Governance and Committees

Do the words “governance” and “committees” give you sweaty palms? Yeah. We feel about the same way. Still, the Twin Cities Ecovillage Project is a growing group. We recognize that it’s important to have a framework for making decisions, especially important ones.

During our most recent board meeting, we shared our research and ideas around governance models and decided on something exciting. We explored Consensus, Modified Consensus, Sociocracy, and Holocracy. Using our values as the lens, we discussed the benefits and drawbacks of each.

We embraced the idea of an evolving model of governance. Before even openly agreeing to something, our board has operated under a Consensus model. In Consensus, decisions require unanimity. If even one person chooses to “block” an action, it can’t continue without further exploration. This model creates inclusion and cohesion with the group, but it can needlessly slow down decision-making and it doesn’t scale well. When one person in a group of six blocks an action, it’s easy to work through any objections. It’s a different story when six out of thirty six block.

Dylan shared a classic example of an issue at Dancing Rabbit, where the full community debated a new color for the shared kitchen. The decision took far longer than anyone would suspect and resulted in a lot of tearful emotions.

Modified Consensus addresses this problem by splitting a group into committees. Each committee focuses on a central theme. The community requires participation in a certain number of committees. Each committee uses consensus for deciding the course of action within its domain. Since TCEVP is growing, we are consciously moving toward a Modified Consensus model.

Both Sociocracy and Holocracy are similar and both include valuable ideas, but we all agreed that the formality and process overhead was too much for our project at this time. However, we want to pull some of the concepts into our Modified Consensus model. These are a few:

  • “Rounds” are simple but hugely effective. In a round, everyone speaks about an issue one at a time, without interruption. That’s all there is to it. It helps reduce cross talk and ensure everyone is heard equally. We’ll encourage committees to freely call for a round whenever an issue becomes contentious.
  • We also value the Sociacratic model for approval through “Consent.” It’s a tool for creating harmony through compromise. Consent asks members to discern their “Range of Tolerance” for an idea. Instead of the binary yes or block options from consensus, consent allows room for people to approve an action even if it’s not their personal preference. Objections or blocks keep the focus on the vision and mission of the organization and must include a reason that includes how this action will mean the group will not meet its aim.
  • Sociocracy also provides a model agenda for using rounds to come to a decision. First, someone proposes an idea. Three rounds follow. The first is meant to allow people to understand the issue through clarifying questions. During the second round, participant offer their reactions to the proposal. Lastly, participants offer their consent or raise objections to the proposal. The group makes any needed amendments and repeats the process until either all consents to the proposal or they agree to abandon it.

We still have some open questions and we need to document our governance model, but we’re excited about the direction we’re headed. Look for us to start using these new principles of decision-making at a member meeting near you soon!