Modified consensus decision making (suggestions for large and small groups)
The following resource describes a consensus-type decision-making model that centres active listening and teamwork. It can been applied in the context of large and complex issues and decisions to be resolved or decided on.
Where does this model come from?
The creation of this model was inspired by positive decision-making experiences within Extinction Rebellion as well as the struggles of Fairy Creek, the Local Services Committee of Southwestern Quebec, the formal consensus model developed by CT Lawrence Butler and Amy Rothstein and the community of student associations in Quebec, and Pt'chang.
When to use this model?
If you are more than 15 people or a small group made up of people who do not know each other or very little. For large groups, you might apply this model with assigned delegates.
What to prepare in advance?
Before a meeting during which you would like to use this model, determine 2 people responsible for coordination. Their main task will be to find a facilitator (person not participating in the discussions, responsible for stating common intentions), prepare an agenda and share it with the large group for additions.
How to do modified consensus decision making
Presentation of a prepared agenda
The agenda should include:
- the roles to be fulfilled for the meeting (facilitation, responsible for time, responsible for speaking turns, taking notes, taking notes of tasks)
- the time given to each point
- a point used to organize the next meeting / establish its date
1. Opening (15 minutes)
a) Roundtable (names, pronouns)
b) Roles for meeting:
|2. Body of meeting|
a) Review of decision making process
|4. Date of the next meeting|
|5. Summary of tasks
a) Next meeting coordination team assignments
b) Role rotations for next meeting
Roles during the meeting
A person who does not participate in the debates leading to decision-making in order to present common intentions for which the consensus will be tested. Must be someone who is trusted by those present to be an active listener who can be unbiased (sometimes an outside person is best suited to fill this role). Drafts and presents the common intentions following discussions following a question for which a decision is necessary. Will forward the agenda to the group. Can intervene without the need for speaking turns.
Time manager or time checker
Respects the duration of each discussion point (if a duration is planned for each point), the duration of the speaking turns as well as the plenary sessions.
Before starting a plenary (broad discussion), it is recommended to establish a duration. This can be changed along the way.
Responsible for speaking turns
Note the speaking turns of those present and invite people to express themselves.
Responsible for taking notes
Note the outline of what is said and what is adopted by consensus.
|Responsible for action item note taking|
Write down the tasks that need to be taken on so that the proposals can be carried out. Tasks can be taken after the proposal or at the end of the meeting.
Keep the space accessible for people.
See the page How can we incorporate space watchers and holders into our groups without veering into policing?
Forming a proposal
The team will discuss, the facilitator will formulate a proposal.
Before tackling a big question, it may be helpful for the coordination team to prepare a guided discussion plan to facilitate the discussion. Start with a moment of introspection followed by a large group discussion of a predetermined duration. Planning discussion points/topics/questions helps the group. Everyone is encouraged to actively listen. The facilitator will be responsible for formulating a proposal at the end of the discussion. This proposal will be the starting point for the decision by modified consensus mode.
We are no longer 'for' or 'against' something. We are looking for a solution TOGETHER. It's not a debate, a discussion or a round table: we speak only in order to help build the solution. Approval manifests itself in silence. Disagreement is manifested by the presentation of new ideas.
Steps to modified consensus decision-making
1. Agree how you'll test consensus
- 1/3 vote yellow or red
- 1/4 vote red
- 2 persons vote black
If you are meeting on zoom or don't have access to coloured cards, you can assign a number to each colour (ex: 1 for green, 2 for yellow, 3 for red, 4 for black).
2. Initial Proposal
The person who brought the point to be decided will explain the issue. It is possible that it is the facilitator who makes a proposal based on what emerges from a discussion. Finish the speaking turns before starting the discussion on the proposal. To facilitate the task: prepare in advance a list of decisions that will have to be made during the meeting.
People write down their questions and concerns (moment of introspection).
Sharing concerns first. Then, suggestions and reformulations to respond to the concerns mentioned. We undo the “knots” of the discussion collectively.
5. Reformulated Proposal
The facilitator reformulates the ideas to bring out a common intention for the group - which takes into account the concerns.
6. Consensus test
The consensus is tested according to the chosen scales. If the consensus test is positive, the proposal is adopted and the meeting continues. Decisions made may be revisited as needed.
Depending on the size of the group and the time available, the person facilitating can choose whether or not to hear the people who voted red and yellow. However, reservations and disagreements should be conveyed to the group in order to understand the issues surrounding the situation. We can invite people to enter them directly in the minutes or send them to the people responsible for taking notes.
7. In case of non-passage of the test, team rework and second reformulation
If the test fails, we listen to the reservations as well as the disagreements and the facilitator reformulates an appropriate common intention. In a group in which there are a large number of reds and yellows, it may be useful for the facilitator to ask the group a question such as “Who having voted yellow or red can we easily accommodate? ". This way, she can make changes that have a good chance of leading to the adoption of the proposal.
8. Consensus test on the new reformulation
We retest the consensus with a new proposal. Even if a consensus is reached, it is better to listen to the reservations and try to integrate them into the shared intention.
If consensus is not reached we can...
- Make a temporary decision
- Continue to next meeting
- Create a working group
Consensus cheat sheet
If you have any suggested revisions or additional resources to share related to the above content, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.