[permaculture] hierarchies and networks

Cory Brennan cory8570 at yahoo.com
Mon Nov 1 17:57:03 EDT 2010


In some of the projects I've been involved with, we haven't had time to get consensus - there were too many life and death situations and sometimes we just acted without asking anybody, because we knew what to do to save lives and even simply explaining to someone who didn't understand it or agree with it would take too long. 

In less grim situations, I've seen consensus minus one, or 85% majority, or other non-unanimous varieties work well and not be abused, personally. Maybe it is the groups I've been in. We never used it to ignore the concerns of the holdout - part of the deal was to allow the dissenting parties to state why they are dissenting. I found that people would communicate to that person after the meeting and continue to try to work with the person to meet their concerns. In one case, the person was clearly intent on disrupting the activities of the group to get what they wanted, and we asked the person to leave, but only after giving them several chances to work it out. The project could have been seriously disrupted if we had continued to try to accomodate this individual. I do not feel that one person should be able to hold up the forward progress of an entire group if the rest of them are working smoothly together and making progress toward a mutual goal. That
 person should, instead, find a group he/she can agree with and work with. There are lots of tribes out there! 

I like that juries must reach consensus to convict. There are certain decisions that I feel consensus should be used to make. Being able to discuss a matter and reach consensus on it is a very useful skill set, but I've also found hierarchies quite useful. 

Cory

--- On Mon, 11/1/10, jamesdavid Sneed <harvestcircle at hotmail.com> wrote:

> From: jamesdavid Sneed <harvestcircle at hotmail.com>
> Subject: Re: [permaculture] hierarchies and networks
> To: permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org
> Date: Monday, November 1, 2010, 11:00 AM
> 
> I wonder if the division between heirarchy and
> decentralization is sometimes too "either-or", when small,
> decentralized heirarchies may be an avenue to use strong
> leadership. Consensus without strong individuals can
> SOMETIMES lead to weak groups, vulnerable to outside
> conditions that end up "steering the drifting boat".
> I do think that small heirarchies that are limited in their
> vertical intgration must have a common theme to be
> effective, be it philosophical, spiritual, familial, or
> other. But then, groups using consensus also need that
> cohesion. Also necessary for those limited heirarchies is
> the true willingness of the leadership to consult and listen
> to all members, with real inclusiveness. This is probably
> less possible if a group exceeds fifty or so members.
> One ptfall I found that ruined several groups run by
> consensus was the silly idea of "consensus minus one" which
> was promoted as a way to avoid being bogged down by a
> stick-in-the-mud individual but always became a way of
> ignoring the wisdom or concerns of the last holdout to
> consensus. Consensus minus one is nothing like consensus and
> denatures the whole purpose.
> How do other permaculture groups deal with this?
>  
> > From: toby at patternliteracy.com
> > Date: Sun, 31 Oct 2010 14:54:09 -0700
> > To: permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org
> > Subject: [permaculture] hierarchies and networks
> > 
> > One subject we touched on in the recent certification
> thread was new and old tools for change, and the difference
> between hierarchical and decentralized organizations and
> tools. I'd said that I once had high hopes for decentralized
> leadership tools, like consensus, but was disappointed by
> how rarely they live up to their promise. I've been
> skeptical of the value of these and similar methods to
> actually produce change, and have found the older
> tools--strong leadership, old-style voting--at least as
> effective (though I still prefer inclusive versions of these
> tools to exclusive).
> > 
> > I was catching up on a stack of New Yorker magazines
> this morning, and in the Oct 4 issue there's an article that
> fits right in to this conversation, "Small Change" by
> Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell is known for his book "The
> Tipping Point" and in general being a whole systems thinker.
> He's made the points I would have liked to have made. I was
> intrigued that he feels network tools aren't good for doing
> design, and that they are better at preserving the status
> quo than changing it. So here's a quote from the article. 
> > 
> > "Unlike hierarchies, with their rules and procedures,
> networks aren’t controlled by a single central authority.
> Decisions are made through consensus, and the ties that bind
> people to the group are loose. This structure makes networks
> enormously resilient and adaptable in low-risk situations.
> Wikipedia is a perfect example. . . .
> > 
> > "There are many things, though, that networks don’t
> do well. Car companies sensibly use a network to organize
> their hundreds of suppliers, but not to design their cars.
> No one believes that the articulation of a coherent design
> philosophy is best handled by a sprawling, leaderless
> organizational system. Because networks don’t have a
> centralized leadership structure and clear lines of
> authority, they have real difficulty reaching consensus and
> setting goals. They can’t think strategically; they are
> chronically prone to conflict and error. How do you make
> difficult choices about tactics or strategy or philosophical
> direction when everyone has an equal say?
> > 
> > "The Palestine Liberation Organization originated as a
> network, and the international-relations scholars Mette
> Eilstrup-Sangiovanni and Calvert Jones argue in a recent
> essay in International Security that this is why it ran into
> such trouble as it grew: “Structural features typical of
> networks—the absence of central authority, the unchecked
> autonomy of rival groups, and the inability to arbitrate
> quarrels through formal mechanisms—made the P.L.O.
> excessively vulnerable to outside manipulation and internal
> strife.”
> > 
> > "In Germany in the nineteen-seventies, they go on,
> “the far more unified and successful left-wing terrorists
> tended to organize hierarchically, with professional
> management and clear divisions of labor." . . . They seldom
> betrayed their comrades in arms during police
> interrogations. Their counterparts on the right were
> organized as decentralized networks, and had no such
> discipline. These groups were regularly infiltrated, and
> members, once arrested, easily gave up their comrades.
> Similarly, Al Qaeda was most dangerous when it was a unified
> hierarchy. Now that it has dissipated into a network, it has
> proved far less effective.
> > 
> > "The drawbacks of networks scarcely matter if the
> network isn’t interested in systemic change—if it just
> wants to frighten or humiliate or make a splash—or if it
> doesn’t need to think strategically. But if you’re
> taking on a powerful and organized establishment you have to
> be a hierarchy . . . .
> > 
> > "But [network-based activism] is simply a form of
> organizing which favors the weak-tie connections that give
> us access to information over the strong-tie connections
> that help us persevere in the face of danger. It shifts our
> energies from organizations that promote strategic and
> disciplined activity and toward those which promote
> resilience and adaptability. It makes it easier for
> activists to express themselves, and harder for that
> expression to have any impact. The instruments of social
> media are well suited to making the existing social order
> more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status
> quo. If you are of the opinion that all the world needs is a
> little buffing around the edges, this should not trouble
> you. But if you think that there are still lunch counters
> out there that need integrating [Gladwell mentioned civil
> rights activists] it ought to give you pause."
> > 
> > The full article is at 
> > http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/04/101004fa_fact_gladwell?currentPage=all
> > 
> > Toby
> > http://patternliteracy.com
> > 
> > 
> > 
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