Deep Spring Center Policies

Decision Making


A Working Policy for
Decision Making At Deep Spring Center

In any organization such as Deep Spring Center, there are likely to be questions about how decisions get made and who gets to make them. While there is no single answer to this question, and while decision making processes will change as conditions change, we want to describe our approaches to making different kinds of decisions and the rationale behind these approaches. We are clarifying our thoughts on this subject in part to communicate with Sangha members the way we are approaching decisions, and in part to invite discussion about the ways in which decisions get made. We don't believe that there are perfect solutions to decision making processes and through discussion we will continually evolve to processes that will work for the conditions that arise.

There are a number of facts, assumptions and intentions that provide a context for the decision making processes that we are using at the moment and the processes we are describing are our current attempt to reconcile the paradoxes and dilemmas that these conditions create.

  1. The legal authority and accountability for decision making rests with the Board of Directors. We want to use that authority to establish decision making processes that will serve us well as a community.

  2. It is the intention of DSC to have the Sangha deeply involved in the decision making process. The Sangha is the primary source of time, energy, materials and money that support DSC in its work and has a right to influence the policies and directions of the Center. The sense of the Sangha should be one of the major factors that determine the policies that we put into place, the activities and obligations that we take on, and the values we live by.

  3. We are an organization of volunteers with limited resources, particularly money. We are a group of people who get things done because we want to, not because we have to, and we will support decisions either because we believe they are right, or because we trust the people who do. Few, if any, of us has a great deal of time to spend on DSC tasks. We all care about DSC and are willing to volunteer time to make it successful, but we prefer not to waste time or do things more than once. Extensive community wide discussion can be time consuming and energy draining. We need to find ways to ensure that our efforts are coordinated and appropriately directed. The primary responsibility for this coordination and direction rests with the Board.

  4. We are both a community and an organization for supporting spiritual growth. As a community we wish to have all with a stake in our evolution to have a "say' in what we do. As an organization supporting spiritual growth we wish to have the individuals with the greatest wisdom and knowledge provide us with guidance and counseling that will help us individually and collectively as we walk our paths into the future. At the moment, our guiding teachers, Aaron and Barbara, have a particular role to play in this regard. We all know that working together with the intention to be mindful, loving and wise is our deepest practice.

  5. For the Sangha to be vibrant and central in the functioning of DSC, the Board needs to be the advocate and guardian for the Sangha If we wish to build an organization in which the Sangha has a central role in determining how the organization will operate, the Board will need to continually manage the tension between individual action and collective involvement. In the end, the Sangha can only be effectively involved if the Board continually insures that the processes of decision making and action include the Sangha in an appropriate manner. While the Sangha does not have to formally consent to all decisions, decisions should not be made that are not endorsed by most Sangha members. The responsibility for ensuring that the sense of the Sangha is respected rests with the Board.&

  6. We want communication within the Sangha to be as open and free as possible without overburdening people with a need to spend time communicating. With a few exceptions (such as personnel management and lists of donors), information about Sangha activities should be readily available to Sangha members. This includes having records of formal meetings - particularly Board meetings - kept in a permanent record for an appropriate period of time (currently five years) and kept available for any Sangha member to review or copy at the DSC office.

Our decision making practices are designed as best we can to reconcile the inherent tensions that this set of facts and beliefs implies. We will outline the process steps that we believe should be used for each of six types of decisions:

  1. Major community decisions about our resources and directions
  2. Decisions about the spiritual principles and practices that guide us
  3. Decisions that reflect and define our identity
  4. Routine operational decisions
  5. Decisions about our internal structure and process
  6. Decisions under emergency conditions where time is a factor

A. Major community decisions about our resources and directions

Major community decisions would be decisions like buying or renting a building, finding a new guiding teacher or deciding to move the DSC to Cincinnati. For a decision of this sort, the steps would be:

  1. Framing the issue. The Board of Directors or a work group that they establish would frame the issue for discussion. They would describe the relevant background and conditions that give rise to the issue, identify currently available ideas and communicate the issue to the Sangha, and design and set up a meeting of the Sangha to discuss the issue.

