Transitioning to consensus

Sunday afternoon was spent at the rather magnificent Seale Hayne, an old country estate and ex- agricultural college near Newton Abbot in Devon. I was working with a small group of Transition Towns folk from as far afield as Paris and Forres at their annual conference. We were looking at ‘structuring and facilitating efficient meetings’.

Unsurprisingly Transition initiatives face the same struggles that any other social action group face when it comes to meetings. I heard tales of: small ‘core’ groups struggling to involve the wider membership; the spectre of invisible hierarchies; conflict in groups; and more. Hopefully by the end of the 3 hours everyone left feeling more able to take a step back and try to find the underlying causes and then effectively deal with these problems. For a participant’s view of the workshop (and indeed the whole event) see Amelia’s Magazine

I’ve been standing on the sidelines and watching the Transition movement for a while now. It has all the hallmarks of an incredibly vibrant and powerful social movement: people making change in their own community in the face of real global issues; connected in a network; and focusing on the positives and on areas of human experience such as our inner experience of life as well as the outer.

If there’s a downside it’s that many initiatives seem to be adopting some of the organising structures of the status quo, structures that many in other grassroots movements have found limiting, if not oppressive. I’m thinking particularly of committee structures and the meeting behaviour that flows from them. I’m hoping that Rhizome will be amongst those who support Transition groups to move to more consensus-based models that actively promote participation, equality and challenge oppression.

Moreover I’m hoping that we can work with Transition folk to use consensus decision-making not just as a tool for their internal dialogues but as a set of principles to carry with them as they dialogue with others in their community.

The real challenge of making change is not getting the sympathetic to show up and take part, but in getting the unaware, the apathetic or the downright hostile engaged in meaningful conversation, and consensus has some thing to offer there. I’m not envisaging that the formal model of consensus can be rolled out to every discussion and dialogue – one thing you can’t do is impose consensus. But the values of deep listening, striving to hear and genuinely address concerns, working on the assumption that positive outcomes can be reached if only we stay open to them, creativity, searching for common ground, and embracing diversity as a strength and not a weakness, will carry Transition initiatives further down their path.