2004, Phillip Daffara Co-Facilitator in foreground (Maroochy 2025 Community Visioning Summit)
Below, I show the six componenst of cohousing, based on the experience of Charles Durrent (Architect and Faciltator/Founder of over 50 cohousing projects). I am highlighting these components here and now because the six components of Cohousing all rely of the consensus decision making process within an intentional community from formation to facility management.
The Group Process
A Cohousing community is a community of equals – no matter how diverse its members may be in age, background, education or ability. The more we learn about making decisions as equals, the better we are able to make those decisions. Each group refines the decision-making process to suit their needs.
The following is a sample list of guidelines that some groups may follow:
If we reach a Stalemate…
Using Colored Cards to Achieve Consensus
Groups have successfully used the following system of colored cards to facilitate the consensus process. There are two contexts in which to use the cards: Procedural and Decision Making.
Procedural uses occur during preliminary discussions of an issue. Participants hold up a card before speaking. The facilitator recognizes them in the following order:
(1) Red (2) Yellow (3) Green
In the procedural context, the cards have the following meanings:
Red means “Stop the Process” (time out) and indicates a breach in agreed upon procedures. Examples include; discussing topics not on the agenda, going overtime, and suggesting that a member of the group is being inconsiderate of the group process. It can also be used when a member feels uncomfortable with the way that the process is proceeding or if they believe that a break would be appropriate. The red card may be raised at any time during discussion.
Yellow indicates a member’s ability to clarify some part of the discussion.
Green indicates a member’s desire to make a comment or ask a question.
More than one card may be raised at a time by a single member, but the order of priority listed above is still observed. When there is more than one card of the same color raised, the facilitator ensures that the individuals are heard in the order that the cards have been raised
In the decision-making context the cards have the following meanings:
Green indicates agreement with the proposal under discussion.
Yellow indicates that the member has reservations but is unwilling to block group consensus because of those reservations.
Red indicates the member’s opposition to the proposal at hand and their willingness to block group consensus because of that opposition. When a member/or members use a red card, it becomes his or her responsibility to work with the proposing committee to come up with a solution that will work for everyone.
It is incumbent upon group members to use red cards judiciously within the procedural context, remembering that green cards permit questions and comments. Similarly, in the decision-making context, members should be conscious of the seriousness of blocking consensus and use the red cards only for principled objections. However, when a member strongly believes that the fundamental interests of the group are not being served by a particular decision, the red card should be used as a vote of conscience, even if unpopular.
Results of Consensus
Once all yellow cards have been responded to (assuming there are no red cards displayed) consensus is presumed to have been reached.
However if yellow cards are predominant, it is worthwhile to reconsider the decision. A primary benefit of the colored card system versus majority rule is the opportunity for a more accurate reading of members’ positions regarding a particular matter. The shades of “for” and “against” responses using the card system can serve as notice that a proposal needs refining.
Hand Signals instead of Coloured Cards
Hand signals are another method for reading a room's positions nonverbally. They work well with groups of fewer than 250 people and especially with multi-lingual groups. The nature and meaning of individual gestures varies between groups, but a widely adopted core set of hand signals include:
One common set of hand signals is called the "Fist-to-Five" or "Fist-of-Five". In this method each member of the group can: