Crafting the best compromise possible

This is something I’ve been noticing for a while and am finally getting around to blogging.

In the first days of FESCo, Thorsten Leemhuis was the chairman. One of the quirks of his time was that we’d encounter a topic where we voted on a solution and found that a majority agreed with one sentiment but it wasn’t unanimous. When that happened, Thorsten would be sure to ask if there was anything we could do to make the solution more acceptable to the dissenters even if they still wouldn’t vote for the proposal.

This sometimes lead to discussions of a proposal that had been approved with margins like 7 to 2 and after the discussion and changes, the vote was still 7 to 2. So from an external standpoint, this might be seen as unproductive. Why don’t we just get a decision made and move on?

But over the years I’ve watched a lot of other split decisions be made on several committees from both the inside and the outside and it’s struck me that, perhaps, we don’t do nearly enough of this sort of examination. Making changes after it was clear that a majority agreed with the basic proposal had several beneficial effects:

  1. It made the proposals more palatable to more people by getting rid of at least some issues that had made their way in to the final drafts.
  2. It forced dissenters to figure out what specific things they wanted to be changed in the proposal rather than simply being able to say “I hate this whole thing”.
  3. It made more people a part of the decision– whether or not they voted for it, if some of their ideas were in it, they felt some ownership for having help craft it.
  4. And perhaps most importantly, it let everyone know that the door of communication still worked. People found that their ideas were still valued by the other members even if they didn’t agree with each other on the overall picture.

So what can we do with this? Maybe it’s too much to ask that we look over every little decision we make where there’s disagreement and attempt to find every last bit of common ground that we can (There were certainly times when it seemed to take forever to make a decision) but what about decisions that are close votes? What about decisions that have days-long threads as part of their backstory? In these cases, consider the proposal that the majority agrees on to be a strawman. A starting point from which to start chipping away to see what changes can be made that are still acceptable to the majority while addressing many of the issues that the minority has. Remember that the goal is to craft a compromise that addresses as many concerns as possible.