One of the key challenges for groups of 20+ members working with consensus is how to effectively delegate. If you retain all decision-making in the plenary it invariably leads to a bottleneck—on the one hand there are too many plenaries and they last too long; on the other, committees are almost certainly underutilized (and probably demoralized by being expected to content themselves doing only scut work in service to the plenary).
In groups of 20 or more I strongly advocate that plenaries concentrate their attention on whole group concerns (such as interpreting common values as they apply to an issue, setting the annual budget, or defining member rights and responsibilities) and delegate to committees decision-making authority on all details that drop below the need for whole group deliberation. That said, stating theory is much easier than setting it up and having it go smoothly. There are challenges to getting delegation to work as elegantly as you can draw it up in a multicolored organizational diagram.
I was spurred to write about this issue (the underbelly of delegation) by a conversation I had recently at a community struggling with the question of what constituted fair notice of meetings at which decisions might be made that impacted everyone. The problem was that the group was committed to two core principles that weren't necessarily playing well together: a) transparency and the opportunity for people not on the committee to offer relevant input; and b) committees having a clear pathway to get their work done without being hamstrung by late input or complaints after the fact. What is the balance point between due process and efficiency?
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