Communal Governance

by Raven Glomus

Today seems like an appropriate day to talk about governance.  Not of countries (although I assume there will be many folks thinking about that today) but of communities–specifically, egalitarian income sharing communities, the kind that are in the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (aka the FEC).  

The ‘egalitarian’ in both phrases is because not all income-sharing communities (ie, communes) are egalitarian.  There are income-sharing groups (mostly spiritual communities) that have a guru or bishop or abbot or some other leader who makes most of the decisions for the community.  Egalitarian communities have some sort of ‘horizontal’ governance structure where most to all members have a say in decisions.

That having been said, there are a variety of decision structures in the communes that I am familiar with.  The older, larger communities (Twin Oaks and East Wind) have unusual structures, where most of the newer, smaller communes (like Acorn and Glomus) use consensus decision making.

The FEC only requires of its communities that  a community “Uses a form of decision making in which members have an equal opportunity to participate, either through consensus, direct vote, or right of appeal or overrule.”

I have written about how consensus works.  I’ve also written about when it’s better to use it or not.  My summary of that last article is that consensus works better in small, somewhat homogeneous groups.  For a small commune (including Acorn, which has thirty folks) I think that consensus is the way to go.  Twin Oaks and East Wind are older and larger and don’t use consensus.

Twin Oaks, 1987

Twin Oaks has a very complex decision-making structure that involves their planner/manager structures, their O&I board, and their policies.  Paxus and Keenan, who both live at Twin Oaks, have written about how Twin Oaks governs and they can explain it better than I ever could.

The East Wind community has a whole page on its website devoted to Self-Governance.  It’s worth reading because, like Twin Oaks, their governance structure is complex.  One of the statements on that page is “Our bylaws set forth our purposes, direction, ideology, define the rights and obligations of membership, and state the guarantees made by the community to its members. The bylaws allow for experimentation and are intentionally minimal in their restrictions. The bylaws can be amended in any manner desirable with a two thirds majority vote of full members. The bylaws state that East Wind may ‘govern itself by any reasonable means which its members desire.’ We encourage those who are interested in visiting East Wind to read our bylaws in full.”  It goes on to discuss several other decision making structures, including “Legispol” which is something that I’ve heard East Winders talk about and wouldn’t say I had any real understanding of.

East Wind folks, 2016

For the Fourth of July last year, Theresa wrote a Facebook post that pointed out while communities claim to strive to have all voices be heard, there are barriers, often, to that happening, particularly for people of color or folks coming from other classes or cultures.  This will probably mean changes in our way of governance.

I have claimed that communities are laboratories for social change.  I think that we are places where we can experiment with new methods of governance, and today, as the US changes its government and, perhaps, tries to improve some things, it might be good to look at other ways of governance for society as well as for communities.  

It’s not that I think that you could run a whole countries could be run by consensus (although there are forms of consensus that I think could work with larger groups–I heard of a situation where over a thousand anti-nuke activists needed to agree to an arrest plea and were able to do that using something called small group to large group consensus) and I even suspect that you couldn’t run a country using sociocracy, but I think that we need to look at ways to decentralize power, and I think that the communes are at the forefront of that.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

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Thanks! 

Communal Governance

Come Hell or High Water

by Raven Glomus

The two previous book reviews this week (books on sustainable community and collaborative groups) focused on books written about how to do collaborations (including communes and communities) well.  Today I want to review a book about what not to do.  It’s called Come Hell or High Water and is subtitled “a handbook on collective process gone awry”.  It’s published by AK press–“one of the world’s largest and most productive anarchist publishing houses”–that also publishes a bunch of other interesting books (including adrienne maree brown’s book on Emergent Strategy which I based two blog posts here on).

As the cover illustrates, this is a funny, cynical book that has a bunch of cartoons illustrating some frustrating problems.  It also has a lot of hard won lessons about how all these wonderful processes that we talk about here and which other commune building guides extol can go terribly wrong.  It’s written by a couple of anarchists who believe strongly in “egalitarian collectives” but have seen the pitfalls in the process and have looked at ways that form what the authors term “predictable patterns” that can lead well-meaning groups to things like “hierarchy, mistrust, looking out only for oneself, and sometimes even underhanded scheming.”  

