DC's Feminist Singers

Fortissima and Consensus

How It's Done Here

1. Consensus

As discussed further below, key decisions about the chorus are made by consensus. It is therefore important that we all fully understand what consensus is – and what it is not. It is equally important that we understand the contexts in which consensus decision-making occurs in Fortissima.


A. What Is Consensus?

Consensus is a method for reaching a decision pursuant to which every voice that wants to be heard gets heard. This requires that we each listen to the concerns voiced by others in the chorus. It also means that, if one does not have particular concerns to air, ze need not feel required to say anything. However, once a decision is made, it will be considered the decision of the whole group.

Consensus does not necessarily mean that everyone in the group “supports” the final decision that is made, but it does mean that everyone can live with it.

The concept of blocking is an integral part of consensus; the existence of blocking is what ensures that all can live with the final decision (since a member who could not live with it can block it). Because blocking enables a single member to overrule everyone else in the chorus, it is not to be engaged in lightly. Blocking is to occur only when a member has a strongly-held reason for it.


B. When Do We Use Consensus?

Decisions that are about who we are as a chorus are made by consensus. Examples of such decisions are:

  • Changes to our mission and mission statement
  • Song selection
  • Gig selection

(There may be other decisions that also fall into this category. Whether a particular decision is to be made by consensus turns on whether it affects who we are as a chorus.)

While each of the matters listed above are subject to consensus-based decisions making, the decisions are made in different contexts.

Matters Not Already Assigned to a Committee

An example of this type of matter is the change in mission statement that occurred earlier this season. In that case, consensus decision-making (and the opportunity for blocking that accompanies the consensus process) was done in the context of a business meeting.

Importantly, the decision-making process in that case was based on a proposal that was brought to the chorus by one of its members. That is how such decision-making should occur. When a matter affecting who we are as a chorus rears its head in a context that is not already covered by a committee, an individual or group of individuals should bring a proposal regarding that matter to the chorus for discussion and consensus decision-making. This process ensures that the matter will get focused attention and result in an actual decision, rather than just generalized discussion.

The other two consensus-based decisions listed above occur in a very different context.

Song Selection

As a chorus, we are defined in great part by what we choose to sing. Therefore, those decisions are subject to consensus decision making. That consensus process, however, occurs not in the context of a business meeting, but in the context of the Song Selection meeting.

Song selection is made by the “Song Committee,” membership in which is of course open to all members of the chorus. Songs are selected by the consensus process: the final decision is made following extensive discussion among chorus members who choose to participate in song selection. Any chorus member who participates in this process and who has a strongly-held reason for blocking a song may do so. Where a song is blocked in the song selection process, it will not be selected for performance by Fortissima.

Importantly, however, once the song is selected, it becomes a song for inclusion in Fortissima performances for that season. If someone who did not choose to participate in the song selection process later decides that ze does not like or feel comfortable with a particular song, ze may not block the chorus from including it in performances. Of course, that chorus member is not required to participate in performing that song; any chorus member can always choose not to participate in the performance of any song that the chorus as a whole performs.

Gig Selection

The decision to participate in a particular performance, like the decision to perform a particular song, sends a message about who Fortissima is as a chorus. Thus, for example, when we sing at Take Back the Night, we are, by our participation, showing our support for that event. While TBN is an event that we as a chorus have determined we wish to support, there may be other events or locations where we are asked to perform that we as a chorus do not wish to support by our presence.

While the decision regarding whether to accept a gig is therefore subject to consensus decision making, the proposal upon which the consensus process focuses is initially made by the Song Leaders Committee. That committee makes recommendations regarding whether to have Fortissima perform at particular gigs based on the song leaders’ assessment of whether the chorus has a sufficient number of pieces that can be made performance-ready in sufficient time for the gig. However, the Committee’s recommendation is just that – a recommendation that the Committee must bring to the full chorus for decision. The consensus process is then followed and, if any member has a strongly-held reason for blocking acceptance of a particular gig, Fortissima will not accept that gig.


2. Other Decision-Making Processes

Only those decisions that affect who we are as a chorus are made by consensus. Other decisions are made by the Committees with jurisdiction over them. Pursuant to the decision-making structure already adopted by Fortissima:

A. Most day to day decisions (e.g. what color to make the flyers, whether to run an ad in the Friday or the Wednesday edition of the newspaper) are made by the Committee alone. These are decisions that do not involve individual members’ physical comfort or the expenditure of individual members’ money, and that do not exceed the Committee’s budget.

B. Decisions that do involve individual members’ physical comfort or expenditure of individual members’ money (e.g. retreat housing, new outfits, t-shirts), or that do exceed the Committee’s budget, are considered “advice and consent” decisions, which must be made as a final matter by the chorus as a whole.

To make advice and consent decision-making more efficient, the following process should be followed:

  1. The committee bringing forward the proposed decision sends an email to the full chorus at least 48 hours before the rehearsal or business meeting at which the decision is to be made. This email should include a description of the proposed decision sufficient to allow members to fully understand it.
  2. The first step in addressing the proposed decision at the rehearsal or meeting is an initial “sense of the chorus” vote on the proposal. The point of this is to find out
    • whether there is any disagreement at all regarding the proposal and
    • if there is, how initially divided the chorus is.
  3. If the “sense of the chorus” vote shows some members not initially supporting the proposal, those persons will be allowed to speak and explain their reasons. Then other chorus members who feel they can address the concerns expressed will be allowed to do so.
  4. Once a full discussion about the proposal has occurred, a final and binding vote will be held. For a proposed “advice and consent” decision to be made, the final vote in favor must include 50% plus one of Fortissima members present.


3. Getting Things Done In a Decentralized Environment

Finally, to ensure that we as a chorus get done all that we need to get done, it is necessary that we all have a sense of what the various Committees are doing. Moreover, since many of us are on more than one Committee, we need to know what (and when) the different Committees have scheduled to avoid double-scheduling. To achieve these ends, the following processes should be followed:

  1. Committees should put on the Fortissima calendars any meetings and internal deadlines for achieving their projects
  2. When scheduling meetings or setting dates for doing things, each Committee should consult the calendar and try (as much as possible) to accommodate the events and deadlines already established by other Committees
  3. Every two weeks, during the business portion of the rehearsal, the Committees will report on what activities/deadlines/potential disasters are looming and let the chorus know if there is anything they need from non-committee members. While most weeks very few committees will have anything immediate to report, this will encourage us all to think more about what the committees are doing and how that work is (or is not) getting done.


Fortissima: DC's Feminist Singers

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