[Noisebridge-discuss] on consensus

Gregory Dillon gregorydillon at gmail.com
Tue Mar 25 17:46:39 UTC 2014

Maybe those who can't make the meeting, can contribute to the content of
ideas by using the discuss
tab<https://noisebridge.net/wiki/Talk:Meeting_Notes_2014_03_25>to the
weekly meeting notes.

On Mon, Mar 24, 2014 at 10:11 PM, rachel lyra hospodar
<rachelyra at gmail.com>wrote:

> I am not an academic, and most of my understanding of things comes from my
> own real-world experiences, not having read lots of books.  With that in
> mind...some of my thoughts on consensus and decision making esp. as relates
> to NB. Read at your own risk. I am open to discussion and disagreement,
> on-list.  As always my goal is public discussion not private harassment so
> any private messages i don't like will be forwarded to the list.
> Consensus is a really interesting decision-making method because it
> differs in precise and subtle ways from the methods commonly in use in
> society at large.  These differences are easy at times to miss or
> misunderstand, when they in fact both reflect and influence the shape of
> the society that is based on this decision-making model.  A common
> misconception is thinking of it as a kind of voting - it's not! Voting is a
> majority-rules coercive system where the minority is overridden because
> there are more people who want to do something.  Consensus is a system
> based, not on coerced submission (or on enthusiastic agreement), but on
> consent.  Consenting to an idea means that you will allow it to happen.
>  The model is designed to allow the opinions of the minority to influence
> the decision itself, changing the shape of the discussion rather than
> presenting a binary in-or-out to a predetermined set of options. This
> process is confusing and opaque to people who aren't sure what they are
> looking at, and is why many people think of consensus as a time-consuming
> process with lots of talking.  it is.  The goal is not to make decisions
> most efficiently, but in a way that maximizes input & buy-in by all
> participants as important values.  The fact that Noisebridge operates using
> consensus indicates that this is a core value. It takes two to make a
> compromise, though, so in situations where people are not in consensus
> about a decision, everyone participating is obligated to work towards
> consensus.  Should i say that again? For consensus to function, everyone
> participating is obligated to honestly work towards consensus. Standing
> aside and blocking are part of that work, if the individual who is blocking
> legitimately holds a belief that they cannot consent to the decision in
> question.  We who block do then owe our community the willingness to
> continue engaging with their concerns, and to use our differing perspective
> to help them to seek solutions to their problems that we believe hew to the
> values of the group.
> Consensus is usually implemented in a very customized flavor depending on
> the group in question.  Let's endeavor to talk, rather than about all
> consensus, about how Noisebridge consensus works or might work, and perhaps
> we can make some progress to a place between 'we have one rule' and 'please
> fork our arcana on github'. Both are valid approaches but clearly each
> doesn't work for some subset of users and so it is interesting to me to
> spend cycles thinking about what functional forward motion, or even
> synthesis, could be like.  For me it's crucial to keep in mind the way
> Noisebridge has scaled over time, and to consider that this intrinsically
> and unavoidably changes the way its decision making process works.
> Consensus, as a thing, needn't be 100%.  100% consent is not a
> precondition for a consensus-based decision-making model.  Models exist
> that specify, for example, n-m consensus, where n is the number of the
> group and m is some much smaller number, perhaps even 1 or 2.  Thus, an n-m
> consensus would be reached when almost everyone came to an agreement.
>  Other models are percentage-based, and the percentage of dissent permitted
> seems to be scaled with the size and idealogical diversity of the
> decision-making group.  There seem to be some scaling issues with 100%
> consensus, and I have seen it used most effectively in groups that are
> smaller or otherwise more relatively cohesive.
> Group cohesion is an important factor in how consensus gets used.  What is
> the group that is deciding? how is it defined? Noisebridge is lucky here in
> that we have a way of saying definitively who is to be part of the deciding
> body, although there is some confusion about this since we also have a lot
> of layers of intentional obfuscation and secrecy. more on that later.  The
> last few years have seen some major leaps in the scale of Noisebridge's
> user base, and while it is fun to single out groups, such as drug users or
> the homeless, as scapegoats for the disintegration of previous cultural
> norms, the fact is that cultural norms are always conveyed at least in part
