Writing a book for environmental activists an the pitfalls of consensus

I am writing a book for environmental activists and several chapters in it deal with pitfalls of consensus groups and partnerships which have emerged as a way American land management agencies get around laws by using local groups that contain local enviros to provide authority/rationale to do projects they would not be able to do if they obeyed the law. Local activists do not know how to deal with the many strategies that managers use in them.

The writings of C Haug are very useful and I will be referencing them. I am going into the history and evolution of public administration and game theory that underpin the problems of managerialism and neoliberalism that have created this “win-win” and anti Roberts Rules world which is supposed to be so advanced but has basically adopted the basic tool tyrants have used for a couple thousand years. So thanks for your useful perceptive insights.

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Jim, your book sounds like it’s going right into the heart of “meeting politics”. I’d be curious to hear some more about your main insights in the book. So, if you like, feel free to start a new topic about it and bounce some ideas. :slight_smile: BTW, @t.g.yarrow may also be interested in some of this, since he came to meetings via his interest in bureaucracies. (see also this topic (in case you haven’t seen it yet):

Special Issue: "Towards an Ethnography of Meeting"


I have a ot of experience with consensus groups and partnerships, and collaborations in the environmental movement reperesenting the enviro activist side in successfully stopping almost all of the Ancient Forest timber sales in the Pacific Northwest of the US. and am also a retired federal manager and trained in labor management negotiations. I am writing a series of books for grassroots activists explaining the various methods and subtleties they will encounter, where they came from, their historical roots, relation to trranny and how to resist them. And how and why to demand Roberts Rules and where Roberts rules came from. Sorry to have not replied earlier but I haven’t gone back to check this site tilI got an email today from it. I quote you and your work in my book. Also I dscuss the history and problemswith the myth if win-win.I devoye 4 chaters of my book to consensus and it is aimed at average citizens and non professionals with lots of examples and stories. I could post the chapters on consensus here someplace. My email is Jim@Britell.com and I am in NY State. US. You were the only person I have ever found that had anything new to teach me about consensus. My book is called Organize to win and it is a handbook for grassroots activists. Cheers,


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Yes, please do, I’m curious! Let me know if you need help with the forum. Just one thought: you might be able to get a more interesting discussion if you don’t just upload entire chapters but copy and paste one of your stories into a new topic. That would make it easier for people to react. There is even a specific #stories category for that. Feel free to create as many posts with excerpts from your book as you like (people will not get more emails because of this).

You made my day :smile:

What kind of tyranny are you referring to here? The first thing that comes to my mind is Jo Freeman’s “Tyranny of Structurelessness”, though that’s probably not what you were thinking of. Nonetheless, in relation to that, I’d like to mention @Darcy_K_Leach’s recent article on “the structure of tyrannylessness”:


Consensus has always been the preferred decision making process of tyrants it took us a thousand years to free ourselves from it and every motion and rule in Roberts rules is there to protect the weak from the strong and more articulate, suppress or expose conflicts of interest and allow votes to be taken without reprisals, and allow dissent to an idea without it being personal as must be in all consensus processes . Consensus is one of the tools of managerialism and a method through which totalitarianism comes to democracies.There are three forms of totalitarianism according to Orwell - Communism, Fascism, and managerialism and the latter is the form used in democracies. You put soldiers with guns in people’s heads instead of on street corners. You have to suppress dissent not by outer force but by dissent feeling like as an inner feeling of being somehow unseemly or unsporting (Jonathan Swift said that in Gullivers Travels). Its been awhile can’t remember if these ideas are yours or mine. Consensus is one method by which managers subdue professionals- one of the main aspects of managerialism. BTW my audience is average working people and unpaid grassroots activists so I do not write in a professional style but in a street smart style. My audience is people who are out there fighting to protect their communities and don’t understand the mischief weaponized strategic planning and harmless looking flip charts can do. I also train them on how to go to meetings - where to sit, what not to eat, etc and how to negotiate with people with for example “limited authority”.Want me to put these chapters on negotiation and consensus in Dropbox for you?

I think you are talking about conformity, not consensus. Those thoughts are definitely yours, not mine.

If you are assuming that consensus decision-making breeds conformity you can easily find examples where this is the case, but I don’t think there is a necessary connection between the two. The interesting question is: under what circumstances does consensus lead to conformity and under what conditions does it not?

As for the historical development, @wilbert might have something to say about that as he has studied the development of meeting behaviour in Europe since the middle ages, but I believe that consensus is often traced back about 300 years to the Quakers (though they insist that their “sense of the meeting” is not the same as consensus because it involves a spiritual dimension).


My comments and writing are not directed not to consensus decision making generally but specifically where it is used by bureaucracies to manufacture and manipulate public opinion. We are seeing roundtables and collaborations being used by government agencies to reduce public opposition to environmentally destructive schemes. And administrative authority to is being delegated to these groups which often operate by consensus.

I understand it is certainly a preferred method in religious tribal or other non controversial matters.

In the US it is being used to circumvent laws and allow decisions over land use that are very bad by manufacturing consensus.

Local environmentalists are being drawn into “steakholder” meetings where they are unable to hold their own and don’t understand why, I am trying to give them tools to cope with these processes as my work is intended to be an aid to grassroots organizers and activists who are invited to consensus-based collaborations that impact land use decisions. I will set up a link to a dropbox where you can look at what I am doing and I would appreciate your comments. The four chapters on consensus are in Volume 3 and it has some more final editing but the one on negotiation is I hope finally edited.

Where a group has shared goals and common interests and members have no financial conflicts of interests or groups do not seek to circumvent established laws or where speaking up does not run the chance of getting you hurt or killed then certainly consensus, collaboration and a non-roberts rules meetings might be the preferred approach.

But where someone wants to use consensus based decision making it to justify making a hole in the fence along the money river - it isn’t.



Would you be interested in reading or scanning the chapters of my book on meetings and what to beware of in consensus situations? I set up a dropbox account but would need an email for you I think. I have them in PDF format. I would like your reaction while it is still in final editing.

Sorry for the late reply. I was swamped with work during June (and still am). Have you finished the book? If you are still looking for feedback, what I suggest you do is to post the link to the dropbox document publicly here and simply remove the file once you have received enough feedback.

If you only want to share the manuscript privately, you can send a personal message to any Kunsido member by clicking on their username or avatar and then hit the Message button. Whatever you type or paste there will be emailed to that person. So there is no need to share email addresses.


Yes I have finished my book, it is in the final stages of getting ready.

I have 4 chapters on consensus collaboration and partnerships I would like some feedback on.

Should be able to furnish a dropbox link to them in a few weeks.