[Noisebridge-discuss] Why Consensus Kills Community

Madelynn Martiniere mmartiniere at gmail.com
Sat Dec 14 23:18:59 UTC 2013

No worries about the third person, Adrian :)

Thanks to everyone who read my lengthy post and responded. I think this 
thread has shown how so many people have experienced a breakdown of the 
current process.

Since the hot button issue is membership, here's how we addressed 
membership at Freeside:

1. New person interested in becoming a member comes to a meeting and 
announces their intent to become a member.

2. Answer two questions: 1) what are you interested in using the space 
for and 2) what can you contribute to the space? (Also asked to put this 
information on the list so those who could not attend the meeting can 
see it)

3. Go through a 3 week trial period to get 4 sponsors and make 
themselves known at the space.

4. After the 3 weeks is up, their name is brought up on the private 
members-only mailing list. Anyone who has any MAJOR oppositions brings 
them up ("he stole from the space" "was violent", etc.). If none are 
brought up then they are made a member and given a key fob.

5. Once a member they have option to be part of the organizational 
process by voting, but not obligated to.

Another thing to note (that I've mentioned several times in meeting) 
regarding dues. Dues are very important to a hackerspace. Not so much 
about the funding but about creating accountability. When people pay for 
something, they are much more likely to be invested in the wellbeing of 
the space, rather than being a passive observer when people are being 
un-excellent towards the space or other members.

Our dues at Freeside were $80/month or $40 for starving 
hackers/students. BUT because we had fostered a community of trust and 
respect, there were always exceptions to the rule who couldn't pay 
anything, but contributed to the space in other ways (teaching more 
classes, cleaning the bathrooms weekly, whathaveyou).

I understand that a lot of Noisebridge is very anti-rules/control, but 
consensus is not the way to address that. The reason hackerspaces like 
Freeside and PS:One have waiting lists for members years after they've 
started (and a very minimal amount of drama/theft/angst) is because they 
have a strong organization with policies and procedures that can then be 
amended on a CASE-BY-CASE basis.

If people are interested, I'm getting together all the bylaws I have 
from various spaces so people can take a look. Just let me know.

> Adrian Chadd <mailto:adrian.chadd at gmail.com>
> December 14, 2013 11:45 AM
> .. And to not speak of Madelynn in the third person as that is totally 
> not what I intend - Madelynn, I'd like your feedback. :)
> Adrian
> _______________________________________________
> Noisebridge-discuss mailing list
> Noisebridge-discuss at lists.noisebridge.net
> https://www.noisebridge.net/mailman/listinfo/noisebridge-discuss
> Madelynn Martiniere <mailto:mmartiniere at gmail.com>
> December 13, 2013 8:32 PM
> 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 <mailto:madelynn at women2.com>

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