Although this is a modest sized book (and a quick read–127 small pages) Delfina Vannuchi and Richard Singer look carefully at issues like misusing consensus, how not to do power sharing, the difference between politeness and kindness, character assassinations and banning, justice and due process and free speech, and how vagueness can lead to authoritarianism.

I’ve seen reviews of this book that complain that this book is overly ‘pessimistic’.  However, I think that it provides a nice counterbalance to all the books on the wonderful things you can do with group process.  (See my two previous reviews this week.)  The cartoons are also a nice touch that makes the emphasis on problems easier to take.

The authors end the book with a section that they entitle “There’s hope” where they talk about how “Virtually all problems in collectives can be overcome by applying compassion, and by being thorough and even-handed in our thinking.”  Sounds lovely but not easy to do, especially when things are tough.  

Here’s the last paragraph in the book, which is a nice summary of their thinking:

“An egalitarian collective is meant to accept and incorporate differences and heterogeneity.  The task is to create a productive, relatively peaceful community out of all the different and sometimes contradictory personalities that form the group.  No collective will ever be a perfect picture of unity, but it doesn’t have to be.  A working collective is more like a crazy-quilt of disparate styles, all stitched up by a common thread.  Frayed edges and all, that’s what a functional egalitarian collective looks like.”

It’s a nice reminder for people living in or trying to build communes.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

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Warren Kunce

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Come Hell or High Water

Consensus–Pro and Con

by Raven Glomus

I am always trying to think of provocative questions to write on our Facebook page. (It’s the nature of the beast–provocative questions generate more comments.) I started thinking about consensus. While I, personally, am a fan, I also know there are people who don’t think that it works. This is the question that I wrote on Facebook:

I got nine comments, which wasn’t bad–and over three hundred folks looked at it, so I would say that it did fairly well.

Here are the comments that we received. As you can see, people had feelings.

I will add that I have seen consensus work and suspect that when it doesn’t, it’s usually because it isn’t being done right–or folks are trying to use it to get advantage–or both.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

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 Aaron Michels

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Heather

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Raines Cohen

Sasha Daucus

Suzi Tortora

Tobin Moore

Twin Oaks

Warren Kunce

William Croft

William Kadish

William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Consensus–Pro and Con

It’s about Relationships

by Raven Glomus

I’m into systems theory, which I see as related to community since I see communities as systems.  One way I introduce systems is by asking the questions: What is the difference between a pile of rocks and the solar system?  What is the difference between a random group of people on an office skyscraper elevator and an intentional community?  The answer is basically about relationships and connections.

The planets in the solar system affect one another by means of gravity–literally pulling on one another.  A couple of the planets were found by astronomers because their gravity was affecting the orbit of another planet.  They are literally in relationship to each other.

Communities are truly all about relationships.  There is no community without relationships.  I will repeat that.  There is no community without relationships.  It’s surprising but many people don’t seem to know that.  You can have lots of lovely buildings, all sorts of eco-friendly technology, and plenty of people, you can design what might seem to be the perfect community, but without working on building and maintaining relationships, there will be no lasting community.

Unfortunately, building and maintaining relationships is hard work.  It takes time and commitment and lots of effort.  There is no easy answer about how to do it, but probably the most important thing that you can do is to commit to staying with the relationships and staying with people.  

Getting lots of support for yourself is also very important.  Find people outside the community that you can talk with about what’s going on.  Thinking with someone outside of the community who will just listen to you, who will help you when you need to have difficult conversations with community members. You don’t need advice, you just need a neutral person to think with.

The next most important skill is being able to listen.  Stephen Covey states it as “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.  Learn all that you can about consensus decision making ( or sociocracy or some other decision making process) and conflict resolution. Finally, don’t be afraid to bring in outside mediators if things get stuck.  

The point isn’t to win all the arguments or make sure that the community goes in one direction or another, the point is to make everyone in the community feel heard and taken care of.  More than anything else in community (and there is a lot else) relationships matter.  If you can keep all the relationships in the community strong and healthy, the community will, most likely, be strong and happy.

I am not saying that you don’t need to worry about finances or the goals of the community or your infrastructure, but I am saying that these are things that the community needs to deal with together, and the better the relationships are in the community, the easier it will be to deal with all the problems that you encounter.

