Consensus Decision Making vs Plurality Voting

After the recent forum poll and on-chain poll around the prioritisation of asset types, I have some concerns about the method of voting we are using to make decisions. While the final arbiters of any decisions will always be the MKR Token Holders, I feel that we can do a better job here on the forum before we move to on-chain polls.

In the hope of improving this, here I’m describing two systems of decision making and advocate for the use of Consensus Decision Making over Plurality Voting. As we are an online community, I will be focusing this discussion around what is applicable to our community.

Note: Most of this information is summarised or outright stolen from wikipedia.


What is Plurality Voting?

Plurality voting is a system in which each voter votes for one option and the highest scoring option is named the victor. It is also known as ‘First Past the Post’ and ‘Winner Takes All’ voting. When running a vote, the winning option is not required to have an absolute majority. This system is used across the world for a host of democratic processes.

What’s good about the system?

  • It’s quick: This one doesn’t require much explanation, it’s very quick to throw up a plurality poll and quick to determine the winner. Discussion can be limited or extensive depending on the time available.
  • It’s easy to understand: This is not a complex system, you have a set of options, and whichever gets the most votes wins.

That’s about it. There are other cited advantages in electoral systems, but they don’t apply here.

What’s bad about the system?

  • Minority Outcomes: It’s possible to arrive at a decision that the majority may be in disagreement with (as we saw with the asset priority poll)
  • Tactical Voting: Often if a voter wants to prevent a specific outcome it is optimal for them to vote for the leading contender, even if they also disagree with this option and would prefer a third alternative.
  • Competitive not co-operative: Under this system there are clear winners and losers, decision making in this fashion reduces the possibility of compromise or alternative solutions being generated.
  • Lack of connection Voters may be less connected or committed to the decision, especially voters on the losing side.
  • Polarising: Over the long term this leads to the division of the community into distinct groups or parties that vote along similar lines.
  • Manipulation: Control of the proposal options is in the hands of a minority of the community. It is possible to influence the outcome by controlling these options.

So, while there are some advantages, there are also lots of disadvantages. Let’s look at the alternative.


What is Consensus Decision Making?

Consensus decision-making is a group decision-making process in which group members develop, and agree to support a decision in the best interest of the whole group or common goal. It is an acceptable resolution that can be supported by as many members as possible, eevn if not the favourite of any individual. The emphasis is communally developing a proposal that a large portion of the community can accept.

Consensus Decision Making is:

  • Agreement Seeking: A consensus decision-making process attempts to generate as much agreement as possible.
  • Collaborative: Participants contribute to a shared proposal and shape it into a decision that meets the concerns of all group members as much as possible.
  • Cooperative: Participants in an effective consensus process should strive to reach the best possible decision for the group and all of its members, rather than competing for personal preferences.
  • Egalitarian: All members of a consensus decision-making body should be afforded, as much as possible, equal input into the process. All members have the opportunity to present, and amend proposals.
  • Inclusive: As many stakeholders as possible should be involved in the consensus decision-making process.
  • Participatory: The consensus process should actively solicit the input and participation of all decision-makers.

The decision making rule of Consensus Decision Making varies based on the implementation, but often it is set at unanimity or near-unanimity, or at the very least super-majority (66% or 75%) agreement.

So what does this process look like? Wikipedia has a handy flowchart which I have copied here (hopefully you’ll recognise some vague echo of it in what I’ve been trying to do with my polls)

image

Again, lets look at some advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages

  • Co-operative not competitive: This system aims to bring the community together onto a single proposal, hopefully aboiding the feeling of anyone ‘losing’
  • Connection: Community members are more invested in the decision. The act of developing a proposal that suits everyone is more inclusive than voting on a set of proposals generated by a subset of the community.
  • Converging: Brings the community together rather than driving them apart, the polarisation present in plurality voting is not present in consensus decision making.
  • Effective: It can leverage more community input to form better, more representative decisions.
  • Understanding: All members of the community will understand the reasoning behind the solution as they have helped to develop it.

Sounds good, but as always, there are trade-offs.

Disadvantages

  • Time Consuming: Consensus Decision Making is slower than most other methods. Bringing everyone together on a decision will usually take longer than a plurality vote.
  • Encourages Groupthink: Members of the community may feel unwilling to speak out against the proposal if many others appear to be in favour.
  • Open to sabotage: ‘Blocking’ (the act of disagreement) can be used to sabotage the process if used injudiciously by members of the community. Additionally, the appearance of this can lead to frustration directed at individuals with valid concerns.
  • Complicated: Everyone understands plurality voting systems, very few understand consensus decision making.

So having summarised some decision making options, lets look at some of the particulars of the Maker community and how in my view there are some synergies with Consensus Decision Making.


Application to the Maker Community

Synergy with scientific governance
If I had to summarise it in a single sentence I would say that the aim of scientific governance is: ‘To base decisions on evidence, rather than on unfounded opinion.’ This is a fantastic founding principle to have underlying a decision-making process. Moreover, I would argue that this principle fits uniquely well with consensus decision making.

For any decision, evidence will only point in one direction, there is only one state of reality and (by definition) good, valid evidence cannot contradict this reality. This provides a uniquely effective starting point for the consensus process. Evidence can be presented to the community and used as a base for decision-making.

Complexity and disagreement can arise in the interpretation of this evidence especially where data is complex and not immediately understandable to a layman. Again, here consensus decision making fits well: it prompts the community to discuss differing interpretations and arrive at a collective decision about the merits of each, rather than immediately choosing between them under a plurality style system.

Mitigation of Disadvantages
In an online setting, I believe that we can mitigate many of CDM’s disadvantages. We can (and are) developing processes that make the system more efficient (lots of polling, changing proposals in response to that polling.) I believe that we can avoid group-think with the appropriate set of values (evidence-based decision making, respecting and promoting dissenting opinions). I believe that we can teach the community how to use Consensus Decision Making effectively with the right set of educational docs.

Conclusion
As I stated at the start, I think Consensus Decision Making is the superior system, and that we should be using it to make decisions wherever it is possible to do so. I’d love to hear from other opinions about this, and potentially other systems that might work within the community.

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