  2. Sangha discussion. The intent of the discussion is to surface as much information as possible about the nature of the issue and the feelings of people within the Sangha. At this point, there would be no intention to come to a final resolution (although this would not be prevented if a clear and compelling consensus emerged).

  3. Charter a decision making group. Based on the discussions of the Sangha, the Board of Directors establishes and charters a decision making group. The charter should include a clear statement of the issue or purpose for the group, guidelines and constraints that the group should follow, an intended makeup for the group (for example: one teacher, one Board member, one experienced Sangha member, Barbara, and the DSC President) and a time frame for their work. This charter should include a statement that the work of the group is to "find the best solution that the Sangha and the Board can accept.' rather than to find the solution that the group prefers, and should clearly state that it is developing recommendations for a final decision by the Board of Directors. The charter developed by the Board should be sent to the Sangha for feedback and input - and this may have to be done more than once if the initial charter creates significant reaction.

  4. Small group work. The group that was chartered to develop a recommendation does its work. At this point the work of the group would be carried out in whatever way it feels is most appropriate, but it would keep the Sangha informed and would provide as much opportunity for input as required to ensure that it comes up with a decision that most or all Sangha members can accept. Toward the end of their work, it would generally be appropriate for them to hold a Sangha meeting describing the recommendation they are planning to make and giving people a last chance to provide input. This might be framed as "Here is what we are planning to recommend. Is there anything that we have missed?' At this stage it would be desirable to work towards consensus within the Sangha with each person willing to accept the decision even if it were not their first choice. Some members who disagree with the decision may have to support it as the best decision that the group can make at the moment.

  5. Recommendation to the Board and Board ratification. The group chartered to make the recommendation would then bring it to the Board. If the recommendation is within the guidelines set by the charter, the Board will generally ratify the recommendation. It is not the intention to have the Board redo all the work and reconsider all the options. If the recommendation is outside of the charter, or if it seems to threaten the viability of the DSC, the Board will need to decide not to follow the recommendation. At that point it would generally send the recommendation back to the original group with additional instruction, or charter a new group to look at the question. It should be highly unusual for a recommendation to be rejected at this stage, since the working group should have been in regular contact with both the Sangha and the Board and their recommendation should reflect any issues that people are worried about.

B. Decisions about the spiritual principles and practices that guide us

  1. In matters concerning the Dharma and the teachings provided by DSC, the Sangha should be kept informed as appropriate, but does not have a decision making role. Formally, this is an authority that is granted by the Board of Directors to Aaron and Barbara when they are acting as guiding teachers. Practically, it is an authority that we all grant to them because of their wisdom and our desire to learn from their teaching.

  2. Keeping them informed. It is the responsibility of all members of the DSC Sangha to keep Aaron and Barbara informed about issues and actions that reflect the spiritual principles and practices that are being promoted by DSC as an organization. It is generally expected that if anyone is doing anything under the sponsorship of DSC that might be questionable, that they will test it with Aaron and Barbara.

  3. Counseling and direction. If Aaron or Barbara has a spiritual problem with something that is being done under the sponsorship of DSC, they will provide counseling and direction to the individuals who are involved. We can not imagine any circumstance under which this will not resolve the problem.

  4. Board of Directors Action. If there is an issue that can not be resolved in Step 3, it would be brought to the Board for a final, formal sanctioning of whatever action Aaron and Barbara recommend.

  5. The major exception to these general descriptions occurs when the matters involve the use of community resources. The sense of the Sangha should always be considered in determining how and when resources are used. For example, a teacher might have a belief that using DSC money in a particular way would be a useful element in everyone's practice, but such a decision would not be implemented until the Sangha or Board acting for the Sangha was in agreement that this path was appropriate.

  6. In general, Barbara, the Board and the teachers have a responsibility to keep the Sangha informed about their activities and decisions and to listen carefully to any return input from the Sangha.

