Consensus decision-making is a group decision making process that seeks the consent of all participants. Consensus may be defined professionally as an acceptable resolution, one that can be supported, even if not the “favourite” of each individual. Consensus is defined by Merriam-Webster as, first, general agreement, and second, group solidarity of belief or sentiment. It has its origin in the Latin word consensus (agreement), which is from consentio meaning literally feel together. [1] It is used to describe both the decision and the process of reaching a decision.

Consensus decision-making is thus concerned with the process of deliberating and finalizing a decision, and the social and political effects of using this process. Consensus decision making is an alternative to commonly practiced adversarial decision making processes. [5] Robert’s Rules of Order, for instance, is a process used by many organizations. The goal of Robert’s Rules is to structure the debate and passage of proposals that win approval through majority vote. This process does not emphasize the goal of full agreement.

Critics of Robert’s Rules believe that the process can involve adversarial debate and the formation of competing factions. These dynamics may harm group member relationships and undermine the ability of a group to cooperatively implement a contentious decision. Consensus decision making is also an alternative to “top-down” decision making, commonly practiced in hierarchical groups. Top-down decision making occurs when leaders of a group make decisions in a way that does not include the participation of all interested stakeholders.

The leaders may (or may not) gather input, but they do not open the deliberation process to the whole group. Proposals are not collaboratively developed, and full agreement is not a primary objective. Critics of top-down decision making believe the process fosters incidence of either complacency or rebellion among disempowered group members. Additionally, the resulting decisions may overlook important concerns of those directly affected. Poor group relationship dynamics and decision implementation problems may result. Consensus decision making attempts to address the problems of both Robert’s Rules of Order and top-down models.

Proponents claim that outcomes of the consensus process include:[3] * Better Decisions: Through including the input of all stakeholders the resulting proposals may better address all potential concerns. * Better Implementation: A process that includes and respects all parties, and generates as much agreement as possible sets the stage for greater cooperation in implementing the resulting decisions. Better Group Relationships: A cooperative, collaborative group atmosphere can foster greaConsensus Process There are multiple stepwise models of how to make decisions by consensus.

They vary in the amount of detail the steps describe. They also vary depending on how decisions are finalized. The basic model involves * collaboratively generating a proposal, * identifying unsatisfied concerns, and then * modifying the proposal to generate as much agreement as possible. After a concerted attempt at generating full agreement, the group can then apply its final decision rule to determine if the existing level of agreement is sufficient to finalize a decision. [edit] Specific models [edit] Consensus decision-making with consensus blocking

Flowchart of basic consensus decision-making process. Groups that require unanimity commonly use a core set of procedures depicted in this flow chart. [23][24][25] Once an agenda for discussion has been set and, optionally, the ground rules for the meeting have been agreed upon, each item of the agenda is addressed in turn. Typically, each decision arising from an agenda item follows through a simple structure: * Discussion of the item: The item is discussed with the goal of identifying opinions and information on the topic at hand.

The general direction of the group and potential proposals for action are often identified during the discussion. * Formation of a proposal: Based on the discussion a formal decision proposal on the issue is presented to the group. * Call for consensus: The facilitator of the decision-making body calls for consensus on the proposal. Each member of the group usually must actively state their agreement with the proposal, often by using a hand gesture or raising a colored card, to avoid the group interpreting silence or inaction as agreement.

The number of blocks is counted to determine if this step’s consent threshold is satisfied. If it is, dissenters will be asked to collaborate on a minority position or statement so that any unique or shared concerns with proceeding with the agreement, or any harms, can be addressed/minimized. This can happen even if the consent threshold is unanimity, especially if many voters stand aside. * Identification and addressing of concerns: If consensus is not achieved, each dissenter presents his or her concerns on the proposal, potentially starting another round of discussion to address or clarify the concern. Modification of the proposal: The proposal is amended, re-phrased or ridered in an attempt to address the concerns of the decision-makers. The process then returns to the call for consensus and the cycle is repeated until a satisfactory decision passes the consent threshold for the group. [edit] Quaker model Quaker-based consensus[26] is effective because it puts in place a simple, time-tested structure that moves a group towards unity. The Quaker model has been employed in a variety of secular settings.

