[Election-Methods] pizza and consensus

Jonathan Lundell jlundell at pobox.com
Fri Dec 28 08:51:12 PST 2007

With the pizza example surfacing again (and again and again...), it  
struck me that what bothers me about this example is that, in real  
life, deciding on a pizza is one of the few places where just about  
everybody would use informal consensus.

(For an introduction to formal consensus: http://www.consensus.net/)

I've come over the years to the regretful conclusion that formal  
consensus is not workable for most organizations, at least not unless  
some fairly stringent preconditions are met (some are described by  
Butler at the site above; they include fairly explicit agreement on  
group goals, along with a lot of time an patience).

But for pizza decisions, consensus rules. In particular, we try to  
accommodate singleton minorities with strong negative preferences  
("concerns" in consensus-speak): anchovy-haters, the allergy-ridden.  
It doesn't matter that sausage and pepperoni is the Condorcet or  
majority winner if there's a vegetarian in the group; we'll find some  
consensus choice (fresh tomatoes and pesto, anyone?), given a little  
time, good will, and discussion.

(That points up another problem with the pizza example: nobody ever  
seems to go to a pizza parlor with individual portions, or  
heterogeneous pizzas. But that's another problem.)

I wonder if there isn't a better simple example out there in which  
voting is a better strategy than the alternatives.

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