Decision Making Processes
To swallow the pill
The communal meeting is the highest decision-making body. It is held every two weeks and is for all members and guests. Here we get information, discuss and make all general decisions that concern the collective. At Svanholm we decide things by "consensus". This means that everyone must agree on a proposal before it can be approved. Consensus is a model to avoid the frustration and dissatisfaction the minority can feel after a majority decision. If one is against, it will not be carried out, but the proposal is not simply rejected and that's that. In reality the process is just prolonged, you may have to go home a couple of times to make changes in, and adapt your proposal to the comments and objections that have been brought forward at the communal meeting. Maybe you have to turn a few somersaults and "swallow the pill", before the proposal can be accepted by everyone. Maybe you realize, in the process, that you have to swallow more than one pill, if it is to be approved, and you choose to withdraw your proposal. You might want to put it forward later, if you sense the sentiment has changed.
Of those that disapprove of the proposal, it is also expected that they come up with an alternative they can accept. If it is sensed at the communal meeting that a decision is blocked or prolonged, because two parts in opposition push in different directions, they are normally asked to talk together and come up with a new proposal. Often we see that the problems are discussed more thorough than before and maybe it turns out in the end that the solution is to be something completely different.
To listen and yield
If we want to be self-governing at Svanholm, we need to choose the consensus model, because otherwise we would govern each other, changing with the majority. The consensus model also has another advantage: it doesn't call for intensifying the differences, as often happens before a referendum.
The increased polarization can be seen very clearly in the way the political debate is run before a major referendum. If you want to have something carried out at Svanholm, it's not so much about profiling your opinions and getting the last word, but more so about listening and yielding. If you're capable of being open and flexible and adapting your ideas to the wishes and needs of others, you can in turn be sure your proposals are taken seriously.
When important decisions are to be made at Svanholm, we don't make haste, because we find it important that the subjects are looked into thoroughly, before decisions are made. Therefore we have the rule that a proposal can't be decided on at the same communal meeting as it has been presented. Only at the next meeting or later, if the proposals need to be revised, the final decision can be made.
Of course it happens that things get rushed anyway: if the kitchen for instance wants to exceed their budget, because they've just been offered a new oven that would just make everything much easier and better, but the offer only stands for this week.
Sometimes it can be difficult for the individual at Svanholm to stay centred. For example, if we have been allowed to produce more milk by the EU, and the cattle group wants to buy another 30 milch-cows, what will the financial consequences of such a decision be in the long run? Maybe we know that it implies enlarging the cowshed, more people working there, new machines and so on. But how much can we earn? How will it affect the quality of our crops to have more manure? How will the market for organic milk be in 2-3 years? Will we have to pour it down the sewer, or will the people of Copenhagen be queuing up to make sure they get some?
Both owner and employee
When you participate in all levels of the decision-making process, things often turn out to be more complicated than expected. At Svanholm you're both the employer and the employee, and you have to look at things with the eyes of both the manager and the worker. And in every project it's not only the financial, but also the ecological side that has to be right - in other words, all ends have to meet. Furthermore it all has to fit into the visions we have, regarding how Svanholm should look in the future. That's why we always try to make as realistic calculations as possible, before we jump out into it and make the final decision.
A great deal of the proposals have gone through one of the many sub groups, before they reach the communal meeting. If Jacob, for instance, applies for admittance in the collective, the proposal has been through the Contact Group. Is it a proposal about increasing the cash credit, it has been through the Economy Group. The proposal from Anita, who wants to start an education to become a circus artist, has been through the Education Group, etc. The individual groups can make their own independent decisions, within certain frames. If the communal meeting has decided on a sum at the yearly budget rounds for investments, for instance, it is up to the investment group to agree on how this sum is to be divided between the work groups, according to their needs. The communal meeting has also decided how many people can be on education leave at a time, and it's up to the education group to find out, who are to be the lucky ones this year.
Whenever possible, we go by the principle, that the people in the sub groups are the ones closest to the issues. The ones who want to start an education are the ones in the Education Group, and those who have investment plans, are the ones in the Investment Group etc. Of course it's also interests and initiative it's all about - the subgroups are open to everybody at Svanholm.