What is Consensus decision making?
Consensus is a way of reaching agreement in a group that is creative and co-operative. It means working together to find solutions that everyone actively supports. This guide covers the values and principles of consensus, a common process for reaching consensus decisions, and tips for making it work. Also includes sections on core skills, using consensus in large groups and ideas for tackling common challenges.
Consensus decision making is a creative and dynamic way of reaching agreement in a group. Instead of simply voting for an item and having the majority getting their way, a consensus group is committed to finding solutions that everyone actively supports – or at least can live with.
By definition, in consensus no decision is made against the will of an individual or a minority. If significant concerns remain unresolved, a proposal can be blocked and prevented from going ahead. This means that the whole group has to work hard to find win-win solutions that address everyone’s needs.
Consensus is used widely by people around the world working towards a more just and equitable society: from small voluntary groups, co-operatives and campaign networks to businesses, local communities and, in some cultures, across much wider regions.
Why use consensus?
Consensus enables a group to share power – everyone who is fundamentally affected by a decision can work together to find solutions that meet everyone’s needs. It’s about working with each other rather than for or against each other.
It helps to build a stronger community. Consensus relies on us respecting other people’s needs and opinions, and being open and honest about our own needs. This in turn leads to better relationships in a group.
Making better decisions: Consensus is looking for ‘win-win’ solutions that are acceptable to all. That doesn’t mean everyone has to completely agree on their favourite solution all the time – but nor should anyone have to compromise too much. The idea is to weave together all the best ideas and address all the key concerns to find something that works for everyone – a process that often results in surprising and creative solutions, inspiring both the individual and the group as whole.
Getting things done: When everyone agrees with a decision they are much more likely to implement it. In the long run, people are also more likely to stay involved in a group that is committed to hearing their views and meeting their needs. This is particularly important in voluntary groups, where most people vote with their feet and leave if they don’t feel valued and respected.
Consensus protects minority needs and opinions. By definition, in consensus no decision is made against the will of an individual or a minority. If significant concerns remain unresolved, a proposal can be blocked and prevented from going ahead. This means that the whole group has to work hard at finding solutions that address everyone’s concerns rather than ignoring or overruling minority opinions.
The decision making process.
Each group uses a slightly different process to reach consensus – with different degrees of structure and formality. The key to making it work is for everyone to express their needs and viewpoints clearly, and for the group to use this information to find a solution which builds on the common ground and resolves differences.
The diagram below shows the ‘journey’ that groups usually go on in a good consensus process.
To begin with, the issue may seem simple, but the discussion soon opens out as people bring different perspectives, information and ideas to the table. The group then explores all the different options, wants and needs. This middle part of the discussion can feel quite messy – it can be hard to see the way forward when everyone is grappling with lots of ideas and different people’s needs. You may think you are coming to agreement and then a new factor comes up and you have to go back to exploring differences (as represented by the spikes in the diagram). Don’t lose heart! This exploration is necessary in order to get a good understanding of where everyone is coming from. This in turn enables the group to come together in finding a solution which genuinely has everyone’s support.
The process step by step.
This more detailed step by step guide can help a group go through the process of opening out the discussion and coming back together in a decision as efficiently as possible. The process isn’t always as linear as these models suggest – we may jump ahead and then go back and repeat some stages. But having these stages in mind can help you keep moving forward while staying focused on trying to meet everyone’s needs.
Start by introducing and clarifying the issue. This ensures that everyone has the relevant background information and the group is clear about the remit of the discussion and key questions to resolve.
It can be tempting to launch straight into problem solving. However, a key stage in consensus is opening out the discussion to allow everyone to share their feelings, needs and opinions, before trying to find a solution. Recognising all the different things that are going on for people first is essential for finding a solution which suits everyone. Resist the temptation to make proposals at this stage. If ideas come up you could hear them briefly and then park them for the next stage.
Once you’ve got a good understanding of what is important to people, you can collect and explore all the ideas for moving forward. Looking at the pros and cons of different ideas helps the group withreally understandingeveryone’s key needs and concerns.
