Oak Creek Commons (OCC) Decision Making Process

Introduction from 7/1/06 Cohousing-L message:
 From: eileen mccourt emccourt@CHARTER.NET
 RE: [C-L]_ Consider Sociocracy / OCC decision process

Here is the OCC decision process.  Sorry the doc is so long - it
includes the process, definition of terms and notes to help
facilitators, all of which were part of obtaining agreement to try this
out for six months.  We have one more month to go.  This was put
together in a step by step process.  Terms and definitions were approved
first, then the process itself, and each step had thorough discussion.
We had several facilitated Non-Violent Communication sessions with Bob
Metz and a 2 day retreat with Paul DeLapa, paid for by the community.
Putting it all together, I take back my statement that it is not as
complicated as Sociocracy!  (some of the definitions should be
footnoted; I think at least some them came from a small book on
consensus - can't remember the name and author).

Since implementing this, we have completed a perimeter fence, internal
fences, established landscape guidelines, are closing in on creating an
Architectural Review Process, are starting to talk about how to spend
the remainder of our profit share and have established a stronger board
of directors.  All of these issues were extremely thorny and at an
impasse before the process was adopted.  As you can see, how to vote is
left vague.  This was somewhat deliberate, since we could not really
envision voting, and decided it would be easier to decide exactly what
to do (how long for notices, proxies, etc.) in the event that a vote is

We have had a couple of situations since this agreement where a person
was blocking, and the people at the business meeting agreed unanimously
to go ahead in the face of the objection.  The objector accepted this as
a valid process.  Both of these situations related to who could best
serve the community on a committee requiring certain specific skills.
This was discussed openly at the meetings.

Oak Creek Commons (OCC) Decision Making Process

Note: This file reformated from emailed copy to restore lines and indentation
by Fred Olson as best I could 7/2/06.

AGREEMENT.  After six months, [the decision making cmtee] will initiate
dialog about the process to determine how it is working and how it can
be improved.

There is a 5 step process for decision making as outlined below and
explained in more detail in the attached pages.

1.  Present an Idea at a Business Meeting
        Informal discussion
        Community decision to pursue idea
2.  Create a Draft Proposal
        Task group meetings
        Information presentations
        Discussion circles
        Conflict Resolution
3.      Present the Draft Proposal at a Business Meeting
        List concerns
4.      Refine the Proposal
        Committee revisions
        Resolve concerns
5.      Present Revised Proposal at a Business Meeting
        Resolve concerns
        Possible Outcomes
        Evaluate a block
        Decide to Vote

Quorum Requirement:
Quorum is established by representation at the meeting of more than 40%
of occupied households.

Eligibility to Participate in Decision Making
All adult residents of Oak Creek Commons are eligible to fully
participate in the decision making process.

Explanation of Steps in the Process

1.      Present an Idea (Presentation and Discussion Time: 20 minutes)
Proposals should not spring full blown on the community. The starting
point should generally be that, at a business meeting, a broad concept
or idea is suggested to determine if the community wants this idea

Proposals come from committees, not individuals. If there is no
preexisting committee, then the community will authorize a committee to
be formed from volunteers. If a budget is needed to get to the stage of
formulating a proposal, it should be requested at this time.

2.      Create a Draft Proposal
a.      Organization -- The first task of the committee would be to
appoint a proposal champion and to formulate its roles and
responsibilities. The proposal champion will be someone who is willing
to insure that the process is carried through in accordance with the
community agreements for this.  Normally, this would also be the
committee chair.

b.      Opportunities for community engagement -- The committee is
expected to engage the community in at least 2 different venues to get
ideas and elicit concerns about the concept. These can include
brainstorming sessions, discussion circles, surveys, or any other means
desired.  The premise is that the proposal is created through the energy
of the community, not by the committee on its own.

c.      Resolution of Concerns -- Discussions with individuals who have
expressed concerns or further community dialogs will be held to resolve
issues brought up in the previous step.  Conflict resolution may be used
where appropriate.

3.      Present the Draft Proposal (Presentation, questions, concerns: 30 minutes)
The first draft of a proposal is presented at a business meeting.  A
limited time will be available for presentation, questions, and
concerns.  Concerns will be noted, but not addressed at this meeting.
This presentation will be announced on the agenda and the proposal will
be emailed and posted in the Common House at least 3 days in advance of
the meeting.  In the event that there are no concerns, it is possible to
consense on the proposal at this meeting.

4.      Refine the Proposal
The process of 2b and 2c is repeated.

5.      Present Revised Proposal (Presentation, questions, concerns, resolution: 45 minutes)
The refined proposal will be brought back to the community at a business
meeting.  The same notice will be given. At this time consensus will be
sought.  Further modifications may be made to the proposal at this time.
Any changes made at this time do not require another presentation before

6.      Possible Outcomes
        Consensus - There is agreement
        Sent to Committee - There is general agreement but specific
         details are delegated to a committee to work out.  The committee may or
         may not be empowered to make the final decision on the specific details.
        Tabled - There is no agreement and the proposal is dropped or indefinitely deferred.
        Voting - There is no agreement but some type of decision is
          needed.  This will occur if the decision is part of an already consensed
          implementation, is legally required, is an aesthetic choice, or other
          similar issue.

