Decisions and Power

Building Consent — Compromise or Payoffs?

On the demands of its membership, but failing at building consent, the board of a wildlife federation passes a controversial plan to save a wild bird’s threatened habitat but then quietly deletes the budget for legal action. A Senate committee unanimously recommends proposed legislation after amending it until all the committee members have added unrelated perks for their constituencies, bloating the budget with cost overruns. A local bicycle-path organization calls off its protests against a huge, new parking lot when the city promises a wider path in new legislation.

Is this just the push and pull required to reach consent? Rather obviously, I’m going to say no. The wildlife federation board adopted a plan with no teeth. The senate committee has produced a cluttered resource-wasting legislative proposal for actions that have no clear aim. The bicycle-path group has proved themselves easily bought and their values open to manipulation.

All these decisions are failures at building consent. They are compromises and payoffs that will not move any of these groups toward their aims.

A good decision results when each member consents to actively support and implement the proposed action because it moves the group toward its aim. Even in these organizations where the group cannot use consent decision-making effectively — they are too large to deliberate together — the smaller leadership groups could. By building consent, they could have made more effort at good solutions that met all their aims.

Instead, the wildlife federation decision has discouraged action and made the organization look foolish. The cluttered legislative proposal with all its aim-irrelevant provisions, is unlikely to be passed by the larger legislative body, and if passed, not implemented. In the bicycle-path group, in which members often have strong social values, even one trade-off will weaken crucial support for the organization.