Consensus decision making 101

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This section is mainly based on the books On Conflict and Consensus and Consensus for Cities by CT Lawrence Butler. The use of “spirit of consensus” highlights the radical change in mentality associated with this decision-making process. One can instill the consensus mindset into the group culture whether or not one chooses to use this decision-making model.

Spirit of consensus [1] [2]

When we are in a consensual spirit, we seek to make a decision in the best interest of the group (of all its members).

Consensus:

  • Is a dynamic decision-making process
  • Affects people's attitude
  • Leads to better group dynamics
  • Leads to creative conflict resolution 
  • Creates more trust and respect within a group

Consensus requires the removal and unlearning of dynamics observed in several voting decision spaces such as:
  • Competitiveness
  • Defensiveness
  • Possessiveness
Aim

Not to choose between different options, but to develop a decision through a work of synthesis and evolution.

Priotities
When we want to use consensus in our decision-making...

1. We value cooperation. - "[Cooperation] consists in integrating the point of view of others with one's own in order to bring out a new perspective." 

2. Conflict is valued. - It is seen as an opportunity for resolution through creativity and cooperation.

3. Focus on the whole.

4. We separate the moments of identification of reservations/concerns as well as their resolution. - The proposals are only brought once we have been able to present all the concerns. New reservations/concerns may emerge when presenting new proposals.  

5. We refuse individual ownership of ideas - When an idea is said, it becomes the property of the group. This allows ideas to mingle, creating opportunities for the creative interaction of ideas

Why is consensus better then 'democratic voting' methods?
  • "The use of majority rule risks alienation and apathy within the group." 
  • Voting encourages competition and often without regard to minority concerns. The aim is to win as many votes as possible so that one idea becomes the decision of the group.
  • Ideas are defended and/or attacked. There is no focus on improving them or on people's reservations.

Key steps

1- Presentation

-Of a proposal OR Presentation of information on a given subject (in order to build a common proposal)

2- Sharing reservations/concerns 

-Active listening and participation of the group.

3- Resolution

-Collective resolution of concerns and issues at this stage.

-Listening actively to concerns/reservations? 

-Finishing with group decision making.


Troubleshooting consensus

Overuse of blocking

Or

"Tyranny of the Minority"

  • Formalize the use of blocking (specify in which contexts it can be used).

Example. Occupy Boston was voting on the validity of the blocking based on the criteria that a blocking is an extreme measure used in the event that a proposal endangers the group or its members. It was necessary that 75% of the members validate it so that we vote on the support to this one. If the blocking is validated, it is necessary that 10% of the assembly supports it so that it has the possibility of blocking the proposal. See item 11 on Occupy Boston's wiki.

  • Aim for “consensus minus one” or “consensus minus two”: one (or two) person(s) do not have the power to prevent a consensus.

If you have any suggested revisions or additional resources to share related to the above content, please email them to kenzie@lehub.ca.


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  1. C.T. Lawrence Butler, Amy Rothstein. On Conflict and Consensus: a handbook on Formal Consensus decision-making.
  2. C.T. Lawrence Butler. Consensus for Cities.