We have many roles during the meetings. One or two people arrive first to set up the room. Our facilitators guide the presenters and the rest of the group through discussion and decision process. A notetaker and an action-item recorder help us keep track of everything. One person volunteers to be a process observer, and keep an eye on the emotional temperature of the meetings. Our residents, prospective members and visitors all participate in the discussion, but only residents participate in decisions.
Under some circumstances, we make decisions outside of meetings, using our Urgent Decisions process. Members who will not be at a General Meeting can proxy, per these guidelines. We also do have the ability to fall back to a 3/4 vote if we are unable to come to consensus on an issue in a couple of meetings (we have not yet needed to vote).
We use color cards as a tool for reaching consensus, and to help organize our discussions.
If you have any questions about the cards or the meeting process in general, please feel free to talk to someone on the facilitation team.
|Blue||Comment: I have a comment or opinion.|
|Yellow||Question: I have a question or need clarification.|
||Answer: I can provide clarification, by providing information that I feel is pertinent to a question raised.|
|Orange||Acknowledgement: I appreciate your contribution made to the group (thank you)!|
|Red||Process: I have a process observation (e.g., discussion is off-topic).|
|Green||I agree with the proposal.|
|Yellow||I have a question that must be answered before I make a decision.|
|Blue||I am neutral or have some slight reservation.|
|Orange||I have a serious reservation but will not block consensus.|
|Red||Block: I am against the proposal and feel it would be bad for the group.|
When a member (Associate or Resident) determines that we need to come to consensus on an issue between general meetings, he or she will bring the issue to Steering. Steering is responsible for invoking and tracking this process, and may delegate to the initiator or someone else to do some of the steps below.
If a decision has been determined to be time-critical by Steering and may need to be taken to a vote between meetings, additional steps apply as noted. Time-critical decisions that need to happen during meetings are addressed by the Time Critical Decisions policy.
Wording for the proposal will be determined and communicated to all members first electronically, including the timeframe required for the decision and whether the decision is time-critical. Members are responsible for answering the poll, including whether they are abstaining. Members who have opted out of decisions between meetings may answer the poll, but are not required for the 75% threshold
If the decision is time critical, each person will be asked to both give a card and to give their vote in case of a fallback to vote.
A sign will be put up on the front door of the common house indicating that there is a decision between meetings in process, the proposal wording, and the deadline. In addition, Steering (or delegate) will try at least one other way (phone, knocking on doors, etc) to reach each and every member who has not opted out of decisions between meetings. People who submit cards by phone or in person will have their answers entered for others to view.
Based on the comments and cards of others, members can go back and change their cards until the decision closes.
75% of members who have not opted out of decisions between meetings must provide a response in order to close the decision. If a third or more of the responses are orange cards or if there are any red cards, the decision does not pass.
If a time critical decision does not pass, we then fall to a vote.
Decisions between meetings will be reported by Steering (or delegate) at the next General Meeting and added to the minutes at that time. The date of the decision in the decision log will be the date the result of the decision is announced.
In the team mandates, and in our discussion, we sometimes mention Power Levels. Here are the definitions:
Power Level 1: May ask that an issue come to plenary (at a minimum, everyone has this power, assuming the request meets the group-defined standards for what's plenary worthy).
Power Level 2: May bring a proposal to plenary. This would generally happen in the context of a team operating within their territory and where the factors that need to be balanced have already been defined by the plenary.
Power Level 3: May post a tentative decision which will become a group agreement if no one objects within a specified amount of time; the proposal need not come to plenary if concerns can be addressed outside.
Power Level 4: May make binding decisions on their own; they only have to announce the decision.
Any member of Mosaic Commons Cohousing may request an exception to an existing policy. All exceptions will be submitted to Steering who may decide them, pass them to another team or bring them to the plenary. The expectation is that finances and physical plant issues will be referred to Trustees. Steering will tell the community about the exception and how it is being addressed.
Laird Schaub, Friday, January 25, 2008
Gatekeeping Plenary Agendas
I'm in Asheville this weekend, doing a CANBRIDGE series of workshops on cooperative group dynamics. This evening I presented key elements of consensus, and there's a new piece of theory that I've recently added to what I offer on this subject: how the agenda gets drafted for plenaries (meetings of the whole).
Group time is expensive. If you've got 20 in your group, a three-minute statement uses one hour of people time. So you want to minimize confusion about the agenda and make sure that all topics are queued up and ready to go. Here's my best thinking about how to do that:
Create a standing cmtee whose task it is to be the gatekeeper for plenary agendas. Caution #1: the composition of this cmtee may be delicate. It has to be large enough to be widely accessible to the group's membership; it has to be small enough to be able to function expeditiously. I'm think perhaps 3-4 people is the right number (that way, when someone is on vacation or sick, the cmtee can still function well). Caution #2: For this cmtee, don't simply ask for volunteers. The make-up of this group needs to be perceived as fairly balanced, to be well trusted.
