Martha’s Rules

A group I’m part of is using Martha’s Rules for consensus-based decision making. It’s working pretty well, and I hope the summary below will be useful to other groups.

  1. Before each meeting, anyone who wishes may sponsor a proposal by filing an issue in the GitHub repository tagged “proposal”. Proposals must be filed at least 24 hours before a meeting in order to be considered at that meeting, and must include:
    • a one-line summary (the subject line of the issue)
    • the full text of the proposal
    • any required background information
    • pros and cons
    • possible alternatives
  2. A quorum is established in a meeting if half or more of voting members are present.

  3. Once a person has sponsored a proposal, they are responsible for it. The group may not discuss or vote on the issue unless the sponsor or their delegate is present. The sponsor is also responsible for presenting the item to the group.

  4. After the sponsor presents the proposal, a “sense” vote is cast for the proposal prior to any discussion:
    • Who likes the proposal?
    • Who can live with the proposal?
    • Who is uncomfortable with the proposal?
  5. If all or most of the group likes or can live with the proposal, it is immediately moved to a formal vote with no further discussion.

  6. If most of the group is uncomfortable with the proposal, it is postponed for further rework by the sponsor.

  7. If some members are uncomfortable they can briefly state their objections. A timer is then set for a brief discussion moderated by the facilitator. After 10 minutes or when no one has anything further to add (whichever comes first), the facilitator calls for a yes-or-no vote on the question: “Should we implement this decision over the stated objections?” If a majority votes “yes” the proposal is implemented. Otherwise, the proposal is returned to the sponsor for further work.

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