It’s about Relationships

Declaration

On July 4th, Theresa posted her declaration of how communes need to be governed:

I think it was a great little post and it got a lot of views, but only one comment, and that was on the original Declaration of Independence:

I will add that I, Raven, also believe that more voices need to be heard, especially if we want to create communities that really challenge the status quo rather than just being comfortable places for white, middle-class folks to live in.

Declaration

When Does Consensus Work?

by Raven Glomus

I have long been a subscriber to Communities magazine.  In Issue #155, way back in the Summer of 2012, Diana Leafe Christian wrote an article that started a multi-year, back-and-forth disagreement that played out in the pages of the magazine.  It was called “Busting the Myth that Consensus-with-Unanimity Is Good for Communities Part I”.  Consensus consultants Laird Schaub, Ma’ikwe Schaub Ludwig, and Tree Bressen were apparently shown the article before publication and wrote responses that were published in the same issue.  The cycle of articles and responses played out over several issues spanning a couple of years before Diana settled down into writing articles about how sociocracy works.

I have a memory that in the last article before she moved on, she wrote what I will call a ‘truce’ piece. (Although maybe I imagined this article because I can’t find it in my collection of Communities and didn’t see it in the online collection.)  What I recall is that, after there were many stories of consensus working published, she admitted that consensus could work under certain circumstances.  And even if that article was only in my imagination, she sort of said something similar in her very first article when she pointed out that consensus consultant Tim Hartnett noted that “the smaller and more homogeneous the group, the easier it is to reach agreement using consensus-with-unanimity”.

Basically, I think that the reason Diana Leafe Christian knew of so many communities that were having trouble with consensus is that most, if not all of them, were large, diverse cohousing and/or ecovillage groups. I know of many communities that have used consensus for years with little difficulty, but these have almost always been either small communes or co-op houses.

Consensus, in many ways, requires a large degree of trust among the participants and it needs folks who have deep commitments to shared principles.  Especially since one of the few reasons that you can block a decision is when it violates a community’s core principles, you need to have people who share a commitment to and understanding of those principles.

As Diana Leafe Christian points out in a later article (“Consensus and the Burden of Added Process”, in Communities Issue #158, Spring 2013) there are lots of people who didn’t come to community (especially cohousing or ecovillage community) to build deep connections with others and don’t want to spend lots of time doing process.  Folks in these communities often joined for things like neighborliness or to live more ecologically or sustainably. Consensus works far better in a group that is committed to working through process with each other.

I believe strongly in consensus decision making and I have been advocating that we use it in our community, Glomus Commune.  However, I am not a believer that any method works for everyone or every community.  

I don’t have a real problem with sociocracy, for example, although I wouldn’t say that I completely understand  it. I do know that Ms. Christian advocates sociocracy for better decision making and when I studied it, one guide said to start by creating a couple of circles in your group and then find a way to intersect them.  A circle, apparently, should consist of about six people. However, when your whole community consists of six people, it seems hard to imagine creating two separate circles. It seems that sociocracy works better with larger communities.

In summary, I believe that if you have a small commune or co-op house, that is based on some shared principles, consensus decision making may work very well for your group.  I am certainly not saying that it’s the best thing for every community.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

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Thanks! 

When Does Consensus Work?

Consensus 101

by Raven Glomus

One of my commune mates asked me to write this in preparation for work that we are doing on our decision making process. This is just the basics of achieving consensus. There are nuances you learn as you go along.

Consensus is a process of discernment, involving listening to each person that is affected, in order to reach a decision that everyone agrees with or, at minimum, can live with. Consensus doesn’t necessarily mean total agreement, but it means everyone’s concerns must be heard and everyone must feel that they can abide by the decision.

The first step in the consensus process is that someone brings a proposal to a meeting.  The proposal is discussed and concerns are heard. The proposal is usually modified to meet the concerns.

Eventually, when it feels like the proposal has reached a point where most people’s concerns have been addressed, there is a call for consensus.  There are three possible responses that can be made: agreeing, standing aside, or blocking.  

Agreement means that you are in favor of the proposal as it is by the time it has gone through the process or at least can go along with it.  

Standing aside means that you still have concerns but you are willing for the process to go forward.  Usually the concerns of those standing aside are noted. If more than one or two people feel that they need to stand aside, it is usually a sign that consensus hasn’t been reached and the proposal may need to be further modified.

