[Noisebridge-discuss] Why Consensus Kills Community

Alexander List alex at list.priv.at
Mon Dec 16 22:54:31 UTC 2013

On 12/14/2013 02:41 PM, Al Sweigart wrote:
> Does anyone on the list have experience with other hackerspaces and
> how they're run? Or even non-small nonprofits in general. It would be
> good to get more input.

I recently joined the list because I was told on your IRC channel to do
so. Just visiting from Hong Kong :)

If you want to chat about how things run at DimSumLabs in Hong Kong, or
for example Realraum in Graz, I'm happy to do so - for example tonight
... but I guess the best would be to have a workshop at one of the
upcoming hacker conferences, and for preparation, start asking questions
on discuss at lists.hackerspaces.org ...

Different spaces will have a different cultural and social context, some
of which may be related to the location and resulting constituency of
the membership. I don't believe there's a one-fits-it-all approach to
governance of hackerspaces, apart from some no-brainer commonalities
like Mitch Altman's golden rule "Be excellent to each other!", and being
Do-Ocracies or Meritocracies.

We have tried consensus at DimSumLabs, and while I think it's a good
approach for a small group of people, it's risky for larger groups
because you essentially give every member a veto right, which they may
or may not (ab-)use. Like in general politics, veto rights (which means
100% unanimous quorum) or other more than majority quora should be
limited to a very narrow set of topics. Think changing the constitution,
changing the name, ...

Otherwise you risk that people showing questionable or antisocial
behaviour will block decisions unless their behaviour is tolerated - and
that's exactly the subject line of this entire thread.

I think that having majority votes is not conservative, but what most
people are used to. And it's also good to learn how to convince a
majority of your agenda, it's a skill set that's very useful in other
NGOs, at work, etc.

But that's just my humble opinion based on bad experiences I had with
consensus models where a few rhetoric geniuses would always win, and
scare off other who may not be as vocal about their wishes/needs...

Now back to your original question:

What we try to do at DimSumLabs is have consensus wherever possible. If
there is no consensus, we try to reconcile the different opinions.
Things that get passed at our "strategy meetings" could still be vetoed
by people who couldn't attend, but such a veto would have to have
reasoning attached, i.e. you need to say *why* you oppose a particular
decision or why you think it's a bad idea. It stops people from trolling.

We also realized that it's necessary to empower people in order to
ensure accountability and responsibility. For example, someone could be
responsible for the electronics area, someone else for the CNC machine,
3D printer etc., and we require training for some equipment that could
be damaged by an uninitiated and clueless user ...

The idea to delegate power to certain people is not to create a ruling
class, but rather to make them the "first servants" of the community. If
they ever abuse their powers, the group can warn, or if necessary,
replace them. This is all work in progress - figuring out our governance
model is an ongoing and probably never ending process ;)



"Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one."
    -- Benjamin Franklin

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