Collective Decision-Making

How we make decisions together is important to us. It's key to cultivating relational culture that is healthy, regenerative and just. It bears the fruits of our commitment to composting power-over culture from the inside-out. It also shapes the extent to which we are able to support emergence rather than being beholden to power-over’s ‘predict and control’ mentality, which is grounded in the belief that the strategic minds of a certain few are greater than the collective wisdom of the whole.

Canada geese flying in formation

The way we go about making decisions within our groups and organisations holds up a vivid mirror to how we relate with and share power, and the degree to which we are in alignment with our values around relationality, equity and justice.

Most of us grew up in environments with adults who were not able to exercise their power in entirely healthy ways and who likely struggled to consider all our needs when using their power to make decisions that impacted us. This means most of us are understandably highly suspicious of hierarchy because it has likely caused us a lot of pain - and still does. 

Meanwhile, it is possible to make hierarchical decisions in a healthy way - if we are able to emotionally attune to, and take into consideration the needs of all those who our decisions impact. And when we are attuned and able to listen and respond to the needs of those we impact, it is highly unlikely we would want to be part of a system that is exclusively hierarchical as this is so antithetical to what it is to experience ourselves in reciprocal relationship with all beings, as an inherent part of Earth community.

Growing pains

We are in a very particular historic moment right now in regards to how we humans make decisions across the various groups, organisations, movements and institutions we are involved and entangled in - locally, bio-regionally, nationally, internationally and across species boundaries.

Some of us are courageously seeking to compost the ways that we as a species have been culturally conditioned to relate with power and decision-making over hundreds of centuries. This transition from centralised power and top-down hierarchy to healthier more relational, regenerative, equitable and just ways of making decisions together is therefore inevitably messy and can, at times (often), feel very painful and despairing. We are part of a great untangling of the ways we have related with and utilized power and privilege, a re-membering of how to attune with the wisdom of the wider web of Life that longs to emerge through and as us. It is precisely these growing pains that indicate that change is happening, that outdated skins are being shed - even though in the midst of the challenge this can be hard to trust.

Blended decision-making

How we make decisions together within Starter Culture is an ever evolving inquiry grounded in and supported by our Vital Ingredients and Design Principles for composting power-over culture. This ongoing inquiry sits alongside a blended decision-making process that combines horizontal (consent-based) and vertical (hierarchical) decision-making, which supports us to ensure that:

-Everyone has clarity around who the decision-makers are within any given context, situation and decision-making process (this is determined by the roles we are inhabiting) to the degree that this is possible.

-Decision-makers consider the needs of anyone (human and otherwise) that our decisions will impact - and actively seek their input where appropriate.

-Decision-makers seek advice from those who have relevant experience or expertise.

-When appropriate, we as a group, use a consent-based process - or - we as a group clearly defer power to individuals, or where relevant, circles to make decisions (for example someone might be holding a specific role that has clearly agreed accountabilities that include having decision-making power for certain things).

-When making decisions we centre that which will best support us to deliver on our agreed purpose, in service of the whole - whilst also including our own needs within this and trying to discern when it is and isn’t appropriate for these to be met by the group (see more on this below).

-We seek decisions that are ‘good enough for now, safe enough to try’ as opposed to trying to find the best decision according to everyone (see more below).

-When bringing forth proposals, we treat objections as gifts, in our trust that they are intended to support us to better deliver on our agreed purpose. 

-When we trip up, which we repeatedly will within this ongoing learning experiment, we trust each other’s good intentions rather than suspecting and projecting bad intent.

Good enough for now, safe enough to try

Unlike consensus decision-making, consent-based decision making seeks a decision that feels ‘good enough for now, safe enough to try’. Consensus decision-making seeks to find a decision that everyone feels is the best decision - which of course is a lot harder to achieve, takes a lot longer and very often ends up in frustrations and conflict. 

When we talk about collective or consent-based decision making most people presume we are talking about consensus decision making. Consent-based decision making was borne out of the lessons learned from how consensus decision-making has not worked so well. It is the ‘good enough for now, safe enough to try’ piece that makes consent-based decision-making distinct. Historically, activist groups and communities have not been very good at understanding the importance of learning the deep structure of collective decision-making, which rests on composting power-over culture from within us, alongside the process of proposals and objections. Unfortunately, consensus processes have also often been facilitated by those without the requisite deep understanding and experience needed to hold the processes in ways that cultivate trust in this way of making decisions. All of this means that collective consent-based decision-making has gotten itself a bad reputation which has resulted in few groups being willing to invest in the time and energy needed to make this vital shift - without which it is nigh on impossible to align with our values around equity and justice.

From ‘me’ to ‘we’

Collective decision-making has the potential to be a deeply transformatory process in and of itself. When we engage consciously with its intentions, our natural centre of gravity begins to shift from ‘me’ to ‘we’ as we experience ourselves as an integral part of a forever-in-flux process of becoming-with. For some of us the challenge is to stop centering our own needs and learning to trust that by centring the group’s needs, our needs will still get met - albeit perhaps in unforeseen ways.

For others of us the challenge is to learn how to accept that we have needs - and how to identify, embrace and find healthy ways to meet them, rather than centring the group’s needs (or other people’s more generally) as a people pleasing strategy that tends to seek to protect us from the pain of feeling rejected and our fears of being exiled etc - and which sits at the heart of our cultures of burnout, stagnancy, destructive conflict and unhealthy power dynamics. When we learn that our needs are not in conflict and begin to trust the process, we understand what constitutes a ‘reasonable’ objection, which thereby allows us to treat them as gifts.

Healthy flexible boundaries:
Our exclusion process

The health and future of Starter Culture, and of all groups and organisations, requires us to be willing to hold healthy boundaries in relation to behaviours that put this at risk. If a member is consistently unable to bring themselves in alignment with our relational agreements and this is having a significant impact within the group, our first step is to facilitate space for rupture and repair - as per our agreed Rupture and Repair process. If that does not tend to the difficulty in a good way, we may need to compassionately suspend or exclude that member until a way forward is found.

This collective process is held in stark contrast to a top-down hierarchical approach in which senior team members have the power to ‘fire’ someone. This is edgy stuff and very counter cultural for many of us. And yet, having the tender courage to hold these boundaries, even when this is activating for tender young parts of us, is an act of Love in the most expansive courageous sense of the word.

See here for more on the consent-based process itself.

See here for information about our Collective Decision-Making workshops