Blocking is a way that any person can stop the decision from being made.  Blocking is very serious and should only be done for principled reasons. Caroline Estes (a consensus teacher) claims that if you have blocked for six times, you have used up your lifetime quota. If a person continually threatens to block decisions, that is usually a sign that the person probably shouldn’t be part of the group, since they disagree so strongly with everything.

Generally it is said that blocking can only legitimately be done for two reasons: the proposal goes against the basic principles of the group or the blocker believes that the proposal going through would destroy the group.  I will add a third reason that only occurs during a membership process: that you feel that you would not be able to live with the person applying for membership. 

Consensus has been the decision process at Acorn for many years, is usually used by the Federation of Egalitarian Communities in their meetings, and has been used or considered by many other communes.  Glomus Commune is now considering it as our method of decision making.

Two resources for more information about consensus are: On Conflict and Consensus by C. T. Lawrence Butler and Amy Rothstein and ”Consensus Basics” by Tree Bressen.

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

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  • Brenda Thompson
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  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
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  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Joseph A Klatt
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  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
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  • Peter Chinman 
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  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
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Thanks! 

Consensus 101

A Question of Consensus

from the Commune Life Facebook page

We have been putting questions on our Facebook page and getting a lot of responses. I (Raven) am now putting them out as Friday reposts so that blog readers can see what we’ve been doing on Facebook and some of the comments that we have gotten. Here’s the first question we reposted.

Maximus/Theresa asked this question back in November:

Again, there many (as in 22) comments. Here is a representative sample:

(Sadly, Susan Stoddard has passed away since this post. She was a sharp observer and a frequent commenter.)

Feel free to add your comments as to when consensus is appropriate and when it might not be.

A Question of Consensus

Advice to a New Planner

by Paxus Calta

from Your Passport to Complaining

“We are looking for reluctant leaders.” Twin Oaks founder Kat Kinkade and East Wind Founder Deborah were/are fond of saying.  If you fear corruption or abuse of power, then having people who are leading not excited about the job, or doing it because they are motivated for their care for the collective is a good insurance policy.

The founders of Twin Oaks were deeply concerned about the failures of the existing decision making systems.  So much so they designed their own.  It has stayed in place, largely unchanged for 5 decades now.  It starts with the assumption that simple majorities are dangerous beasts and we can do better than that.  But because the commune was founded in 1967, before feminists secularized the consensus-decision-making process, they did not want to wait until everyone agreed.  Good ideas, headachey to implement.

Consensus-graphic.png

Near the “top” of this largely flat decision making process are the planners, the communities highest executive power.  I’ve been a planner twice, my Dutch wife Hawina is currently a planner.   Decisions of the planners can be overridden by a simple majority of full members of the community, though this happens less than annually.  [So technically, the membership is at the top of our hierarchy.]

Being a planner is one of our toughest jobs.  Right up there with the membership team and the pets manager.  The membership team is often hard because we don’t have much room for compromise on most membership decisions, you are either accepted into the community, or not (technically you can get a “visit again”, but you get the point).  The pets manager is difficult because you have to tell some kid that that they can not keep the stray dog they just fell in love with or you have to tell some long-term member that the community is not going to pay $4,000 for the surgery their aged cat desperately needs.  Trust me you don’t want this job.

sick cat.jpg

The plannership is difficult for more complex reasons.  First, is that members’s desires for quick solutions to their pressing problems often result in them rushing to the planners, telling them what is wrong and then being frustrated by them saying either “we are not the people you need to be talking to” (because there is another responsible manager or council) or that their clever solution is not accessible for any of a number of reasons.  Leaving the frustrated member to say “well, if I were planner I would certainly do this”.  Which is generally speaking not even true, because the group of 3 planners works by consensus and tend to protect the institution over the desires of a single agitated member.

However, there are more vexing aspects of the plannership.  When they take on complex and/or expensive issues like how do we spend a quarter of a million dollars to solve the tofu waste water problem, you basically can’t win.  The planners listen to all the manager and experts they can find.  They post papers or run surveys asking for community input, which often receive anemic response.  They slave away trying to make a good choice and then when they announce it, often many people are unhappy with it.

Sometimes they are unhappy and well informed, wishing the planners had taken the path they were advocating instead of the one they selected.  But far more often members are upset  because they have not studied the issue, don’t understand the trade offs and did not get exactly what they wanted.

