Paving Consensus: Enacting, Challenging, and Revising the Consensus Process in a Cohousing Community

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Abstract:

This study focused on a cohousing community's use of consensus to make a decision about surfacing a parking area. It revealed that the community's use of consensus decision making allowed the residents to balance three goals: making an appropriate decision, meeting members' needs, and maintaining the community's well-being. Reaching agreement, however, was complicated by members' value differences and discontinuity in their participation. The analysis of this case reveals three qualities characteristic of the enactment of consensus: the role of structured communication within and between group meetings, a tension between maintaining process openness and reaching decision closure, and the expectation that group members will work within the consensus process. The analysis also highlights the importance of timing in the interpretation of conflict in a consensus-oriented group and the role of process change when a group reaches the limits of members' commitment to consensus.
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