The process allows for individual voices to be heard while providing a mechanism for dealing with disagreements. [27][28] The following aspects of the Quaker model can be effectively applied in any consensus decision-making process, and is an adaptation prepared by Earlham College: * Multiple concerns and information are shared until the sense of the group is clear. * Discussion involves active listening and sharing information. * Norms limit number of times one asks to speak to ensure that each speaker is fully heard. * Ideas and solutions belong to the group; no names are recorded. Differences are resolved by discussion. The facilitator (“clerk” or “convenor” in the Quaker model) identifies areas of agreement and names disagreements to push discussion deeper. * The facilitator articulates the sense of the discussion, asks if there are other concerns, and proposes a “minute” of the decision. * The group as a whole is responsible for the decision and the decision belongs to the group. * The facilitator can discern if one who is not uniting with the decision is acting without concern for the group or in selfish interest. * Dissenters’ perspectives are embraced. [26]

Key components of Quaker-based consensus include a belief in a common humanity and the ability to decide together. The goal is “unity, not unanimity. ” Ensuring that group members speak only once until others are heard encourages a diversity of thought. The facilitator is understood as serving the group rather than acting as person-in-charge. [29] In the Quaker model, as with other consensus decision-making processes, by articulating the emerging consensus, members can be clear on the decision, and, as their views have been taken into account, will be likely to support it. [30] [edit] CODM Model

The Consensus-Oriented Decision-Making[31] model offers a detailed step-wise description of consensus process. It can be used with any type of decision rule. It outlines the process of how proposals can be collaboratively built with full participation of all stakeholders. This model allows groups to be flexible enough to make decisions when they need to, while still following a format that is based on the primary values of consensus decision making. The CODM steps include: 1. Framing the topic 2. Open Discussion 3. Identifying Underlying Concerns 4. Collaborative Proposal Building . Choosing a Direction 6. Synthesizing a Final Proposal 7. Closure [edit] Overlaps with deliberative methods Consensus decision-making models overlap significantly with deliberative methods, which are processes for structuring discussion that may or may not be a lead-in to a decision. [edit] Roles The consensus decision-making process often has several roles which are designed to make the process run more effectively. Although the name and nature of these roles varies from group to group, the most common are the facilitator, a timekeeper, an empath and a secretary or notes taker.

Not all decision-making bodies use all of these roles, although the facilitator position is almost always filled, and some groups use supplementary roles, such as a Devil’s advocate or greeter. Some decision-making bodies opt to rotate these roles through the group members in order to build the experience and skills of the participants, and prevent any perceived concentration of power. [23] The common roles in a consensus meeting are: * Facilitator: As the name implies, the role of the facilitator is to help make the process of reaching a consensus decision easier.

Facilitators accept responsibility for moving through the agenda on time; ensuring the group adheres to the mutually agreed-upon mechanics of the consensus process; and, if necessary, suggesting alternate or additional discussion or decision-making techniques, such as go-arounds, break-out groups or role-playing. [32][33] Some consensus groups use two co-facilitators. Shared facilitation is often adopted to diffuse the perceived power of the facilitator and create a system whereby a co-facilitator can pass off facilitation duties if he or she becomes more personally engaged in a debate. 34] * Timekeeper: The purpose of the timekeeper is to ensure the decision-making body keeps to the schedule set in the agenda. Effective timekeepers use a variety of techniques to ensure the meeting runs on time including: giving frequent time updates, ample warning of short time, and keeping individual speakers from taking an excessive amount of time. [23] * Empath or ‘Vibe Watch’: The empath, or ‘vibe watch’ as the position is sometimes called, is charged with monitoring the ’emotional climate’ of the meeting, taking note of the body language and other non-verbal cues of the participants.

Defusing potential emotional conflicts, maintaining a climate free of intimidation and being aware of potentially destructive power dynamics, such as sexism or racism within the decision-making body, are the primary responsibilities of the empath. [32] * Note taker: The role of the notes taker or secretary is to document the decisions, discussion and action points of the decision-making body. * ter group cohesion and interpersonal connection.