The group then looks for common ground and weeds out some of the options, combining all the useful bits into a proposal.
Clarifying and amending the proposal helps to address any remaining concerns.
Test for agreement by clearly stating the final proposal and asking people to signal whether they agree or disagree. This stage is important to check if there are concerns that haven’t been heard. If you don’t have consensus go back to an appropriate earlier stage in the process.
Finally work out how to implement the decision. Making sure group decisions are acted on is essential for building trust in your meetings.
A consensus flowchart.
Agreeing and Disagreeing
There are many different reasons why someone might not agree with a proposal. For example you might have fundamental issues with it and want to stop it from going ahead, or you might not have time to implement the decision or the idea just doesn’t excite you.
Consensus decision-making recognises this – it’s not trying to achieve unanimity but looks for a solution that everyone involved is OK with. Not all types of disagreement stop a group from reaching consensus. Think about it as a spectrum from completely agreeing to completely objecting to a proposal.
The words used to describe the different types of agreement and disagreement vary from group to group. It’s important to be clear in your group what options you are using and what they mean. Here is a common set of options:
1. Agreement with the proposal. 2. Reservations. 3. Stand aside. 4. Block proposal.
Agreement with the proposal: ‘I support the proposal and am willing to help implement it.’
Reservations: You are willing to let the proposal go ahead but want to make the group aware you aren’t happy with it. You may even put energy into implementing it once your concerns have been acknowledged.
Stand aside: You want to object, but not block the proposal. This means you won’t help to implement the decision, but you are willing for the group to go ahead with it. You might stand aside because you disagree with the proposal, or you might like the decision but be unable to support it because you don’t have the time or energy.
The group may be happy to accept the stand aside and go ahead, or they may work on a new proposal. A critical question is whether the proposal requires everyone to implement it. For example, it might be fine for some people not to get involved in particular group activities. On the other hand, if the group agrees a health and safety policy, it is vital that everyone is willing to put it in practice.
Block: A block always stops a proposal from going ahead. It expresses a fundamental objection. It isn’t “I don’t really like it,” or “I liked the other idea better.” Some groups say the block means “I’ll need to leave the group if this goes ahead”. The group can either start work on a new proposal, or look for amendments to overcome the objection. In cases where the block stems from a fundamental disagreement with the aims of the group it might be more appropriate for the individual to leave.
In an ideal consensus process a block wouldn’t happen since any major concerns about a proposal should be addressed before the decision stage. However, sometimes people aren’t able to express their concerns clearly enough, or aren’t heard by the group. In such situations the block acts as a safeguard to ensure that decisions are supported by everyone.
Being able to block is an integral part of consensus, but it comes with a big responsibility. A block stops other people from doing something that they would like to do, and it should therefore only be used if serious concerns are unresolved.
Further examples from One Community
Consensus decision-making has been tested successfully with small groups and proven to be better than majority-rules at synthesizing various ideas, perspectives and concerns into superior decisions that everyone can support and come into cooperation with. This small-group consensus process can be done efficiently and scaled for the governance of large groups. Demonstrating effective consensus decision making with groups of 200+ people has the potential to change the way people look at collaborative thinking and consensus governance. We consider this an invaluable component of Highest Good society creation and this page outlines a structure for implementation and maintenance. The large-scale consensus governance structure presented here is adapted (with permission) from Jack Reed, the author of The Next Evolution. You can also visit our consensus decision making page for more small-group consensus specifics and the details of how One Community will phase in this model.
WHY CONSENSUS GOVERNANCE
Consensus decision making has been tested successfully and shown to produce higher quality decisions than majority-rules decisions. Consensus involves synthesizing various ideas, perspectives and concerns into superior decisions that everyone can support, whereas with majority rules voting there are always winners and losers. In addition, those who disagree with a majority-rules decision, in practice, often do not comply or cooperate with the position or practice as much as they would if their objections or perspective were incorporated into the solution.
