[hackerspaces] How is that consensus thing working out?

Far McKon farmckon at gmail.com
Mon Aug 29 23:16:28 CEST 2011

1) Consensus, when used by intelligent adults with good understanding
of the practice, beats out any other decision making process.
Unfortunately in my work with hackerspaces (of course your mileage may
vary) I've found that hackers are particularly bad at some of the
requisite skills to make consensus work.

Mostly what I think is missing is a realization that they may in fact
be wrong, and/or (egads!) someone else may have more
knowledge/experience than they do. I've watched people with *zero*
organizational experience block solid group management ideas without
ever thinking about their relative skill set. I've watched morons with
one week of IT experience act like they know the *only right way* to
configure an Apache server.  Also, many seem unable to separate their
own opinion from objective fact.  Then tend to confuse "I think Emacs
sucks"* with "Emacs Sucks"  I could go on, but IMHO those are the top
two issues which I've seen repeatedly.

2) In other non-hackerspace projects, we have done 'fallback to
voting'. If after an hour of discussion a consensus can't be reached,
1/3 of the group can call for a simple majority vote.  A 5 minute
break happens, then a ballot or a thumbs-up/thumbs-down vote.

3) In my hackerspace experience**, no I don't think many members
understood (or agreed) with the consensus pattern. I think if they
understood it they may have liked it. I've seen it work well (without
tools) in groups of 3-5, but above that (IMHO) it takes some agreement
and some formal consensus tools  for it to work.  That said, again,
I've used it very successfully in other organizations.

4) If you don't use consensus, I'd go for 'notify and do' and simple
Majority Voting.  Notify and do is along the lines of  "if you are
doing it in the groups name, send an email out, wait 24 hours. Unless
someone is calling for a vote to stop you, do it."  Majority Voting is
plain old vanilla majority voting.

If you can a group to stop and actually learn the skill (and it is a
skill, and one that can be taught)  consensus is awesome.  But make
sure the group has done some reading*** and know how to use the tool
before the pick it up, and cut their arms off, consensus is great.
Otherwise, I'd stick to simple majority voting.

Hack on,
- Far McKon

* Face it, it does :)
** My experience is mostly int the north-east USA. In Europe I see a
lot more consensus among hackers, even informally. True Story:  At
27C3 I  watched a group of Dutch hackers get a consensus to find a
place everyone wanted to eat.  A cigarette later on the same block, I
watched some American from the same conference try to find a place to
eat.  They bicker, broke into 3 groups, and went to different places.
It was a great microcosm example.
*** NASCO has some good literature on this, behind their login amoung
their training stuff.

On Mon, Aug 29, 2011 at 7:38 AM, Hans Fraiponts <fraiponts at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hey,
> Just interested, does the consensus pattern[1] work in your space?
> 1) do you use the consensus pattern? For some or all decisions?
> 2) what happens when someone blocks consensus? Is this member expected
> to reach consensus (by compromise) by next meeting,? Does this ever
> happen?
> 3) do you have the impression most members agree with the consensus pattern?
> 4) Did you develop an alternative for the consensus model?
> Thanks for your input,
> Hans F.
> 1) http://hackerspaces.org/wiki/The_Consensus_Pattern
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