Posted on March 11, 2009

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This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series How to Start a Polyamory Group
Original photo by Zvon @ stock.XCHNG

Original photo by Zvon @ stock.XCHNG

Your group is ready to set forth on your journey. By now, you should have your compass (vision) and map (mission).  At this point, you hit a major stumbling block - which route do you take? One member mentions taking the paved road, another wants the group to cross the river, and the third wants to travel through the woods.  Between those options and the mountain path you are aware of, there’s at least four options that you can take. 

In addition to figuring out how to get to your destination, you realize there are other important decisions to be made: 

  • How fast should your group go? 
  • How will you get provisions for your journey?
  • Who will be in charge of setting up and breaking down camp? 
  • And most importantly - how is your group going to determine the answers to these questions?


Establishing a decision-making process is an important step in creating an effective organization.  There is no universal right or wrong answer on what style to go with. You need to determine the needs of your group and weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each methodology. I will present a couple of options for you to consider:

  • Decision-making by consensus
  • Decision-making by group vote
  • Decision-making through leadership


Decision-making by consensus

First, I want to give mad props to Polytics for introducing me to this concept.  Consensus is a collaborative process where the entire group decides the outcome that they will take. Members can voice concerns or objections that need to be addressed before a resolution is finalized.  

Here is how the process works:

  1. The facilitator oversees the discussion of an agenda item. During this process, they are aided by someone who is in charge of gauging the emotional climate of the discussion and defusing potentially destructive conflicts (the “empath” or “vibe checker”).
  2. Once the item is discussed, a proposal is formulated
  3. The facilitator calls for consensus, during which all members can choose to:
    • Agree
    • Declare their concerns regarding the proposed decision
    • Stand aside and allow the vote to pass, even though they disagree with it
    • Block the decision due to strong reservations
  4. If consensus is not reached, concerns are reviewed and addressed, and the proposal is modified as needed


As you can see, this type of process allows for everyone to contribute to the final outcome.  Proponents for the consensus model claim that ownership in the decision-making process encourages members to take part in enacting its results.  In other words, if a member took part in the discussion and agreement for the group to perform the task, it is believed that they would be more likely to participate than if the plan was made without their input.


The consensus model has a couple of drawbacks:

  • For this model to work, members need to be able to express their concerns if they run contrary to the group. This requires a level of trust and affinity among the members. 
  • It also requires that the members themselves have the desire and ability to communicate. Passive-aggressive behavior is counter-productive to this process.
  • The individuals involved in directing the decision-making process (the facilitator and emotion checker) need to be skilled enough in inter-personal communication. They not only need to foster an environment that allows for people to voice concerns, but they need to ensure that the decision was made due to conscious support (in contrast to group-think).
  • Due to the focus on discussion and consideration of member input, this process can be time-consuming.



Decision-making through democratic vote

This process also allows for all members to participate in determining the resolution. This is different from consensus due to the outcome being determined by competition - the option that the majority chooses is the one that the group goes with. 

Before you go with this route, you need to determine whether or not you want the voting method to be anonymous.  The benefit of having people see who voted for what is it adds a level of accountability to bringing the decision to action.  Someone who voted for the group to take a certain course of action would be hard pressed to act in a way that doesn’t support that outcome.  At the same time, if a proposed change is heavily contested, or if your group is prone to /drama-filled politics, people may feel pressured to vote in a way contrary to what they truly want or think is right.  In these situations, an anonymous voting system may be more appropriate.


Decision-making by a governing body

The alternative to having the entire membership involved in the decision-making process is to select either an individual or a smaller subset of the group to act as the governing body.  

This option may be the best choice in the following situations:

  • The group is either service-oriented or has a vision of wanting to make changes to bring about an impact in the future
  • Your group’s patrons and benefactors extend beyond the core membership (typically the case with non-profits or service based organizations)
  • The membership has grown to a point where decision-making by consensus or vote (even with online polls) is cumbersome
  • The members show that they will stall on taking action unless they are presented a plan and a leader (or group of leaders) to direct them.  I call this a “herding sheep” situation. Though in polyamorous groups, it sometimes feels like herding cats ;)


If you have an informal organization, you may be able to use a structure akin to a “body of elders”, where everyone on the elder council is an equal voting member, and group tasks and responsibilities are divided among skill sets.

More formal organizations benefit (and in some cases are required) to use a Director/Trustee and Officer structure.  The Board of Directors are those with decision-making authority within the organization. The Officers are akin to “employees” that handle specific tasks (Chairing meetings, keeping records of the meeting, and monitoring group funds).  If there is a task or project that needs to be completed, the Board can choose to create a subcommittee to whom to delegate the work.


Here is your homework:

If you are in the process of creating a poly-friendly organization, take some time to answer the following questions:

  • What is the long-term goal that I want the group to accomplish? (Remember your Vision Statement)
  • How can my group bring about my goal? (Your Mission Statement)
  • Will this group exist solely to support its members (social/support), or will we seek to make an impact on the community at large (outreach/activism)?
  • How many members can my group feasibly have in 1 year? 5 years?
  • Does the group plan on becoming a non-profit ? If this is the case, you may be required to have a formalized governance structure.
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