Some Thoughts on Groupthink and the Silent Majority

How does loomio help individuals with unorthodox/innovative ideas bring those forward if every motion has to be approved by a group? How does loomio help leveraging the power and genius of a silent majority that’s always likely to delegate their vote or abstain? (We posted a NYT article on this subject a while back as well).

Some thoughts on an interesting question posed to the team.


Delegating or abstaining is hugely preferable to not engaging at all. Sometimes it can be a sign of problems (e.g. education is lacking), but in a healthy group those actions are a signal of trust between the group members. 


Most decisions probably don’t require in-depth involvement from most group members, and leaving it up to the few people who care most to debate the issue is fine. But if you make minimal engagement easy, your chances of having someone notice a really bad idea and speak up – even if they only speak up 1 out of 100 times and abstain the other times – goes way up, and this can save the group from making a big mistake…So sharing the responsibility helps increase the group’s collective intelligence.


One thing that contributes to groupthink is proximity. As in, I hear what the people next to me say and as a result I might think similar things. So if there’s a person in the group with a radically different/good idea, most people probably won’t be close enough to that person to hear them. One of the goals of Loomio (in my opinion) is to bring all of us closer together. Make it easier for us to listen to each other and collect all of the different ideas of the group into a single place.


Having the ability to engage, even though I may choose not to, is subtle but important. Lets me know on a daily basis of the issues, and my empowerment within the organisation. 

The countless conversations I’ve had about Loomio as I’ve been traveling up and down the country have really driven home to me how easy it is for most people to grasp the practical need for it, but also its overarching implications (the not-so-secret agenda) and potential for democratising a vast range of human institutions.

Consensus decision-making

I’d go on with “consensus decision-making”. Consensus sounds hippie (does it really?) just because it’s been stigmatized and misused. I feel if we change our vocabulary just because of what some people might think, we’re not on the right path to make them think different. I think we should base the vocabulary we use on what we think is most meaningful, not on how they are used in the current society, nor on a unfounded presentiment. Also, by *choosing* words for what they really *mean*, I think we can help to give sense to words. That is using the power and the truth that every word has in its essence to share ideas that are inherently strong and honest. Let’s focus on how the words we use resonate in our heart. Let’s really do it.
Nicolas, on using the word “consensus”

The meaning of ‘abstain’

Abstain means a lot of things. Sometimes it means ‘I don’t care’, sometimes ‘I don’t know’, or ‘I don’t feel qualified to answer’, but the important thing is it is always an ~active~ statement: ‘I acknowledge the existence of this motion and for whatever reason I am not saying yes or no to it’.
Rich, on the meaning of “abstain”

The money shot

We need to figure out how to best represent the effective flow of discussion > proposal > more discussion > better proposal … getting that right will really be the key for making this tool great. I was talking with an old friend from my University Co-Op (we ran on pure consensus and sat through a LOT of long meetings together) and the very first thing he wanted to know about Loomio was how it enabled “the magic” – meaning that evolution of idea to discussion and through the discussion to better idea that no individual would have come up with on their own, but the group clearly favors. That’s the money shot.

Facilitation of group discussions

There is an art to facilitating a discussion and then sensing when it’s matured to the point where it’s ready for an actual motion to be put forward (a distillation of the idea that’s emerging). And an art to sensing when that motion isn’t getting consensus and would need to be amended. The functionality is not there in Loomio yet, but it will be. The idea is that motions will grow out of discussions in this manner, so that by the time people are stating their positions, people have had a chance to participate in the discussion and knock ideas around without feeling outnumbered or like it’s a foregone conclusion. I think this is already playing out quite naturally – the first motion is failing because it was premature, but it’s helped move the discussion forward and the next motion will inevitably be much better.
Alanna, on the timing of killing a first draft of a motion in favor of a better one evolving from the discussion

How to not sell out

Hi! I’m Rich. I’m one of the people working on Loomio. I come to the project from an arts/activist background, so I have some pretty strong feelings on culture, community, and business.

One of the inspiring things about the team we’ve got is that there is room for people with different ideas. There are people like me who have a knee-jerk reaction to business (eww yuck boo), but there are plenty of others with a more mature and experienced view that are really excited about the potential for the tool to help businesses work more efficiently and more democratically. 

In preparation for last week’s meeting about the Loomio business structure, Jon, Ben and I had an email conversation. Don’t take it too seriously, it’s just an off-the-cuff statement of my position regarding Loomio and the Tyranny of Money. It was intended to be read by an audience of two friends, but I figure it couldn’t really hurt for anyone else that wants to get a better idea of how I feel about the project. 

Continue reading How to not sell out

Consensus vs. majority-rules

Loomio’s core mission is watered down somewhat if it becomes just a voting tool. I know that it’s never claimed that it would be “just for consensus”, but I think that if it was just for consensus, that might encourage people to use consensus who otherwise might not have done so.
Craig, on whether Loomio should be built for majority rules in addition to consensus

What is a block

A block traditionally means that someone feels so strongly about a decision that if it goes through they will leave the group. This is distinct from a “no” vote, which means they have concerns and don’t think consensus has been reached. If after more discussion they still have concerns but the rest of the group wants to approve something, they will live with it. If this distinction is not made, then there’s really no point in having “no” and “block” since they’d overlap. “No” means “I don’t think consensus has been reached let’s keep talking”… more or less. I think each group will have to define these terms for themselves
Alanna, on the difference between “no” and “block”

The difference between offline and online communication

One of the things I’ve been considering is the difference between offline and online communications. To me the people’s mic (or even one person speaks at a time) is al limitation of offline environments that we shouldn’t be emulating to replicate. Instead I would suggest a philosophy of harvesting lots of content simultaneously and providing mechanisms to filter the noise and promote the group sentiment – similar to the reddit approach.
Joshua, pointing out the benefits of an “everyone talks at once, everyone is heard” internet-style communication model, versus the “one person talks at once” model of in-person meetings.

eDemocracy and civic engagement

I have been thinking in the eDemocracy and general civic engagement space for many years now, but in the light of OWS, the Arab Spring, and the increasing tensions between the haves and have-nots around the world, which are only likely to accelerate as the financial excrement seriously begins to hit the reality fan in 2012, I have more recently started putting thoughts into actions.
Seth, describing why he’s interested in helping the Loomio project