notes: group decision making

🐒 Explorations into community governance — observing primates in the wild

The Embassy loves doing social experiments in their house, challenging norms and researching what it can look like to have a group of people living together.

This post describes their experiments in governance, where they picked different governing structures and tried each for a couple months to see how each would affect the dynamic of the house. They measured things like mood and time spent with each other or on the internet, and compared data between each iteration of the experiment.

I think they didn't give each other enough time per trial to see more nuanced effects (each trial was about six weeks) but the results were still fun to read. They tried four governing structures:

  1. Doocracy
  2. A system where "residents are all invited to collaborate in the creation of proposed policies [and the] final decision is made by a randomly selected, hopefully statistically representative, jury drawn from the residents."
  3. A corporate structure with bosses and employees.
  4. Something "loosely based on a Holocracy [and] prioritized empathy and community building with the emphasis on inspired rather than equal contribution."

In the second experiment, they said

people reported feeling heard even if their option was not chosen by the jury, and felt more satisfied with outcomes, even if the outcome was not representative of their stance.

I've been reflecting on group decision making in general and have also noticed that people will often be more comfortable with not getting what they want if their disagreement was heard and clearly acknowledged. (As opposed to being brushed off and likely not even understood.)

I also thought it was interesting that people were more excited to contribute to the house as part of these experiments:

participation increased as these experiments started. Residents were excited to be generally collaborating on something together [...] Is there something inherently motivating and/or empowering about change? If so, is it worth the cost of change?

Change can be overwhelming and disruptive, but having some change seems really great for bringing in new energy and ideas. This can look like change in house membership, house activities, or governing systems like this! The article also pointed out that switching between governance models had the benefit of "continuously shift[ing] and redistribut[ing] the various hierarchies that tend to form in groups".

🗳 Group decision-making in coliving

The folks on the supernuclear substack (they have several posts, some I've already talked about) also had a post on group decision making models.

They mainly explore the balance of involving people in decision making when necessary, but not wasting time by discussing decisions any more than that.

Coliving decision-making is the art of getting as much buy-in as is truly necessary, but never more. Each community will have its own definition of “truly necessary.”

They list several reasons to take the time to get more buy-in. I'd already read about getting more buy-in if a decision is not reversible or if it's high impact, but this was my first time also seeing "if it affects people unequally" ("e.g. installing a drum studio next to one person’s room")

They mention "alignment" as a level of decision-making with even more buy-in than consensus. Instead of just no-one disagreeing, everyone has to be in active agreement. I was thinking about how for decisions like inviting someone to live at the house, the group should probably not just be in agreement but feel enthusiastic about the decision.

Another thing they discuss is online async voting tools (e.g. using slack emoji to vote). It seems fun to explore what kinds of decisions are better made in person vs online? I'm sure it depends on the community and the people involved and several factors.

Some other notable quotes: