How have you been experiencing the #metoo phenomenon?

Having begun my social change work in the field of domestic violence and sexual assault prevention and advocacy, my primary response was FINALLY! If you’re a woman, you may have felt like jumping up and down shouting, “This is what we’ve been screaming about for decades! We are not strident! We are not shrill! We want to be heard!”

In the early 90’s, shortly after graduation I worked at two different organizations that helped women and children (and very occasionally men) who were experiencing domestic violence or sexual assault. Often these were the same woman, as sexual violence is commonly a form of domestic violence.

I helped women escape violent situations, find shelter and obtain orders of protection. A few nights a month I carried a beeper so I could offer support when a woman had been admitted to the ER after being raped. Later, my work centered on developing and presenting sexual violence prevention education programs. I developed and presented programs at high schools, community colleges, local businesses and even churches.

Working in the fields of domestic violence and sexual assault, I learned about the nuances of power and control and what it really means to be in Consent.

So when I discovered consent-based governance I felt almost breathless with excitement and possibility. For me, the connections between sexual violence and governance decision-making were crystal clear.

In We the People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy, John Buck and Sharon Villines explain that “Consent means there are no paramount objections to a proposed policy decision.” Here at Circle Forward we have come to describe the condition of Consent as being within one’s Range of Tolerance.

In consent-based governance decision-making two conditions must be present:

  • There must be a clear and shared purpose among the members of a circle
  • The members of the circle must have equal power in the governance decisions* that affect them.

In a situation of sexual harassment, abuse or assault, the parties involved meet neither of these conditions.

Noticing the parallels between governance and sexual interactions between people illuminates sharply the distinctions between consent and compliance or compromise.

A person may comply with her assailant in hopes of minimizing the violence. She may compromise with her harasser in hopes of minimizing the loss of something that matters to her, like her job or career opportunities. In neither of these cases has she consented to unwanted sexual interaction. The two parties do not enjoy a clear and shared purpose in the interaction and they don’t have equal power.

Here at the outset of 2018, I believe it’s safe to say almost everyone in the US — heck, almost everyone on the planet — are out of consent with many of the decisions that are affecting them.

Applying the first principle of collaborative governance, decision-making by Consent, makes clear the ways we’re all experiencing the effects of decisions that are outside our Range of Tolerance in our work life, our community life and political lives.

In fact, this condition of being out of consent with the decisions that affect us is so common in our experience we often believe we have to settle for compromise or compliance. But we don’t.

By learning and practicing the skill-sets for collaborative governance, including decision-making by consent, groups of any size can experience the creativity and productivity that arises when people are working together within their range of tolerance.

Our Collaborative Decision-making Package is not super expensive. It doesn’t take forever to implement. And having these practices and processes embedded in your culture can help your organization avoid exhausting debate, shadow power dynamics and unresolved conflict. Even better, they can help your group, organization or business create a culture of trust, efficiency and resilience.​

If you’d like to know more about how your organization can cultivate a culture of Consent, contact us.

We’d love to hear about your work.

*One difference between consent-based decision-making and consensus lies in the distinction made between governance decisions and operational decisions. We consent on governance decisions, and empower individuals to make day-to-day, operational decisions with a level of autonomy to get the job done. A group might designate familiar operational roles such as a Chair, Director, Coordinator, Lead, Manager, or Teams to carry out governance decisions. Check out this post for about the difference between consent and consensus.

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