The big problem is that we are frequently unable to keep the personal away from the political at Twin Oaks.  If the planners did not make the choice I wanted on this controversial and complex issue, I am then angry with them personally.  This results in the nightmare situation where you work hard on balancing many factors, craft what you think is a wise choice with your fellow planners and then you lose friends over it.

This does not always happen of course, but it happens enough that I have some standard advice which I share with every new planner.

There may well be a time when working for the planners puts you in a place where you feel like you need to make a choice “Am I going to take care of the community and push forward with this difficult decision or am I going to take care of myself and my relationships with other members?”  If you find yourself in this situation, take care of yourself and quit the job.

People who know me might be surprised at this recommendation.  I go to a lot of meetings.  I often joke that I am “a bureaucrat for the revolution”.  How can I be recommending people walk away from their top executive job, just when the community needs them to help shepherd in a decision?

take care of yourself - umbrella.jpg

Turns out it is easy.  We will make a decision, even if you are not a planner.  But if the plannership is risking you burning out, or damaging your personal relationships within the community, then the cost is too high.  Hopefully you will live here for many years after your plannership.  If you have alienated or pissed off important relationships within the community, it can be the feather (or brick) which tilts the balance in favor of you leaving the commune.  Or potentially worse, staying regretting that you have lost these friends and allies.

I have given this advice enough and talked with planners who have taken it and not. So there is an important follow up: if you do decide to quit the plannership to take care of yourself, don’t guilt trip yourself about it.  I believe over half of planners do not complete their 18 month terms.  Policy prohibits someone being a planner twice in a row, but in the 20 plus years I have been at Twin Oaks, no planner has expressed a desire to immediately do a second term.

Image result for surreal prioritize friends

The institution is quite durable.  Sometimes the right thing to is to abandon the process (and often the job) and instead prioritize your long term relations with  your friends and the commune.

Advice to a New Planner

Policy and Compassion

Posted 27th February 2014 by keenan from Keenan’s Twin Oaks Blog

How to be a bureaucrat and also a decent human

What Twin Oaks is is contained in our policies.  What Twin Oaks is not is also contained in our policies.  What Twin Oaks is likely to become in the future is contained in our policies. As individuals we are protected by our policies.  Our entire alternative income-sharing, non-violent, ecological and cooperative culture relies on the clear communication and effective enforcement of our policies.   Having policy is vital; understanding policy is vital; adhering to policy is vital.

However, given all that, I also believe that it is wrong and dangerous to then conclude that everything written in Twin Oaks’ policy notebooks is flawless. The vicissitudes of fate and the vast range of human behavior guarantee that policies will inevitably need interpretation and alteration.

Most people believe that unless they are on some decision-making committee, they don’t need to understand the arcane issues about the application of policy, but even two people in a relationship discussing whether it’s OK to have sex with someone else are “drafting policy.”   I think understanding concepts and issues around application of policy makes the world a healthier place.

Because there are so many ways we affect each other at Twin Oaks, we often have to interpret policy here.  An example:  It’s important that Twin Oaks drivers drive safely.  Periodically, the issue comes up of some people feeling unsafe with a tripper’s driving.   The policy is that an unsafe driver loses that job.  OK then. How unsafe is too unsafe?   Is one complaining passenger enough?   How many warnings is enough?  The policy is clear, but the implementation of that policy requires interpretation.  Really, the implementation of every policy requires interpretation.

The “check-down” analysis required in using policy is something like this: do we have a policy that covers this situation? Yes?  Great!   If this situation is unusual and no policy covers it, is it a truly unique situation that requires an exception to policy?  Or is this new situation something that is likely to recur and so this new decision isn’t an exception but, rather, a new precedent? Is the policy totally outdated?  Does it need to be ignored in this situation and then eventually rewritten?

Throughout all of these steps, the first and foremost thought should be, “Does this decision make sense?” and “Is this what a majority of the community would want to have happen?”

CaseyAnissa_joan-424-500-500-100

         Errors in policy interpretation:

To me, one of the least compelling arguments is that we should assume that the judgment of earlier bureaucrats is always better than the judgment of current bureaucrats. Another error is trying to re-draft a policy to cover an extremely unusual situation that will, in all likelihood, never occur again. If a unique situation arises, a unique decision needs to be made.  It’s best to announce that we don’t have policy for this situation and make a decision based on common sense—and let the policy alone.

