As a grassroots group comprised of a very independently-minded section of the population, the OFTP is run by the efforts of individuals working together organically rather than by rules and regulations. By the same token, the diversity within our group means that we may not always share the same expectations about who should make what types of decisions, and how those decisions should be reached. To avoid conflicts arising from misunderstandings, unspoken expectations, and assumptions, we've reached a group agreement about how to share the decision-making powers and responsibilities, and we've put it in writing for clarity and consistency. If you're a member offering to volunteer, you're part of the group's decision-making process, so please read the Agreement so you can apply it to any decisions you may wish to make in connection with OFTP and your volunteer work for the organization.
The OFTP's Decision-Making Agreement
A. - Consensus -
1. Definition of terms
Consensus is the successful outcome of a decision-making process whereby an option is chosen by everyone's consent rather than by majority rule vote.
Consent in this case is defined as any of the following three positions:
- agreement to the option itself
- consent for the group to proceed without our agreement to the option itself
- consent for the group to proceed without our input
An option can be an idea or an action, and can relate to any OFTP endeavour (activity, project, event, service, administration, official position, etc.)
Consensus-building is the process whereby the group attempts to reach consensus. It involves discussing options, voicing preferences and perspectives, raising concerns and finding ways to accommodate everyone's wishes and concerns in an option everyone can feel comfortable with or at least consent to.
2. Using consensus
We agree to reach decisions by consensus rather than by vote. There may be times within the consensus process when we agree to use voting as a tool for choosing among several options; however, the decision to use a vote or poll in any instance will itself be reached by consensus.
Exception: If it becomes apparent that one member is continually blocking consensus, it may be necessary to remove that person from the decision-making process. The decision to remove that person must itself be reached by consensus of the remaining members and be applied only as a last resort in cases where a consistent pattern of obstruction is apparent.
3. Building consensus
The steps involved in the consensus-building process are as follows:
- An idea is brought forward by a member.
- The other members respond with consent, questions or concerns.
- Members respond to the questions and concerns raised -- providing further information, asking clarifying questions, finding common ground, offering ways of addressing the concerns, etc. -- until there is enough information, understanding and exploration of options that an agreement can be attempted.
- A proposal for such an agreement is brought forward by the co-ordinator or someone else.
- The other members respond with consent, questions or concerns.
- The discussion continues in this fashion until a solution is proposed to which all can consent (in any of the three ways described in the definition of terms).
The co-ordinator facilitates the discussion by offering occasional summaries and focus, while the facilitator addresses interpersonal or communication issues. We agree to be reasonable, patient and co-operative with the consensus-building process and to follow the guidelines for respectful and caring communication.
4. Determining consensus
In determining whether consensus has been reached, we agree to assume consent (as defined above) from each exec member or committee member, as the case may be, if they have not voiced disagreement within the timeframe. By the same token, we agree to allow our own consent (to the option or to proceeding without our input) to be assumed if we have not voiced our perspective within that timeframe. When the timeframe is not explicitly stated, we agree to allow up to 3 days for an initial response from each person. We will each take responsibility for keeping ourselves up to date with the possible initiation of new projects, and with the consultation process of existing projects, by checking in by phone or email on a sufficiently frequent basis.
B. - Events, Services and Projects -
1. Initiating projects
We agree to bring any ideas for OFTP-sponsored events and services to the executive for preliminary discussion, in particular when OFTP funds are involved. This can be done through the OFTPEXEC list, or by phone for those who have no internet access.
NOTE: The executive is, by definition, the decision-making body of the OFTP. Since any OFTP member can join the executive, this means that any member can share in this decision-making power.
2. Obtaining initial consent
In keeping with consensus decision-making, we agree to obtain consent from the group (through the executive) before proceeding beyond information-gathering. We understand that the executive's consent may involve the prescription to follow agreed-upon guidelines or standards, and/or submit a budget, mandate or format proposal which itself would need consent.
NOTE: Consent doesn't mean that everyone is interested in the idea, only that they don't object to OFTP pursuing it -- or at least agree not to obstruct the decision to pursue it.
3. Forming a committee
If the executive's preliminary consent is to pursue the idea, then a committee can be formed if necessary, consisting of one or more volunteers. We agree to include on the committee anyone wishing to be involved in the planning or implementation of an event or service, within the limits of what is effective (but not necessarily most expedient). When there is disagreement over inclusion on a committee, we agree to consult the executive as a whole if we cannot come to a win-win resolution on our own.
NOTE: Effectiveness is the ability to reach one's goals and depends, therefore, on what those goals are. Efficiency in accomplishing the practical tasks of a project is not overall effectiveness if the goals of respect and co-operation are not met.
4. Submitting a proposal
If the executive has requested a proposal outlining the project's mandate, format or budget, the committee agrees to outline such a proposal clearly enough to allow the executive to know what it is agreeing to. The executive agrees that such proposals may nevertheless be outlined broadly enough to allow the committee as much autonomy as possible. The project can proceed once the proposal has the executive's consent, as reached by consensus on the exec list. We agree to respond to such a proposal submission in a timely manner so that projects are not held up unnecessarily.
NOTE: Not all projects require a proposal. For some, the initial consent of the executive is sufficient and the committee or single volunteer can proceed with plans at that time.
5. Decision-making within the committee
Within the committee, we agree to accept as committee co-ordinator the initiator of a project if they wish to take on that role and if there is no compelling reason to object. We agree to reach decisions by consensus within the limits of the timeframe, and to delegate to the co-ordinator the task of setting that timeline and ensuring tasks are accomplished effectively. We understand this may require that the co-ordinator step in with a decision that arbitrates a disagreement if resolution of it cannot be reached in time for the project to proceed effectively. Both co-ordinators and volunteers agree to commit to consensus-building: when volunteering on a committee, to remain non-adversarial, flexible, and mindful of the timeline and, when co-ordinating a project, to remain (additionally) as inclusive of volunteers and as flexible with timelines as we can be without jeopardizing the project.
NOTE: Consensus doesn't mean that everyone's preferences are met, only that everyone gives their consent, either as agreement to the idea/action itself or as consent not to obstruct the committee from proceeding.
6. Maintaining ongoing consent
The committee agrees to maintain ongoing communication with the executive regarding its plans so that any unexpected concerns can be addressed before plans are irreversibly implemented. While the committee has autonomy to develop and implement its plans within the limits of what the executive has consented to, it agrees to consult with the executive on any matters that take it beyond its originally agreed-upon proposal (mandate, format, budget, etc.).
7. Finalizing arrangements
With ongoing communication maintained, the committee will be able to make its arrangements knowing it has the consent of the executive to finalize them. Final arrangements can then be announced to all potential participants/ recipients, either by the committee or the executive, according to what has been agreed upon.
C. - Administration -
The decision-making powers of administrators are similar to those of committees in the following ways:
- Their mandate is established in consultation with the executive.
- They may be expected to follow certain guidelines in carrying out that mandate.
- Their routine expenses are pre-approved.
- They have autonomy to carry out the ordinary tasks involved in any way they see fit, within the mandate, guidelines and budget assigned to them.
- They are expected to consult with the executive about plans that would take them beyond the agreed-upon mandate, guidelines and/or budget.
The boundaries of each administrator's zone of decision-making responsibility are outlined in the mandates and guidelines for their respective administrative roles.