On withdrawing consent

I had a client ask me about withdrawing consent and whether that’s okay to do.

This is what I wrote to them. I thought I’d share it here as well.

Yeah, that’s a very tricky and sticky topic.

I think that every person who has consent rights should also be able to withdraw content. Otherwise it’s like sexual consent - just because someone said yes 1h ago doesn’t mean they still say yes now. Or subjects in studies - they can opt out at any given point in time, and that gets emphasized. So I hold that as a universal standard.

Now, why would anyone change their mind?

(1) They didn’t say the truth at first. For example, they didn’t object when they should have. In that case, I’d want them to speak up, even though it would be disheartening. But an objection is an objection and it’s still valuable, no matter when it comes up.

(2) They learned new information or noticed something new. In that case, we should be able to learn from their insight. I can’t think of any good reason to ignore new information if our policy now has objection-worthy bad side-effects.

So, yes, I think everyone who has consent rights should be able to withdraw consent. There’s always a chance their objection can be integrated even after the fact. For example, we can shorten the time frame further. Objections are considered a dealbreaker way too often. Ok, someone objected after the decision was made, but can we integrate their objection and move on maybe with a small modification?

BUT of course, in more severe cases, there’s impact from overturning a decision, social and organizational impact. The social impact is one thing, but the organizational impact can be huge. For example, if we have to pay a fee to get out of a contract, or tear a structure down that we built or just lost resources.

Yet, something to consider here: the circle member that withdraws consent is co-responsible which means they also (just like anyone else) has to live with the consequences of overturning the decision. The person who withdraws consent is co-responsible for the damage.

That’s why it’s super super SUPER essential that only those have consent rights on a decision who are “in” and have to live with the impact. For example, it would be heartbreaking if a circle does a project and starts and then someone from the outside of the circle stops them after they’ve begun. But that should not happen if it’s clear who has consent rights on what. So that’s more a question of whether the right people are in the circle, and whether domains are clear.