A note as you read this page: It is important to be aware that the ability and consciousness necessary to effectively do consensus is so much more than just meeting skills and the consensus protocols and techniques. Consensus at its core is about creating safety in communication. It is about Loving and realizing our collective oneness. Consensus is about having a consciousness that looks beyond our own perspective and cares for The Highest Good of All. By creating an atmosphere of safety, we can explore and resolve those issues both within ourselves and with others. When consensus is difficult to reach, it often points to unresolved matters within the group and one’s own self, as opposed to the actual discussion topic. The consensus training One Community offers is focused on this and, to our knowledge, unique in this respect and its depth with learning the overall process through this focus.
This page contains the following sections:
- Why Consensus Governance
- The Essence of the Consensus Model
- The Large-Scale Consensus Governance Structure
Since members of One Community have a shared vision and values based on The Highest Good of All, there is a strong basis for consensus-style governance. For consensus governance to work, it is imperative that the Community be composed of people with a consciousness committed to The Highest Good of All, as opposed to the everyone-for-themselves mentality. The shift towards consciousness and commitment to The Highest Good of All is possible with the realization that there are enough resources to live abundantly. Additionally, consensus decision making places the power in the hands of individuals who embody enlightened self-interest. All contributions are respected and, in some form, incorporated into the final plan. The process of consensus is unfamiliar to most people and can feel like a process that parallels learning to walk for the first time. In the consensus governance model, everyone has a direct role in ongoing decision-making and therefore guiding the Community and how we live together.
Specifically exposing the myth that cooperation means compromising our own self-interests is part of One Community’s Highest Good society approach, global transformation methodology, and open source sharing goals. We have the ability to create abundance for all, to choose to lift everyone. In so doing, we can more sustainably and positively meet our own long-term emotional needs. This also means having other happy and successful people around us so we can all share and appreciate each other’s successes.
THE ESSENCE OF THE CONSENSUS MODEL
The Community Planet group developed a consensus model for a Community of up to 500 people. Community Planet’s Jack Reed and Dr. Connie Stomper created a unique consensus training based on their experiences with group and organizational decision making. Their training differs from virtually all other consensus trainings. The primary focus of these unique trainings is on how to reference and access the consciousness of the Highest Good for All. While still covering techniques and procedures, those are secondary to the consciousness — the awareness, attitudes and self-reflection — that it takes to truly do consensus and collectively reach One Accord. Thus, the trainings are a comprehensive journey in discovering how our own needs are balanced with that of community and when it’s important to stand for one’s own perspective and when to yield to another that can better serve the whole. What one learns can be incorporated into everyday life, when interacting with a group(s), another person, or even with one’s self.
Through their experience, they learned that 12 is the magic number for consensus meetings – more than that and they have seen the process become exponentially more difficult. Hence, 12 is a number that permeates our expanded model for large-group consensus decision making. This criteria allows the consensus process to be efficient and effective while supporting full participation.
Community Planet has also found that effective and efficient collaborative decision-making is supported by:
- A positive and safe atmosphere to communicate, participate, and voice concerns
- An enterprise aimed at achieving The Highest Good of All Concerned
- A focus on synthesizing various perspectives into a uniquely new outcome where everyone wins
- Keeping everyone involved in decision-making by respectfully listening to the truth within each other and responding with kindness, consideration, and loving honesty
- Encouraging the natural leadership of each person
- Keeping participation creative, spontaneous, and fun – a process by which a group oneness emerges from individual input
- Helping to keep individuals supported and assisted in reaching their personal goals
- Maintaining guidelines that are dynamic, flexible, and simple
Click the video below to listen to about half an hour, from Jack Reed (founder of the Community Planet Foundation) about ways to move the world forward and co-create positive change.
The Share-It Community is committed to giving everyone the freedom to be involved in the organising principles and the Aims and Values that we eventually adopt. However as we need to move forward the Share-It team have here given the foundation of the ideas we wish to adopt, and we very much hope that you will read some of this to avail yourself of the whats, wheres and the whens we bring to the table at this time. Community is built on trust and participation and we want you to be involved in these matters. with us. The Share-It team x