C. Decisions that reflect and define our community identity

Occasionally decisions arise that will reflect and define who we are as an organization. One example of this type of decision is how we should treat the altar in the Meditation Hall; another is whether or not we should actively support political movements or groups. In this case the process for decision making should be:

  1. The Board of Directors, or a group that it designates, frames the issue, organizes Sangha discussions to define our views and positions, and facilitates the discussions to arrive at a consensus or near consensus of the Sangha in regard to a identity defining decision.

  2. The facilitating group will hold as many meetings of the Sangha as necessary to develop a consensus among Sangha members about the position that DSC should take. Consensus in this case means that each person agrees that the decision is acceptable; that they will support it; and that, even if it is not their first choice personally, they believe that it is the best decision the group can make at the moment. If at some point in the process it becomes clear that even with full exploration of possibilities and creative options, there are differences among members of the Sangha that can not be resolved so that a consensus can not be reached, then the decision needs to be referred to the Board. The Board will then try to make the best decision that it can to reflect the needs and wishes of Sangha members and the best interests of DSC.

  3. Board ratification. The final step is for the Board to ratify the consensus decision that has been reached.

D. Routine operational decisions

  1. DSC is an organization that operates through committees of volunteers. Each committee has a charter which is approved by the Board of Directors. The Charter specifies the purpose of the committee, the membership of the committee, and the guidelines for committee activities. All committees are expected to do their work efficiently in a manner that is as responsive to the needs and preferences of the Sangha as possible given the limits of resources, time and energy.

  2. Generally, committees set their own agendas, make their own decisions, and carry out their own plans. From time to time, the Board may ask a committee to take on a particular task or to deal with a particular problem. The Board may review specific decisions and has the authority to reverse decisions if it necessary, but it is Board policy not to second guess committees unless there is a real risk to the DSC if a decision is carried out. Generally, the Board will try to provide committees with appropriate guidelines for making decisions and try not to reverse decisions which have been made. All committees are expected to keep in touch with the Sangha: letting the Sangha know what issues and problems are being addressed, providing opportunities for Sangha members to provide input and feedback, and communicating decisions and their rationale.

  3. Committee Policy Decisions. From time to time committees face policy decisions that will affect routine actions. For example there are policy decisions that need to be made about food in the mediation hall or the number and types of retreats to be scheduled in a year. In making policy decisions, committees are asked to follow two process guidelines.

    1. First, the Sangha should always be asked to provide input to policy decisions. Normally, this would either be in the form of a discussion at a Sangha meeting, or as a communication to the Sangha that invited responses. The Sangha should also be given an opportunity to review the actual policy statements before they become policy so that they can be refined if someone has an idea for an improvement.

    2. Second, policy decisions should always be sent to the Board for ratification. The Board's policy is to ratify policy decisions unless there is a powerful reason not to do so, but the Board should have the opportunity to review the policy and provide input if it is necessary.

E. Decisions about our internal structure and process

  1. Decisions about our internal structure (what committees to form, who to employ, etc.) and process are one of the primary responsibilities of the Board of Directors.

  2. Any Sangha member (or committee or Board member) can raise a question about our internal structure and process with the Board at any time. There is time at the beginning of each Board meeting when any of issue of this type can be raised with the Board.

  3. The Board has the responsibility of doing the best job that it can to communicate the structure and process of DSC with all Sangha members, and to freely and fully answer any questions that are asked about what the structure and process is.

F. Decisions under emergency conditions where time is a factor

  1. There are times when decisions need to be made and there is not time nor resources to follow our normal decision processes. Under these conditions, decisions can be made by the Board, by its officers, or by individuals who have been designated by the Board. Whoever is making a decision under these conditions is expected to make the best decision that they can in the interest of DSC as they understand it.

  2. When emergency decisions are made, they should always be:

    1. Ratified after the fact by the Board of Directors

    2. Examined to determine if the use of emergency decision making was in fact required and if in the future under similar conditions a similar decision should be made

    3. Communicated to the Sangha along with an explanation of why the emergency process was used.