Monday 10 August 2015

Making decisions together

One of the key things about cohousing is that there are no dictators allowed.

But how does taking decisions together work in practice - and believe me there are hundreds of big and small ones that are needed when planning and designing a cohousing community.

Everything from the layout of the scheme to the style of the homes and the use of shared spaces. Even more important discussions have focused on how we'll all live together as a community when we finally move in.

We hope that what we're learning now about co-operative decisions, as we continue to plan and design, will put us in good stead for when we become a community of about 40 households, when the same principle of consensus will apply.

What’s clear so far is that consensus is a sweet spot that can be hard to reach, being neither about unanimity nor about compromise. To borrow a famous phrase, it's about trying to arrive at "the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people".

Happiness might be overstating it. For some knotty issues, it's often a question of reaching a decision together which people are prepared to live with, even if they don't joyfully embrace it.

As discussion has gone back and forth over some tricky legal or financial topics recently, it's been fascinating to observe the psychology involved and how the group dynamics play out.

Some people are really dogged, gnawing away repeatedly at a problem until they arrive at a solution that people can go with - and all credit to them. But in my case, especially if it's a long debate over email about something theoretical or about which I have no strong interest, I've noticed a tendency in myself to disengage.

That's one of the risks of consensus-building across a large group: it's important to judge the right time to put something to a vote before people get exhausted by the discussion and opt out.

The great thing is, everyone has a choice. I know if I do happen to feel strongly about a topic that needs to be decided, I can use the voting system ( to put up a proposal, vote for or against someone else's, or record an abstention.

If something is voted through on a low turnout, we may park the issue and come back to it later, because we firmly believe that the more we’re all involved, the better the decision-making and the more we bind together in preparation for living in K1.

As a process, it can be slow and frustrating though, especially if you don't enjoy a lot of email discussion and meetings, or if you're the sort of person who forms strong opinions quickly and likes getting to a decision fast.

But it's really worth sticking with it. Consensus-building is as much about the journey as the destination: a dynamic process which can produce really creative results and enables everyone to have a say.

Forget the mortar and cement - taking decisions together is the real strength in the fabric of a successful cohousing community.

Written by Chrissie