[Noisebridge-discuss] Why Consensus Kills Community

Mike Schachter cubicgoats at gmail.com
Sat Dec 14 19:01:48 UTC 2013

Thanks Madelynn, I appreciate your post.

When the associate member thing came around, I had to make a decision
whether to try to become an associate member or capital-M member. I
attended a Tuesday meeting, and Hillaire was up for captial-M membership.

I was very surprised and disappointed to see him, or really anyone else,
rejected! It really turned me off to Noisebridge's entire membership
structure, and made me want to do the absolute minimum to be "accepted"
into a community which I've participated in for years.

It doesn't make sense to me for new members to be accepted by consensus.
There is obviously a conflict-of-interest in the case where there are
opposing viewpoints between an existing member and a new one, and that
keeps Noisebridge's membership structure from being inclusive.


On Fri, Dec 13, 2013 at 8:32 PM, Madelynn Martiniere
<mmartiniere at gmail.com>wrote:

> I've been putting thought into this post for about a week now, and I think
> it's ready to share. I've normally tried to keep out of the list, but I
> think this warrants everyone hearing, and not in a meeting.
> Disclaimer 1: This is long. But I made it into a numbered list to help.
> Disclaimer 2: It's got a lot of strong opinion against consensus, hence
> the title.
> Disclaimer 3: I've been around hackerspaces for a while, and seen when it
> goes right, and also goes very wrong. My wiki page talks more about why I
> care about this: https://noisebridge.net/wiki/User:Creativetaboo
> I've been a big dissenter about consensus from the beginning of my time at
> Noisebridge (I've been around sporadically for several years). I understand
> that at the beginning, it may have worked very well for Noisebridge, but if
> it still did, we wouldn't be having as many of the issues we're having
> (particularly pertaining to security and membership).
> Noisebridge is at a critical point in any organization: it can continue as
> it was, not accounting for the change in ethos and turnover of members,
> pretending that it's the same space it was at the beginning; OR it can
> accept that it's time for some change. I don't claim it will be at all
> easy, or that it will solve everything, but it's where it starts.
> The idea of consensus was brought up in discussion at the advent of every
> hackerspace I've been involved with, and was decided against, for good
> reason:
> 1. It embraces the states quo.
> Every organization, particularly community orbs like hackerspaces are live
> organisms, constantly changing and evolving depending on the needs of the
> space and it's members. This is why you see spaces that have specific
> project focuses, discourages change, which is inevitable in any
> organization. Groupthink like consensus stifles innovation and disdains
> dissenting opinions (as can be seen by the constant trolling and name
> calling on the list, and IRL).
> 2. Gives malcontents and politicians equal weight
> The reason people are concerned with the Associate Member versus Capital-M
> Member dichotomy is their worried that some individuals can derail the
> process. But if you've been to any of the recent meetings or read the
> mailing list, it's already happening. Kevin's proposal (and Al's before
> that) surrounding re-consensuing on Associate Members is a perfect example:
> to get one issue passed through consensus we had to tack on another, and
> other members who were not able to attend got concerned. Furthermore, wee
> lost a very good person who was trying to become a "Capital-M" member
> because of last week's meeting craziness, after being blocked several weeks
> in a row for having different views than another member (Tom).
> Something to note is that by giving all members equal power, doesn't mean
> they will use it. Not everyone wants to participate in the organization of
> the space, and they shouldn't have to. But every member should be able to
> have weight on an issue if they so choose.
> 3. It short circuits the most radical ideas
> The most radical ideas often lead to the biggest breakthroughs in the
> space. Small, incremental changes (those most likely to pass
> consensus) aren't as quantifiable successes/not. Consensus keeps people in
> a perpetual middle ground where majority approves and mediocrity reigns.
>  4. Leaves unresolved conflicts on the table indefinitely
> As soon as something is blocked, it leaves an issue unresolved. If someone
> wants to block something indefinitely because they're not comfortable with
> any of the resolutions, they have the ability to do so. This leads to a
> division of power and opinion, which destroys community. We need to give
> people an opportunity for heathy debate with a common end goal: find a
> resolution and move on to the next topic. This builds community and trust,
> and discourages drawn-out drama.
> 5. Kills the hacker spirit
> Hackers and creatives are not about status-quo, we're bigger than that.
> Try to get creative people to unanimously agree on something, and you'll
> lose them. We've lost so many great people through this process already,
> and will continue to do so, leaving the politicians and the leechers (those
> who choose to use and abuse the space and not contribute monetarily or
> otherwise).
>  So, now what?
> I don't want to do a long post like this and not propose an alternative.
> I've made it clear that I don't care for consensus, and I'm not the only
> one. Very few similar organizations that are successful choose consensus,
> and there's good reason most hackerspaces don't use it either (NESIT is the
> only one I know of that uses consensus currently, anyone else who has in
> the past has since moved to a voting system...and also have membership dues
> (another post for another day). Rather, I want to paint a not-scary example
> of how voting works in another hackerspace, and successfully:
>  The Freeside Voting Model (Beer and Camaraderie Included)
> Both Freeside and PS: One use majority rule. Yes, both have their own
> issues, but neither to the extreme that Noisebridge has. Both value a quick
> voting process, to focus more on projects and collaboration rather than
> organizational politics and drama.
> Freeside was my first fores in starting a hackerspace, and they're still
> going strong. Here's hour our Tuesday meetings went:
>  1. Intro new guests and those interested in becoming members. Asked two
> questions to those interested in becoming members "What do you want to get
> out of the space, and what can you contribute?"
> 2. Discuss any concerns "I'm noticing a bunch of sleepers in the space,
> how do we address this?"  to begin crafting well thought out proposal on
> the topic. Usually a few people passionate about an issue would then
> meet separately to create a proposal (rather than just one person and their
> opinion)
> 3. Bring up well-thought out proposals for policies and procedures,
> pointing people to a Google survey link where members would have a week to
> vote
> 4. Bring up results of any past vote
> 5. Spend last 30-45 minutes of the meeting talking about cool projects,
> classes, and events people are working on and looking for co-collaborators
> and conspirators.
> 6. Drink beer and enjoy mostly drama-free hacking and camaraderie.
> See? It works. While Freeside and PS: One both have board of directors
> that are more engaged, it's not necessary for this to work. We need to stop
> talking circles around how to make Noisebridge a safer, more collaborative
> and inclusive place to hack (not crash, live, or steal from) for all
> involved and start acting on it. Theory without action is little more than
> useless.
> If anyone wants to discuss further with me off the list, feel free to
> email me or say hi when I'm at the space (most evenings). Happy to provide
> reference materials (and all around good reads) on the subject as well.
> Happy hacking!
>  --
> Madelynn Martiniere
> Community Engineer. Entrepreneur. Geek.
> LinkedIn <http://www.linkedin.com/in/madelynnmartiniere> | Twitter <http://www.twitter.com/creativetaboo>|
> Email <madelynn at women2.com>
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