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ConsensusDecisionMaking is a group-work technology that maintains the consent of all group members in the course of action. It is a [soft technology] for groups of people who value their unity above self interest.

ConsensusDecisionMaking enables a group to develop outcomes with the willing informed consent of all participants. This results in strong agreement within the community, but not necessarily unanimity. In some cases, members may offer to stand aside and partly withdraw from activity, or they may AgreeToDisagree, so long as their disagreement is recorded and acknowledged by the rest of the group (These are accepted ways of maintaining consensus).

When we consense towards decisions, we also change the nature of our community. ConsensusDecisionMaking tends to:

If communities are not self aware, then ConsensusDecisionMaking can also make the community:

So ConsensusDecisionMaking can only work properly if the community members understand the purpose and problems of consensus and know how to participate in its technology. In ConsensusDecisionMaking, any single person can block the rest of the group, so they have a responsibility to only do so when they strongly believe a decision is seriously mistaken. Participants must consider the broad interests of the community, and have a genuine desire to remain unified.

Social pressure

When using ConsensusDecisionMaking, the only way to make prompt decisions and take expedient action is to strive to reach consent. In this pursuit, a natural social pressure is exerted on everyone to move promptly to a decision. This pressure counteracts each individual's desires for attention on their pet interests (and unconscious self-interests).

The single greatest source of problems is the habit and custom of pressurising people towards unanimity. When using ConsensusDecisionMaking, it is vital to recognise people's valid objections, and enable people to express their objections on record. If complaints are brushed aside or merely jotted down in garbled notes, then

Consensus vs. voting

ConsensusDecisionMaking is potentially more oppressive than a good voting system.

Politeness and offence

To use ConsensusDecisionMaking it is vital to be self-consciously inclusive. For this reason, timid mild-mannered people are often treated with kid-gloves, and allowed to dominate meetings by speaking at length, consuming the time of the group. Meanwhile, people who are direct and snappy in their expressions are often forced to wait through rambling tedious monologues, preventing dynamic discussion. This is a particularly big problem when people have a criticism to express, and negative emotion is suppressed by the PressureForUnanimity?.

To counteract this problem, it is important to find ways to actively balance consensus with dissensus, and support people who try to express fair and valuable arguments in negative ways, nurturing constructive criticism with positive energy. Otherwise some people, who are clever and restrained, can dominate an excessively polite group and be manipulative to their own advantage, by feigning offence at the slightest challenge. When combined with the PressureForUnanimity?, they can cultivate a climate that manufactures consent in favour of the status quo, and this must result in the most terrible frustration for the oppressed individuals who are now told how inclusive the democratic process is.

"Is it really possible for all of us to be so restrained? Must those of us with more energetic temperaments be deprived of opportunities to influence decision-making through lively debate?"

The power of facilitators

ThePowerOfQuestions? is extremely strong in consensus meetings, where there is a continuous and necessary pressure to reach decisions. In an unbalanced meeting, the facilitator who phrases the questions positively, or negatively, and gauges the emotion of the group has great influence over the outcome.

We can protect people and our groups by obliging every member to take on the role of facilitator from time-to-time, and co-facilitating to gain skills together.

Deciding to vote

One special feature of ConsensusDecisionMaking is that it allows a social revolution to occur without harming anybody, and this is how it happens: we can decide by consensus to stop using ConsensusDecisionMaking.

In contrast we cannot decide to adopt ConsensusDecisionMaking by vote, or by unilateral authority. Even a BenignDictator? cannot create a consensus process, because it must be opted-into autonomously by every individual.

There is no power of veto

In ConsensusDecisionMaking, people are able to block the process for as long as they communicate their concerns and continue in dialogue, while respecting the broad interests of the group, so they cannot arbitrarily veto decisions to serve their own interests or needs for attention.



SunirShah -- Fri Oct 2 18:40:18 2009

Digest summary from anon.

Added lots of negativity/dissensus -- Would this page be more appropriate on CommunityWiki or is it happy here?

No, it's great. It's totally on topic here.

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