remember vividly the thread Danny just alluded to, and it directly (though
very gradually) led to the meeting we just had, the discussion we are
having, the intention to keep having meetings and discussions, and the real
way in which, I think, our consensus is broken: it is so informal and, in
many ways, functional, that it is impossible for newcomers to get a handle
on it; so new people who want to jump in and do things are left without any
way to do so, and in fact often get yelled at for doing things that in a
normal organization would be not only The Right Thing To Do but also
extremely polite and overtly good-citizen-ly (like asking for the group's
permission before doing stuff).

What we need to do, more than we are, is passing on How To Do Consensus,
Noisebridge Style.  We've talked about having a document about How Stuff
Works, but it seems more functional and Noisebridge-y to have a conversation
(because no document will manage to catch all the nuance; because the
process actually changes A Lot and fixing it in even the rubber cement of a
HOWTO would tend to ossify the process; because the process working is more
dependent on the personalities involved knowing each other than on any of
them knowing The Process).  To that end, we talked about having these
discussions become an ongoing (perhaps monthly?  quarterly) event.


On Mon, Feb 14, 2011 at 9:18 AM, Danny O'Brien <danny at spesh.com> wrote:

> 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:
> https://www.noisebridge.net/pipermail/noisebridge-discuss/2009-October/008547.html
> 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.
> d.
> > * 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
> >> _______________________________________________
> >> Noisebridge-discuss mailing list
> >> Noisebridge-discuss at lists.noisebridge.net
> >> https://www.noisebridge.net/mailman/listinfo/noisebridge-discuss
> >>
> >
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> > https://www.noisebridge.net/mailman/listinfo/noisebridge-discuss
> >
> >
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Shannon Lee
(503) 539-3700

"Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from science."
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