Assuming you've selected a good representative group, their job is to vet any and all suggestions for what makes it to the plenary floor. Essentially they'll use three screens to do this. In sequence, they'll test for:
1. Is the topic plenary worthy? The cmtee should be acting on the group's behalf to make sure that all things coming forward are appropriate for whole group attention. That means the group will need to have a conversation about what's worth their time (so that the cmtee will have guidance about what the screen should be—you don't want them just making something up!). Hint: here are my suggestions about the kinds of things that might qualify:
o clarifying cmty values (both in general and how they are to be applied in a specific situation)
o establishing process agreements by which the cmty will operate
o determining mandates for cmtees that serve the plenary (as opposed to mandates for subcmtees, which will be determined by the cmtees they serve)
o relationships for neighbors, other organizations, and government
o changes to the cmty budget (excepting where that authority has been clearly delegated)
o evaluation of cmtees which serve the plenary
o membership process
o establishment of members' rights and responsibilities
o expulsion, or other involuntary changes to a member's rights and responsibilities
o anything for which there is no established cmtee or manager to handle it on behalf of the cmty (once it has been determined to be, in some sense, cmty business).
o court of last resort in cases where internal cmty disputes are not settled through other means
Note that it is not that unusual for some aspects of a topic to be plenary worthy and some aspects not to be. It's the gatekeepers' job to use discernment and help protect the plenary from inappropriate agendas. If something doesn't fit—in the Gatekeepers view—they should suggest where it should go instead (perhaps to a cmtee or manager with sufficient authority to deal with the issue at that level).
2. Is the topic mature enough? Has all the research you might reasonably anticipate being needed been done? Can it be posted sufficiently ahead of the mtg that everyone has a decent chance to look over the background materials? Does the presenter have their schtick together? Is the objective for the plenary focus clear?
3. What is the priority of this topic relative to others that have passed the first two screens? That is, there may be more topcis that are worthya dn mature than can be done in the time available for the next pkenary. Don't try to shoehorn a 3-hour agenda into a 90-minute mtg. Pick what's most important, most urgent, or been waiting the longest, and let the other topics wait for another mtg.
Note that the gatekeepers should not approach their job as the Agenda Police. Rather they should be problem solvers, helping members and cmtees to think creatively about what is a good use of plenary time, and what will help them get their needs met. They are seeking the intersection of the group's needs and those of the people petitioning for time on the plenary floor.
If there's dissatisfaction with the gatekeepers decision, there should be a right of appeal whereby unsuccessful petitioners can get plenary time to make a pitch for why they think their issue should come before the whole group and ovetunr the gatekeepers assessment. Note: this is not an opportunity for an end run to discus the topic; it's a chance to make one last attempt to have cmty support for topci about the issue at a later date. Don't confuse the two.
Once they crafted a draft agenda, the gatekeepers should turn their work over to the Facilitation Team for determining who should run the mtg, in what order topics should appear, and with what format they should be addressed. I'll discuss how the Facilitation Team should approach their work in my next blog
A proxy is a way of participating in a consensus call when you're not at a meeting. A proxy must be given to someone on the Facilitation Team — telling a friend or partner is not sufficient for a proxy.
You may proxy when we are deciding on a policy or other document where the wording has been finalized and sent out in advance, and we don't expect further discussion in a meeting. For example, if we have a final copy of a contract and we only need to take cards to get official approval after having worked through people's comments and concerns, you could proxy on that decision.
If there is a decision where there will be substantial discussion before the final wording is established and consensus called for, you may share your concerns with the group via email beforehand or by sending along something to be read on your behalf. You may not proxy a card in this situation. For example, if we're discussing a draft of a policy for which we have options of different approaches, a proxy would not be appropriate.
If the discussion leads to a decision that you don't feel you can support, you should raise the issue for further discussion at the next meeting, per our initial Organizing Agreement.
People who know they will be missing a meeting and who want to address a topic that will be discussed at the meeting are, as always, welcome to discuss it via email beforehand.
We require that people participating in a consensus decision in the group be up-to-date on the issue at hand. While this is less of a factor for people showing blue or green cards on an issue, the expectation is that someone holding a red or orange card on a question will be informed enough on the issue that s/he can speak effectively to his/her concerns, so that the group can address them.
It's important for all of us to remember that consensus decision-making is a process, and something that doesn't work for someone in the group can usually be reworked in such a way that everyone can come away happy. We encourage everyone to start discussions with a flexible frame of mind!
From time to time, we will be faced with the need to make a decision in a single meeting, without taking it to several meetings before falling back to a vote. This policy is intended to be used only for those time-critical decisions.
The team or presenter for a given item should make an announcement to the trustees in response to the call for agenda items preceding that meeting. The group will be asked to consense on the time critical nature of the decision and a discussion deadline time at that meeting. If we do not reach consensus on the decision in question by that time, we will follow our voting procedure to decide the question at that meeting. The facilitators may decide that we are close to consensus on an issue, and may push back the deadline to accommodate that, before falling back to a vote.
Note from the construction phase: "If we fail to consense on falling back to a vote, do not have a quorum, or for any other reason fail to make the decision, we will accept any and all impact of the lack of a decision, and not hold our professionals responsible for it."
If no consensus can be reached on a proposal after consensus has been called for at each of two consecutive meetings, with at least eighteen hours between such meetings, the proposal may be deemed deadlocked.
At the end of the second meeting or at any subsequent meeting, any Member or Associate can call for a decision that the proposal is deadlocked. If a Quorum is present and a 3/4 Majority of the votes cast agrees that the proposal is deadlocked, a vote shall be taken at the next meeting.
When the vote is taken, if a Quorum has submitted votes and the proposal is approved by a 3/4 Majority of the votes cast, the proposal shall be accepted. Proxy votes count in figuring the Quorum and in tallying votes.
Consensus/voting (in the event that consensus cannot be reached on a given question):
A. When dealing with decisions pertaining to organizational and administrative structure, finances, acquisition and disposal of property interests, and legal concerns of the Group, each Member Household shall be entitled to a single vote.
B. When dealing with decisions regarding present and future living matters in the cohousing community such as social activites, rules and regulations, committee membership, and other community tasks, all participating individuals (Members and Associates) shall have individual votes.
In the event of a disagreement as to whether a particular matter belongs under subsection a or b above, the particular decision will automatically be considered to fall under subsection a.