Policy Example: Consensus Decision Making


Consensus is different from most other kinds of decision making because it stresses group members working together to co-operatively develop a decision. Since the goal is group unity rather than winning a majority of votes, every member is considered important and the group tries to listen to and respond to each person's needs and opinions. Because of this process of incorporating all members' wisdom, consensus can create better decisions.

A consensus decision has 3 essential ingredients:
- it is made with the community's best interest in mind,
- everyone feels heard,
- everyone agrees not to hinder its implementation.

We believe that making a decision by Consensus allows us, as a group, to create a solution greater than any one member could reach alone. We recognize that the Consensus process requires commitment and patience, but we believe that the resulting decisions are better, more effective and, in the long term, more time efficient. A true Consensus decision reflects the concerns and creativity of all the members of the group, and the process of uniting these generates the solution that best responds to the needs of that group.

Reaching Consensus requires gathering and blending the ideas and concerns of individual members, and synthesizing these into a decision which everyone in the group can live with. Full consent does not mean that everyone must be completely satisfied with the final outcome. The decision must be acceptable enough, however, that everyone will commit to support the group in choosing it. The object is to create a process in which all person feel that their concerns are heard, and a solution that everyone agrees to support.

A Consensus decision relies on the assumption that every individual's contribution is valuable and important to the final solution. Sometimes it may be difficult to reach understanding, but respecting each and every contribution is key to the process.

Consensus strives to incorporate every voice, acknowledging both the validity and the importance of each contribution, and leaving no residual minority to feel the decision has been imposed on them. When decisions do not belong to one person, but are a creation of the whole group, not only are ego issues avoided, but decisions are more enthusiatically implemented. When everyone is in support of the action, both ownership and responsibility are shared.

Unity of Purpose
We are working together to make the best decisions possible for the good of the group. We are guided by our shared beliefs which are described in our Vision and Values statement.

We share information and resources and provide mutual support and suggestions. We are all working to find a solution that best meets everyone's needs. Our ability to reach agreement will depend on truth, creativity, logic, respect and love, and will not involve deception, coercion, lobbying or malice.

Consensus only works in conditions of trust. We trust that each person is honestly keeping the best interest of the group in mind and that every contribution will be offered and received with respect and patience.

Differences are Valued
In an atmosphere of trust, we appreciate that differences and disagreement are not damaging but are, in fact, important and creative processes. Conflict, when dealt with in the safety of the group, can lead to the greatest solutions.

Feelings are Valued
Knowledge doe not just exist at an intellectual level and we believe that emotion and intuition are powerful tools for understanding an issue. Emotions and gut reactions are valued for the breadth and depth of understanding they provide. If emotions are not addressed, the process suffers and good decisions cannot be made.

STEP ONE : Preparing a Proposal to be considered
A proposal may be in the form of an answer to a question that needs an answer; a solution to a problem that has bee identified or a creative new idea to be considered.
It may be brought to a meeting in one of two ways.
1. a Team or one or more members may bring forward a formal proposal, by giving one week's notice of the content of the proposal along with some background and other relevant information, such as cost and effect of implementing the proposal.
2 a question or idea for discussion may be presented at a meeting and if appropriate, a proposal may be generated at the meeting, to be considered for approval at a subsequent meeting.
STEP TWO: Once a proposal has been presented for consideration, the facilitator will ask for questions for clarification so that everyone has the same understanding of what is being proposed.
STEP THREE: The faclitator will ask if there are any concerns related to the proposal and will make a note of each concern if appropriate. Members will use yellow cards to indicate their desire for clarification. The presenter(s) of the proposal or other members will also use yellow cards to indicate that they wish to address the concerns being raised. The facilitator will determine whether the concerns have been satisfactorily dealt with. More discussion may then be appropriate, with members using green cards to indicate their intent to comment.
If any member feels that the process is not meeting the needs of the meeting, s/he may hold up a red card to stop the process and explain the perceived problem.
The facilitator may call for a vote whenever s/he discerns that the group seems ready to cast their vote. Members will indicate their preference in the following ways. Those who support the proposal will hold up a green card. Those who decide to stand aside will hold up a yellow card and those who do not support the proposal will hold up a red card. The faciliator will make a note of the yellow card holder's concerns or reasons for not supporting the proposal. The holder of the red card will give his or her reason(s) for not supporting the proposal. The reason must be given at the time of the vote. It must be a principled reason i.e. it must be judged to be detrimental to the good of the group, harmful to a member or members or not fitting with the principles and values of the ecovillage. If one other person agrees with the legitimacy of the reasons, then the proposal will not be approved. The holder of the red card must then agree to work with the presenters of the proposal to find a better way to solve the problem being addressed or answer the question being posed.

The Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers have been using the consensus decision making process for many years. They adhere to the following principles: