Membership Override Mechanisms
Decision models and the culture that surrounds them are central to a healthy and functioning community. When Twin Oaks was founded in 1967, it was before the widespread use of the consensus decision technique which is now used by many different communities as diverse as co-housing, the Occupy Movement and the daughter community that Twin Oaks spawned, Acorn.
Some of the most difficult decisions communities have to make are around membership. There is not much room for compromises here. With many things communities decide on, there are ways to start gradually, invest minimally at first, or stage implementation. This does not work with membership. We are either accepting this person (possibly with some type of feedback) or we are rejecting them.
Different communities have different effective control points for membership decisions. At Twin Oaks, if you are accepted as a visitor (to become a provisional member), almost always 6 (or 9) months later you will become a full member, which is like having tenure. At Acorn, it is somewhat easier to become a provisional member, but the jump to becoming a full member (because the community uses consensus) is much harder. Any single dissenting voice can block full membership, and with some regularity, it does.
Because it is innovative and slightly controversial, i wanted to describe the Twin Oaks full membership override mechanism. This is a modified voting model. At the end of a member’s provisional period (which is usually 6 months), the community is polled about the provisional member becoming a full member. There are 5 options:
- ACCEPT WITH FEEDBACK (a contract is not a possible outcome of the feedback)
- EXTEND (which requires a Feedback, possible contract and a second poll at the end of a three-month extension)
So what usually happens is that the total of type 2 thru 5 votes is less than 10% of the full membership (this would currently be about 8 people), the provisional member becomes a full member, and these concerns are simply ignored. There are all manner of special cases between 10% and 15% for which you can look at the full policy. But what i want to focus on is what happens when more than 15% of the community decides they want to reject a provisional member. This has only happened four times in my 16 years at Twin Oaks.
The starting place is that the provisional member is rejected and the membership team gives them between 3 and 30 days to leave the community. But it is occasionally the case that, while more than 15% of the membership wants to reject someone, there is a larger fraction of the community that wants them to stay. In this case, it is likely that someone will post an override. Unlike most overrides, which only require 50% of the full members, membership overrides require at least 60%
In addition, for every person over 15% who votes reject, another person has to sign the override. Policy sez:
For example, if 11 REJECT votes equals 15% and 44 override signatures equal 60%, then if twelve members vote to REJECT, 45 signatures are required to override; if 13 members vote to REJECT, then 46 signatures are required to override, and so on.
The thinking here is interesting. For the majority to be able to override the minority, they have to get an increasing fraction of the super majority. Since we are not operating by consensus (which would require us to all agree on every new member) and overturning the decision of the 15% who rejected is something of a big deal, this is our best guess as to how to make it fair.
And of course this is somewhat arbitrary, we are making up what fairness and justice look like in this eco-village we have designed. It also means that there is a level of community rejection at which the decision can not be overridden by the majority (something like 27% rejects), without some of the original rejectors changing their minds.
One of the most valuable and toughest parts of community living is deciding what type of culture we want to have. This includes how we want to empower significant minorities to block a candidate from membership. Equally importantly we are calculating how big a super majority must be to reverse these minorities, if possible. While all the time reminding ourselves that we are just guessing at what is just and fair.