The third error, and I think the most common, is mindlessly applying policy that is not relevant in this particular situation. For any decision-maker, the safest path is to hide behind policy and to not use independent judgment.   My take is that the mindless-adherence path is what most people mean when complaining about bureaucrats and bureaucracy.  If the gap between communal common sense and bureaucratic decision making becomes too wide, it leads to cruel outcomes,  mistrust and dysfunction.

        Enforcing policy

No one wants to be the bad guy, but there has to be an enforcer when someone violates policy.  But enforcing policy does not mean letting go of your basic humanity.  For most of us, enforcing policy is regrettable.  Communicating your personal regret, can take the some of the sting out of receiving bad news.  Also, telling someone the process they need to go through to change this outcome (even if it’s unlikely that the decision will change) goes a long way toward softening the blow of enduring sanctions, or being on the losing side of a policy debate. When the time comes to enforce policy, be sure you have the support of the community.  Don’t make it a dyadic power dynamic between the two of you If you think you are representing the community, be sure that you are representing the community and then include others in your enforcement campaign.

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Errors in applying policy: secrecy

The whole design of our egalitarian community ensures that there are going to be amateurs in most positions, including decision-making positions. The temptation is to keep troublesome decisions quiet. Whether we make decisions that make someone unhappy, or we screw up the proper process, the right thing to do is to 1) make the decision public and 2) to make the thinking about the decision public.  By making information public, people understand how a manager or committee came to a decision. This serves several salubrious functions. The main function is that it helps everyone understand why and how a decision was come to and, usually, that it was a difficult decision.  This contributes to the second function which is increasing trust.  Trust is the foundation upon which our entire alternative culture rests.  Secret decisions erode trust and weaken the community; clearly explained publicly-announced decisions—even unpopular ones—even about a process mistake the group made–builds trust and strengthens the community.

An important additional function of explaining the thinking around a decision is that it helps educate everyone about the process of making decisions.   Decisions that are explained increases the overall competence of the community in making decisions. And, if you are making a decision and you can’t publicly justify that decision, or you don’t want to, then maybe you should go back and revisit the decision and make a decision that you do feel comfortable explaining publicly.

It is understandable that bureaucrats don’t want to explain their thinking in making decisions, because they(we) are going to get flak and—worst case scenario—the decision-maker might be wrong, that is, they may not represent the majority of the community, they may have misapplied policy, they may have done the process wrong.  And this is all the more reason to share decisions publicly—specifically to correct erroneous decisions.  Bad decisions that don’t represent the wishes of the community  erode trust. So, as awful as it can be to post a decision and have people rise up in outrage and then overturn the decision, that’s actually a good thing.  That means that people have the ability to correct poor decisions by well-meaning (we can assume) but misguided decision-makers.

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         Errors in applying policy: ignoring your own conscience

Being in a decision-making role usually means not making up your own mind, but, rather, following policy and representing other’s interests.  Inevitably, there will be times when these can conflict with your own sense of what is right.  What to do?  Sometimes people recuse themselves; I think that they shouldn’t. The main reason for recusal is when there is a conflict of interests, that is, the decision facing you will affect your personal interests.  That is a good reason to recuse yourself  from a decision.  But the world is not made better if people of conscience recuse themselves from decision-making.  I ask you, who is left to make decisions then?  So, caring about the outcome of a decision is not the same as benefiting from that decision personally.  Because you have an ethical compass is no reason to recuse yourself from a decision.

But if a policy mandates that you make a decision that is at odds with your own conscience, what is the right thing to do?  In the world I want to live in, don’t follow policy if the outcome is ethically wrong! This is exactly the place where you should make the decision according to what you think is right, and then you publicly state your reasons for doing so.  Let those who disagree with you then attempt to overturn your decision—and make them explain why.

I believe that it is essential that we not lose our compassion, kindness, or essential humanity in coming to decisions.  It can be challenging to make a decision that is not backed up by policy, but I believe that is the essence of being not only a good bureaucrat, but a good human.  I believe that all of us want decisions that are guided by, not just proper process, but also by people who have a heart and are trying to make ethical decisions; in a community, I think that we should demand nothing less of our decision-makers. I believe that it is not only possible to be a bureaucrat and a decent human being; I think it is crucial.

 

 

[All photos from Twin Oaks archives–not in original article]

 

 

Policy and Compassion