> orally, and through lived experiences within the community, rather than
> through an operations manual on how humans are supposed to interact.  It is
> good to articulate things wholly in clear language, to write the manual,
> but in designing a system it is prudent to take into account users who do
> not read the manual.  Anyone who has spent some time studying growth curves
> can understand the scale relationship between the user bases in 83c days,
> in 2009, in 2011, and now.  There is a sense in our lives of wanting to
> preserve the things we like in amber, without changing, but the reality is
> that new people will change a group, and if the group is healthy and
> functioning in a way that will ensure its continued existence, it will also
> change the new people.  It is prudent to examine the mechanisms for this.
> The idea of a community scaling is also complicated by the fact that
> people are not uniform units. The groups of people I encountered in the
> space in 2009, 2011, and now, vary deeply in demographic, and i think it is
> worth spending a little time thinking about how this might affect a group
> decision-making process.  If the user base is 85% linux-hacking neckbeards,
> there is a great deal of shared culture than can lubricate decision-making.
> "But," you say, "at 83c we shouted at each other! we had hate and blocking
> and bitter vendetta feuds... and all kinds of weirdoes, even rubin, whose
> beard does not in fact extend onto his neck." As diverse as Noisebridge
> users' flavors of OS might have been, and the amount of beard actually
> being irrelevant, there are lots of assumptions we make unconsciously when
> in a smaller and more cohesive group about how people interact, read each
> other, and what is appropriate behavior.  This is shared culture.  This is
> different than the set of assumptions that we can safely make now, as the
> word of this magical hacking nirvana spread beyond more traditional
> 'hacker' communities, to encompass more of: artists and people who cook
> food, n00bs seeking to learn front end dev or hardware hacking,  and lots
> of other folks, including a metric assload of app brogrammers.  While I
> have always been an avid technology-based thing-making person, i
> specifically did not identify as a hacker until i found a community of
> hackers that did not share the white male aggro-weirdo culture i found in
> so many 'technology' spaces.  The forces that encourage a person to pursue
> one of their varied interests are at least in part social, and so by being
> a technology space that welcomes non-traditional technology users, we
> create more of same. We also extend our community beyond many of the
> hacker-based cultural assumptions we are used to making.
> <an anecdotal digression...>
> When Jesse Z was banned from noise bridge for being a rapist with an
> alcohol problem, he admitted that he had been harassing me because he did
> not think i was a hacker.  I started coming to Noisebridge to use
> specialized production infrastructure and to learn all about soldering,
> micro controllers, and to begin building wearable interfaces.  I made open
> source interface components from scratch but due to the nature of the work
> i was doing in order to accomplish this (sewing) and existing cultural bias
> about what types of technology count as technology, an entrenched and
> respected member of the 'old-school' community felt like what i was doing
> wasn't "techie" enough.  His attitude got transmitted to many new users and
> poisoned many wells.  I believe that Jesse's alcoholic and abusive downward
> spiral was more toxic to Noisebridge's inclusive growth than any five drug
> users or homeless people. Culture is important, and can be influenced by
> people much more subtly than through the official consensus process.
> Culture and consensus have an inextricable relationship, and reinforcing
> what our cultural standards and ideals are is a broader and perhaps more
> impactful effort than many decisions that get made at meetings - meetings
> play out in a way that echoes that broader culture.
> </digression>
> As I understand it, 'council member' has replaced previous designation
> 'membership' as a decision making body, with all previous members rendered
> 'council' and new 'member' role something that used to be defined as
> 'user'.  This is confusing but makes sense in light of scaling issues and
> the decisions of people trying to deal with this are valid to me, since i
> was on hiatus and wasn't there to help.  While I acknowledge some
> limitations in doocracy i fully embrace it as a part of how noise bridge
> functions.
> The 'council member' body, then, could be defined as a group of people who
> have all consented to be the decision-making body of Noisebridge, that is,
> to be invested in the operations of NB.  Many in this group are
> minimalists, as this is the heritage of noisebridge decision-making, and
> this is something that continues but given the quantity of brogrammers
