Within a community, a decision can be made in various different ways and for many different reasons.
Decisions can be made by:
- Edict - where a leader makes a decision. This is the preferred method of authoritarianism.
- Compromise - where competing parties negotiate a resolution they each hope will provide them with the most benefit while still being able to get buy-in from other parties. This is the preferred method of representative democracy.
- Synthesis - where competing parties seek a novel solution which satisfies all of the primary objectives of each party by deeply examining the root cause of their disagreement. This is the preferred mechanism of collaborative governance.
A community needs a pre-defined instrument to define the conditions under which a decision has been reached. The generic term for this is a charter, though it is variously known as:
- constitution - for governments
- articles of incorporation/association/organization, or operating agreement - for corporations and companies
- charter - for organizations in general
See the Wikipedia article on charters.
The charter for a community is in a sense its first and most fundamental decision. There is somewhat of a dilemma in adopting a community charter because there is no pre-defined decision rule to define when the charter has been adopted, other than unanimity or any previous charter.
A community needs to make many different kinds of decisions in order to function stably.
Laws of civil order
Most communities, especially governments, have rules against behavior which is deemed to damage the society or members of the society. The most common is a rule against murder, though there are countless others.
Sometimes communities pass laws which prohibit (or require) certain behavior because the majority or consensus of that society believes that that behavior is ethically bad (or good). This can be seen as a kind of law of civil order, because proponents believe that unethical behavior damages the fabric of the society.
Regulations declare that when certain conditions are met, people are required to act a certain way. Examples:
- When two automobiles approach an intersection, regulations determine how they should behave.
- When a business produces a product for general distribution, a regulation may require that the business make verifiable declarations about the product (such as a list of ingredients in a food product).
Community projects and services
When a community decides to take an action that affects several members of the community, there can be competing interests which need to be weighed.
For example, when building a new community structure such as a bridge, there are questions of:
- Should the community spend communal funds on the project
- Where should the bridge be placed
- If building the bridge negatively impacts one or more community members, how is their concern weighed against the value of the bridge.
As part of a community's functioning, there are bureaucratic tasks that need to be tended to, such as managing funds, hiring and paying staff and vendors, and other "day-to-day" decisions.
Responses to events
A community needs to react to external events, and this usually requires making a decision. These events include such things as natural disasters or threats of violence from external people.
When laws or policies are made, they are usually enforced through some threat of violence.
In the case of governments, these usually entail fines, imprisonment, banishment, or death.
In the case of other communities, these often entail expulsion from the community or sanctions (fines, limitation of privileges, etc.).
(Note that while banishment/exclusion is conventionally a form of violence, it can have a seemingly less violent connotation in the case of online communities excluding a member. That action is not necessary an act of violence if the outcome is simply the redefinition of community structure. An example would be in an free and open source software project, when one group forks into a new project. There is community division, but no actual harm.)