Consensus Models in the Pursuance Paradigm

I’ve written a lot recently about defining group dynamics in Pursuance. I’ve outlined a role-based system for describing permissions and responsibilities. So far, however, the role language has been limited to describing rather anarchic systems: Anyone with a role assumes the full powers of the role and can act independently of anyone else with the role. While this is sufficient for describing many organizational structures, especially smaller and short-lived ones, it falls short of describing collective decision making. This post will discuss a few broad categories of collective action, and methods of extending the Pursuance role language proposed in previous posts to describe group decision-making.

Collective Action Styles

Very broadly speaking, there are two categories of group self-governance. In the first, decisions are made by majority vote, as in democracratic and parliamentary systems. There may be varying vote cutoffs depending on the action proposed, and different ways of counting the vote (plurality, ranked-choice, first-past-the-post, …), but the fundamental structure is “the group does whatever the most people want.” There’s a lot of complexity, advantages, and drawbacks of various parliamentary-like systems, but they’re out of scope for this post. Our goal is to enable groups to choose their own organizational structure and define it within Pursuance.

In the second category, decisions are made by global consensus. This can mean that the entire community votes on all decisions, but more commonly the group delegates decisions on certain topics to sub-groups who obtain internal consensus, as in Clusters & Spokes Councils.

Collective Role Permissions

We can describe collective action with a simple language primitive. Here we describe a “member” role, where users holding this position can kick any other member if they can get two additional members to agree with them:

member {
    consensus 3 {
        kick member
    }
}

We can also describe consensus as a percentage of the users holding the role. Here we create a journalist role, where all journalists can agree to bring another into the fold:

journalist {
    consensus 100% {
       invite journalist
    }
}

Group Decision Interface

What does consensus look like in the UI of a platform like Pursuance? It can appear like another task, only visible to users within the role making the decision, with an added function of “approve/disapprove”. Unlike normal tasks, which are closed when someone with the authority to ends it, decision tasks are closed automatically when enough users vote to approve or dissaprove the decision.

Since group decisions are implemented as tasks, they implicitly provide a discussion space about the decision being made.

If blind voting is desired, we can substitute “secret-consensus” in place of “consensus”. In fact, it might be clearer if the language is “public-consensus” and “secret-consensus” to make the visibility of votes unambiguous at all times.

The proposer is always public, even in secret consensus. This is akin to someone calling for a vote of no-confidence: The votes may be secret, but someone publicly called for the vote. This is beneficial because it prevents an abusive scenario where one person creates hundreds of secret consensus actions and grinds the structure to a halt.

A Tiny Parliament

Below is a miniature social structure for a parliamentary organization with two office positions and a role for general body members:

president {
   # Presidential powers here
   unassign role president
}

treasurer {
	# Treasurer powers here
	# Maybe the role has no powers, and exists to provide 0auth access to
	# budget spreadsheets and financial accounts
}

member {
   consensus 50% {
       assign role president
       assign role treasurer
   }
   consensus 90% {
       unassign role president
   }
}

Via a 50% vote of all general members, the membership can elect a new president or treasurer. With a 90% consensus, members can pass a vote of no-confidence and evict a president.

A Tiny Consensus Group

An organization more akin to the Quakers or Occupy Wall Street, with an affinity for clusters and spokes councils, may want to distinguish operations any member can do, and operations only total consensus can achieve:

press-committee {
    # Has the right to represent the organization to the outside
}

member {
   consensus 100% {
       assign role press-committee
   }
   unassign role press-committee
}

In the above system, the entire community must agree to add a member to a committee with higher authority, and any member can revoke that user’s privileges, ensuring the total membership consents to the decisions being made by that committee.

Ongoing Work

The consensus model outlined above has clear limitations. There’s no room for decisions requiring consent from multiple roles. The way a proposal is rejected is a little unclear unless we use percentages (does a consent 3 fail if any 3 members reject the proposal? Does it only fail when enough users reject the proposal that there are not 3 remaining that could pass the proposal?). Nevertheless, this relatively simple proposal dramatically increases the types of organizations we can represent, and therefore what kinds of groups can effectively organize on Pursuance.

Posted 2/9/20