> (patrick keyes, shawn landden, to name a few) who have been banned from
> noise bridge for being stalky creepers, let's admit that the culture has
> scaled to a point where we are asking ourselves, is it more important to
> preserve our methods in amber, and hang the consequences? or is it
> important to evolve our systems with the growth of the organism? This is a
> constant question, outside of any specific set of issues in the space.  The
> council body is a group of people who have agreed to grapple with this
> question while holding true to a vaguely defined set of values. (NB values
> might include: anonymity, inclusivity, minimalism, etc... is there a good
> list of this kind of thing someplace?)  within that definition, a council
> member would be within their role to suggest that The One Rule is
> sufficient, but since we have unequivocally banned creepy rapists and
> proto-rapists, evidence suggests that The One Rule has already accreted a
> great many additional Firmly Held Values.  The current harassment policy is
> an attempt to codify this more clearly, i have some issues with it but,
> again... doocracy.
> It is interesting that the original value of preserving anonymity makes it
> difficult to define the council member body. The tuesday meeting is a
> clearly established structure for decision making, and there is some
> mechanism for how consensus decisions are brought before the group.  (more
> on this later) given the ad hoc nature of note taking, it has often been
> difficult to keep track of what happens at meetings when one is unable to
> attend.  Traditionally proxies are used to bridge the gap, but
> realistically council members who are not in town must follow closely to
> see what decisions are being considered.
> I would argue that council members who wish to weigh in on the continued
> functioning of noise bridge are, then, obligated to follow closely, so that
> their voiced opinions can be rooted in what is actually happening.  Proxies
> can be invoked to block from afar, but it is worth noting that this is a
> kind of nuclear option since working together to reach a compromise with
> someone who is not present is... difficult.  I think that proxy blocking
> should necessarily come with strong good-faith efforts from the absent
> party to work with the people who are actually on the ground, and in turn
> the people on the ground should make every effort to work with the concerns
> of the absent.  The more closely people work together to make the proxy
> apparatus clearly understood and usable, the better voice all council
> members will have in decision making.  If someone in particular (cough
> cough) is unable to ever attend meetings, and yet is concerned about the
> evolution of noisebridge, spending some time streamlining and evolving the
> proxy mechanism would be a great way to empower themselves.
> Given the nature of consensus decision making, there is some necessary
> evolution of decisions as they are moved through the process.  Given our
> values of at least nominally including absent members in the decision
> making process, as well as this fundamental evolutionary aspect of
> consensus, some way of striking a balance is needed.  Proposals are
> currently made with a delay so that people can get involved in the decision
> making process, make plans to attend the meeting in self or proxy, to voice
> concerns they have around the decision.  If the consensus process is
> working, the proposals will undergo minor changes.  What amount of change
> necessitates further delay?  It is an unmeasurable thing, and yet we would
> benefit from articulating the line more clearly... but folks in absentia must
> also acknowledge that Something Does Happen in the meeting, which
> influences the decisions that get made - and their choice of a proxy must
> be empowered to take part in this process.
> On the permanence of decisions made using consensus.... once a decision is
> made, is it 'permanent'? if i withdraw my consent, have we no longer
> decided? If i object after the fact because I didn't know, or didn't find a
> proxy in time, can i retroactively block a decision? This is a style point
> that has been a stumbling block for many a consensus process.  As we have
> moved beyond The One Rule (and Approving The Phone Bill) model and onto
> Stop Creepy Proto-rapists From Scaring Off Half Our Users, we would benefit
> from establishing some clearly held community understanding around this.
> For our decision making process to function, we must all be seeking to
> work together, and seeking to understand the needs driving proposals we
> don't like.  Without this investment of giving-a-shit to allow growth, we
> encourage a broken culture that will eventually stagnate and die.
> R.
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> https://www.noisebridge.net/mailman/listinfo/noisebridge-discuss

Let's stay in touch.  Greg
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