The Perfect Decisionmaking Structure
Sunday June 20, 2021 — San Francisco, California
I got very high last night and I think I discovered the perfectThis is hyperbole, please don’t get on my case about it :P
Obviously what “perfect” is depends on your individual constraints. decisionmaking structure for small groups (companies, co-ops of various sorts, etc).
First, though, let’s look at some decisionmaking systems that have problems:
Direct democracy is another common way to make decisions. It’s pretty good for small organizations, but it has a few problems:
- It requires everyone to have context on decisions that they’re voting on (or to opt out of voting)
- There can easily be a case where there are several factions, and whichever faction is the majority gets to make all of the decisions.
Representative democracy fixes the first problem above, but does nothing for the second one, and also creates a bunch of other problems, including centralization of power. It’s also typically slower to respond to misuse of power than direct democracy.
Consensus decisionmaking can be good for small groups, but it suffers the obvious problem that if you can’t reach consensus, you end up at a standstill, with no clear path forward.
Given all that, let’s look at the properties that I want:
- Non-hierarchical — this prevents centralization and misuse of power.
- Proportional — that is, 50% + 1 of the group shouldn’t be able to make all of the decisions.
- Avoids deadlocks — it should always be possible to come to a decision.
- Obvious — it should be clear how a decision will be made.
There’s a very simple system that meets these requirements: decisions are made by consensus, but if consensus can’t be reached then a random person is picked to make the decision. Here’s how I imagine this working in, for instance, a small company:
- People are free to make whatever changes they want, as long as they announce what they’re doing.
- If anyone has a concern about what someone is doing, they start a conversation about those concerns.
- People talk it out and attempt to come to a consensus.
- If a consensus can’t be reached, someone can call for a sortition, and a random person will be selected to make a decision.
This seems like a pretty good solution for a lot of groups.