Consensus

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You'll hear a lot about consensus at Free Geek, because it's the method of non-hierarchical decision-making that we use for all of our group decisions. Consensus is not merely a unanimous vote, but a process for finding a solution that is best for the group. There are many techniques for attaining consensus; it can be very informal or fairly formal. Watch one of our meetings some time and see it in action.

Here's a Lesson Plan for Teaching the Consensus Process. And here are some Topics for Mini-lessons on Consensus Process.

Consensus terms

block
to state that you feel the proposed actions are against the interests of the group and should in no case be taken
consent
to state that you agree substantially with the proposed actions. Consent often means that you will participate in the implementation of the decision.
facilitator
the person who keeps the meeting flowing and tries to guide the group toward consensus
minutes
the document that records who attended the meeting and what decisions were made
presenter
the person who gives the group background information about a topic in preparation for group discussion
regulator
the regulator's job is to help the facilitator, and keep a speaker's list of people waiting to talk.
scribe/scribulator
the person who takes minutes - this is Free Geek usage
queue
the list of people waiting to speak next
stand aside
to state that although you have misgivings about the proposal, they are personal, and you will not interfere if the group moves forward. Standing aside usually implies that you will not participate in implementation.

Participating in consensus

If you're attending a meeting, it is a Very Good Idea to have informed yourself about the topics to be discussed, so as not to waste the time of the group in getting background you could already know. Listen closely to the conversation as it goes on. If there's a lot of discussion and you'd like to speak, get the attention of the facilitator so she can call on you or put you on the stack.

When there's a proposal being presented, it's appropriate to ask clarifying questions about the situation and the proposal, to be sure you understand them before making comment on it. Concerns may then be voiced, and the proposal refined or further explained to address those concerns.

When the facilitator believes there's agreement in the room, she may ask for consensus. Generally, you will hear her ask for any further concerns with or questions about the proposal; if there are none, the scribulator will read the proposal as it stands. The facilitator will ask if there are any stand asides; if none, she'll ask for blocks. If none, the group has consented to the decision.

If people make commitments in the course of discussion or as part of a proposal, the scribe will make a note of them. Keep your eye out for your name in the Commitments section of the minutes when they come out.

Links

  • On Conflict and Consensus is a well-recognized handbook on the formal consensus process. It even has flowcharts!
  • Beyond Adversary Democracy by Jane Mansbridge (1983, 412 pages) is an excellent case study of a town in Vermont with a consensus-based town government (aka "Unitary Democracy.") It compares and contrasts with our federal representative democratic system (aka "Adversarial Democracy.") Highly recommended by Pete.