Terms and Definitions

The Meaning of Consensus
The heart of consensus is a cooperative intent, where the input of every
community member is carefully considered and members are willing to work
together to craft the best decision possible that meets the needs of the
community at that time.

Consensus is Not unanimous agreement. Participants may consent to a
decision they disagree with, but recognize it meets the needs of the
community and therefore give permission to let the decision go forward.

Consensus is an inclusive process based on the values of the community

Consensus gathers the wisdom and experiences from the whole community.
The expression of concerns and conflicting ideas is considered desirable
and important. Consensus strives to take into account everyone's
concerns and resolve them before any decision is made.

Although every individual must consent to a decision before it is
adopted, if there are any objections, it is not the choice of the
individual alone to determine if an objection prevents the proposal from
being adopted.  Every objection or concern must first be presented
before the community and either resolved or validated.  A valid
objection is one in keeping with all previous decisions of the community
and based upon the commonly-held values or foundation adopted by the
community.  The objection must not only address the concerns of the
individual, but it must also be in the best interest of the community as
a whole.  If the objection is not based upon the foundation, or is in
contradiction with a prior decision, it is not valid for the community,
and therefore, out of order.

Standing Aside
When a concern has been fully discussed and cannot be resolved, it is
appropriate for the facilitator to ask those persons with this concern
if they are willing to stand aside; that is, acknowledge that the
concern still exists, but allow the proposal to be adopted.  The person
and the community are agreeing to disagree, regarding each point of view
with mutual respect.  Occasionally, it is a concern which has no
resolution; the person does not feel the need to block the decision, but
wants to express the concern and lack of support for the proposal.

Blocking is standing in the way of a decision. One of the key elements
is that blocking is done for the best interests of the community, not to
serve personal likes and dislikes.  Persons who considers blocking a
decision have a responsibility to work toward an alternative agreement
that is acceptable to the community before blocking. Blocking must be
based on a generally recognized value, on irreparable harm to the
community if the decision is passed, or it must be essential to the
entire community's well-being.  It is not personal preference.  Before a
concern is considered to be blocking, the community must have already
accepted the validity of the concern and a reasonable attempt must have
been made to resolve it.

Remember, even if you disagree with a decision, you can give permission
to the community to proceed in order for the community to learn things.
Often a community must make decisions without all the information needed
or all issues resolved. Moving forward is sometimes the way to
understand what will happen as you implement a decision.

These are notes from a combined meeting between the Facilitation Team
and Decision Process Team on January 8, 2006.

This list is not comprehensive, but it offers tools for a variety of
situations at each stage of the consensus process.  Some processes will
require more direction than others.

Step 1 - The Idea
        Avoid getting into details
        Set time limits
        Allow discussion to generate ideas; not too structured
        Redirect the conversation away from implementation details
        Take breaks
        Use silence to ground the group
        Gather concerns -go around the circle, stacking, etc.
        Check in - ask - Is anyone uncomfortable?
        Ask the group - Do we want to pursue the idea?
        Ask the presenter - What have you heard?

Step 2 - Developing the idea (occurs outside of a business meeting)
        Offer facilitation services for group discussions
        Identify problem areas that may require more help to resolve

Step 3 - The Draft Proposal
        List concerns with names attached
        Redirect the discussion away from solving concerns.
        Ask presenter - How will you follow-up on these concerns?
        Get confirmation that those who have concerns recognize their
          responsibility for communicating and working with the proponents of the
          proposal to arrive at a solution
        Ask those with concerns - How will you work to address your concern(s)?
        Identify next steps - What are they? Times and Dates.

Step 4 - Refining the Proposal (occurs outside of a business meeting)
        Offer facilitation services for group discussions
        Identify problem areas that may require more help to resolve
        Provide additional resources as needed (NVC, professionals, etc.)

Step 5 - Call for Consensus
        At this point, the facilitator is presented with 3 possible outcomes:

1.      Consensus
        Ask people why they are standing aside
        Explain the nature of standing aside - Standing aside represents
          a broad spectrum of responses to a proposal.
        Remind the group - Standing aside is a gift to the group
        Inquire into the seriousness of the reason for standing aside. -
          How would you characterize your concern? Would you actively undermine
          the success of this decision or refuse to abide by it?  Would you be
          willing to support the outcome even though you have concerns and may
          question the necessity of this proposal?
        Thank those who are standing aside
        Thank those with concerns who contributed to the solution
        Thank the committee for their hard work
        Celebrate YAY!!!!

2.      Blocking
        Ask a blocker - Please restate your block and tell us why you
          believe it is a community concern
        Ask a blocker - Have you participated and expressed your concerns earlier?
        Explain the nature of standing aside - Standing aside represents
          a broad spectrum of responses to the proposal.
        Remind the group that standing aside is a gift to the group and
          thank those who are standing aside.
        Ask a blocker - Are you willing to stand aside?
        Check in with the group to find out where they stand on the
          block - Is there anyone else who believes this block represents a
          community concern?  Does at least 25% of those present support the
        If so, the proposal is not yet ready for prime time.
        If not, the proposal is passed.

3.      A Divided Group
        Try an informal voting method such as dot voting, or standing in affinity groups, etc.
        See if the group is willing to accept the majority opinion
        If so, the group has reached consensus
        If not, see if the group can decide on how to conduct a formal vote
        If the group cannot agree on how to conduct the voting, refer the matter to the board