Monday, January 9, 2012

Adapting Consensus Process to Work in Cohousing Communities

Many cohousing groups are drawn to the values inherent in consensus decision-making. We want inclusive, collaborative discussions that generate widespread agreement. Unfortunately, the formal consensus model handed down from the 1970’s has often failed to be effective in modern cohousing communities. Long, frustrating meetings, power struggles, and an inability to make progress is too often the result. Participation declines, and the goals of consensus are unrealized.

Fortunately, there is an alterative. As each group is unique, it makes sense that an effective consensus process should be adaptable enough to be effective in any group that uses it. Larger, diverse groups with limited time for meetings need a way to keep true to the values of consensus. But they also need a way to make the process efficient enough that people continue to joyfully attend meetings.

Consensus-Oriented Decision Making (CODM) is a new model for using consensus process that is ideal for use in co-housing communities. In seven steps, it guides groups to truly collaborative decisions with maximum levels of agreement. And each group can decide what level of agreement is sufficient to move forward with a decision.

My new book, Consensus-Oriented Decision Making (New Society, 2011), describes the CODM model and the many adaptations that may work for your co-housing group. It guides facilitators and participants in how to avoid adversarial debate (the real opposite of consensus) and how to co-generate proposals that meet the needs of all stakeholders as much as possible. As someone who has lived in intentional community for 25 years, I am very happy to offer this resource to my fellow communitarians. Find it at

Monday, October 10, 2011

Intentional Communities Learn Improved Consensus Model

Last month I presented at "The Art of Community," a weekend conference in Occidental, California focused on tools for forming and thriving in Intentional Community living situations. There were many workshops on Eco-Villages, Permaculture, and Group Dynamics. I felt right at home, having co-founded and lived on a small intentional community for the past 20 years.

I presented the CODM model for generating consensus to an excited audience. It is clear that the CODM model offers an important alternative to existing models of consensus. When a group is large, or diverse, or unwilling to spend long hours in meetings, the CODM model offers an efficient way to get widespread agreement in a collaborative process.

I wonder how many failed intentional communities would be alive today if they had had access to CODM.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

New Review from MassNonprofit.Org

Here's a book review from MassNonprofit.Org:

Nonprofits are largely consensus-oriented organizations, yet many struggle with making decisions that invite maximum participation and efficiency. Consensus-Oriented Decision Making helps by providing step-by-step guidance that accounts for group dynamics, resolves conflict, and maximizes communication.

Authored by Tim Hartnett, a professional group facilitator and mediator, Consensus-Oriented Decision Making is based on a model which, as the name suggests, stresses consensus—not unanimity—to help groups first propose a decision and then finalize it. The process builds on full participation by all parties – to ensure that all points of view are considered and to create a sense of unity and cohesion in the group.

The consensus-oriented decision making model, called CODM (pronounced co dem), emphasizes efficiency, as well as participation. Notes Hartnett, “Without an effective process, a group trying for greater participation is likely to suffer a serious loss of efficiency. Eventually, groups that cannot make decisions effectively are likely to frustrate members so much than participation declines or the group fails at is mission.”

The CODM process, led by a facilitator, follows seven steps, as follows:

  1. Frame the topic. The objective is to agree on what the group’s goal is.
  2. Open discussion. Participants are invited to identify different ways of seeing the problem and suggest solutions.
  3. Identify underlying concerns. The group is asked to give attention to underlying needs and concerns.
  4. Collaborative proposal development. Facilitation is key in order to avoid competitive and adversarial debate and to give alternative ideas a complete airing.
  5. Choose a direction. At this point, the group is engaged to discuss pros and cons of different possible solutions.
  6. Synthesize a final proposal. The goal is to collaboratively develop a single proposal so that it satisfies all the needs and concerns of the group to the maximum extent possible.
  7. Closure. The group’s decision rule—a vote by simple majority or supermajority, unanimity, or some other rule—is implemented.
Even with successful closure, the group’s work is not necessarily over, advises Hartnett: there may be a need to provided empathy to those who may not be satisfied with the result, or assistance may need to be enlisted to implement the decision.

Beyond detailing these seven steps in CODM, Hartnett devotes a considerable part of the book to providing guidance on how to deal with the ins and outs of achieving them.

For example, when it comes to identifying underlying concerns, he provides a template for charting the concerns of specific stakeholders. He explains the differences between a position (“a specific plan that someone may advocate”) and an underlying concern (“a problem that needs a solution”) and how once an underlying concern is identified, alternative positions can be considered.

Much of the appeal of the book stems from its grounding in understanding what motivates people and their needs. Recognizing that different groups have different needs, Hartnett stresses that the model he offers is highly flexible and can be modified..

Groups that need to make decisions also need to continue to work together after those decisions get made. Going forward, they’ll also likely have to make more decisions together. Besides offering a systematic approach to what can be difficult, even vexing, matters, the CODM model offers a highly valuable benefit in that it helps build the team.

Consensus-Oriented Decision Making is available from New Society Publishers.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy
April 2011

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Book is now available!

Consensus-Oriented Decision-Making is now released and available for sale. The best place to buy it is from the author's website. You get the lowest price on the web and more of your money goes to the author (me!). Check out Thanks!

Monday, March 14, 2011

More Advanced Praise for this book on Consensus Process

"Succinct, thoughtful, and complete. So many groups (including elected officials and government agencies!) get lost in the search for consensus with the best of intentions -- this guidebook shows clearly how to get to a decision in the best spirit of democracy."

-Richard Conlin, President Seattle City Council 

In Consensus-Oriented Decision-Making, Tim Hartnett has provided a practical and yet imaginative primer on how to approach group decision making in an inclusive way. Tim emphasizes the importance of both participation and efficiency in decision making, two potentially conflicting goals that are both honored by the CODM approach in a creative and effective way. For anyone organizing, leading, facilitating, or participating in an important group decision making process, this book provides a valuable resource.
--Bernie Mayer,Professor, Werner Institute for Negotiation and Decision Making, Creighton University, author of Dynamics of Conflict Resolution, Beyond Neutrality, and Staying With Conflict.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Advance Praise from NVC author: Lucy Leu

Here is a new piece of advanced praise for the book from Lucy Leu, author of several very popular books on Nonviolent Communication. Thanks Lucy!

“I am so grateful for the timely appearance of this book on our planet. It offers concrete guidance for group wisdom to emerge in decision-making that takes into account all stakeholders.  The author presents a wealth of insights and suggestions in such a clear conceptual framework. I feel immediately inspired to re-vision the way I facilitate meetings!”
-Lucy Leu, co-author of NVC Toolkit for Facilitators and 
Nonviolent Communication Companion Workbook 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Consensus Decision Making Book

Consensus-Oriented Decision Making (New Society Publishers, 2011) will be released April 10th. You can learn what reviewers have to say about this book on this blog. If you want to learn more about consensus decision making, please visit on of the links below. is a pblic service website hosting articles about consensus and meeting facilitation. is the website describing my practice as a meeting facilitator. To order a copy of the book, please visit