How We Make Decisions


The Occupy Movement aims to be democratic. That means that everyone can participate in making decisions. So how can decisions be made in a way that facilitates diversity, participation and not to mention good decisions?

Some advocate consensus as the democratic gold standard and insist that all decisions must be made in this way. Some regard majority voting as being fairer because one person may not derail the wishes of the whole group.


The main claim of this blog is that no one method of decision making is always best. Particular decision making methods work best in particular situations. The more fluid the group is the more that this is the case. So what are the criteria for choosing a method?

The best method is the method that best reflects the will of the group whilst allowing a fair input into the decisions that affect individuals within the group.

Consensus works best when total unity is essential. An obvious case might be the creation of a founding mission statement. In this case it is understood that the disapproval of just one person is enough to outweigh the approval of all. Consensus also works when a decision has disproportionately large implications for a minority of people in the group. It makes sense in this case that one person may block the decision. In this way consensus supports diversity in that it forces a majority to accomadate a minority view.

There are many other occasions when total agreement is not essential. For example when a decision affects everyone to roughly to the same extent. Say changing the name of a campaign, deciding on the theme of a Demo or moving a meeting time from Tuesday to Friday. In these cases using consensus empowers a minority unfairly over the majority. It can also stifle the groups development by allowing a minority to preserve old ways that no longer serve the groups needs. Also many decisions are simply not worth the time and energy spent on trying to bring a few dissenters around. Democracy includes disagreement. The alternative would be nightmarish.

In decisions of this kind, majority vote with an agreed margin is a better method for reflecting the will of the group whilst not unfairly empowering or disempowering individuals within the group.

Of course individuals within groups are often empowered to make decisions on their own without any input from others. In these cases a clear remit, transparency and a system of accountability is advisable.





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