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Consensus decision-making or consensus politics (often abbreviated to ''consensus'') is
group decision-makingGroup decision-making (also known as collaborative decision-making or collective decision-making) is a situation faced when individuals An individual is that which exists as a distinct entity. Individuality (or self-hood) is the state or quality of ...
processes in which participants develop and decide on proposals with the aim, or requirement, of acceptance by all. The focus on establishing agreement of the
supermajority A supermajority, supra-majority, qualified majority, or special majority is a requirement for a proposal to gain a specified level of support which is greater than the threshold of more than one-half used for a majority A majority, also calle ...
and avoiding unproductive opinion, differentiates consensus from
unanimity Unanimity is agreement by all people in a given situation. Groups may consider unanimous decisions as a sign of e.g. social, political Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with Decision-making, making decisions in ...
, which requires all participants to support a decision.


Consensus

The word ''consensus'' comes from
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became the dominant la ...

Latin
meaning "agreement, accord", which in turn comes from ''consentire'', meaning "feel together". Its meaning and usage relate to both a generally accepted opinion, and the conclusion of a decision based on collective agreement. Both the process ''and'' outcome of consensus decision-making are referred to as ''consensus'' (e.g. "''by'' consensus" and "''a'' consensus" respectively).


Objectives

Characteristics of consensus decision-making include: *''
Collaboration Collaboration is the process of two or more people, entities or organizations working together to complete a task or achieve a goal. Collaboration is similar to cooperation. Most collaboration requires leadership Leadership is both a researc ...

Collaboration
'': Participants contribute to a shared proposal and shape it into a decision that meets the concerns of all group members as much as possible. *''
Cooperation Cooperation (written as co-operation in British English British English (BrE) is the standard dialect of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon E ...

Cooperation
'': Participants in an effective consensus process should strive to reach the best possible decision for the group and all of its members, rather than competing for personal preferences. *''
Egalitarianism Egalitarianism (), or equalitarianism, is a school of thought A school of thought, or intellectual tradition, is the perspective of a group of people who share common characteristics of opinion or outlook of a philosophy Philosophy ...
'': All members of a consensus decision-making body should be afforded, as much as possible, equal input into the process. All members have the opportunity to present and amend proposals. *''
Inclusion Inclusion or Include may refer to: Sociology * Social inclusion, affirmative action to change the circumstances and habits that leads to social exclusion ** Inclusion (disability rights), including people with and without disabilities, people of ...
'': As many
stakeholders Stakeholder may refer to: *Stakeholder (corporate), a group, corporate, organization, member, or system that affects or can be affected by an organization's actions *Project stakeholder, a person, group, or organization with an interest in a projec ...
as possible should be involved in the consensus decision-making process. *''
Participation Participation or Participant may refer to: Politics *Participation (decision making), mechanisms for people to participate in social decisions *Civic participation, engagement by the citizens in government *e-participation, citizen participation ...
'': The consensus process should actively solicit the input and
participation Participation or Participant may refer to: Politics *Participation (decision making), mechanisms for people to participate in social decisions *Civic participation, engagement by the citizens in government *e-participation, citizen participation ...
of all decision-makers.


Alternative to common decision-making practices

Consensus decision-making is an alternative to commonly practiced
group decision-makingGroup decision-making (also known as collaborative decision-making or collective decision-making) is a situation faced when individuals An individual is that which exists as a distinct entity. Individuality (or self-hood) is the state or quality of ...
processes. ''
Robert's Rules of Order ''Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised'', commonly referred to as ''Robert's Rules of Order'', RONR, or simply ''Robert's Rules'', is a political book written by Henry Martyn Robert. It is the most widely used manual of parliamentary procedure i ...
'', for instance, is a guide book used by many organizations. This book allows the structuring of debate and passage of proposals that can be approved through
majority A majority, also called a simple majority to distinguish it from similar terms (see the "Related terms" section below), is the greater part, or more than half, of the total.See dictionary definitions of "majority" aMerriam-Webster
vote. It does not emphasize the goal of full agreement. Critics of such a process believe that it can involve adversarial debate and the formation of competing factions. These dynamics may harm group member relationships and undermine the ability of a group to cooperatively implement a contentious decision. Consensus decision-making attempts to address the beliefs of such problems. Proponents claim that outcomes of the consensus process include: *Better decisions: Through including the input of all stakeholders the resulting proposals may better address all potential concerns. *Better implementation: A process that includes and respects all parties, and generates as much agreement as possible sets the stage for greater cooperation in implementing the resulting decisions. *Better group relationships: A cooperative, collaborative group atmosphere can foster greater group cohesion and interpersonal connection.


Decision rules

Consensus is not synonymous with "unanimity"– though that may be a rule agreed to in a decision making process. The level of agreement necessary to finalize a decision is known as a "decision rule". In very rapid decision making, simple
consensus (computer science)A fundamental problem in distributed computing Distributed computing is a field of computer science Computer science deals with the theoretical foundations of information, algorithms and the architectures of its computation as well as practi ...
rules are often imposed, such as: *"unanimity minus one" = consensus achieved if there is only one dissenting algorithm/user *"unanimity minus two" = the majority view proceeds over the objections of two dissenters *"unanimity minus three" = the majority may override a minority of three dissenters to make a decision Generally such rules assume a certain number of participants and thus would satisfy consensus thresholds stated in percentage terms. That is, if a majority of nine may override three in a group of twelve, that is a 75% consensus threshold but it is also a "unanimity minus three" threshold, and may be stated either or both ways, as in "75% or unanimity minus three whichever is harder to achieve", in a group's constitution. Such a statement allows for minorities to be more robustly represented in abstention or absence scenarios.


Necessity of recording dissent

Even in rapid decision making contexts, minorities (the "minus") have the right to have
dissenting opinion A dissenting opinion (or dissent) is an Legal opinion, opinion in a legal case in certain legal systems written by one or more judges expressing disagreement with the majority opinion of the court which gives rise to its judgment. When not necessari ...
or negative outcome predictions recorded. If there is any single simple rule that defines what is not consensus decision-making, it is censoring the dissenting opinion. Regardless of how decisions are made, dissents are always recorded in all consensus decision making systems, if only so that accuracy of predictions can be examined later so the group can learn. This principle can be applied in any system, but it is fundamental to all consensus. More controversially, systems that require unanimity are prone to hiding or intimidating, rather than recording, dissent (for example,
groupthink Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a social group, group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Cohesiveness, or the desire for ...

groupthink
). Many authors consider unanimity to be a sign of an inherently wrong decision. The
Sanhedrin The Sanhedrin (Hebrew Hebrew (, , or ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is regarded as the language of the Israelites, Judeans and th ...

Sanhedrin
courts of ancient Israel were of this view, and biblical scholars note that the trial of Jesus was inherently unfair for being a unanimous guilty verdict.


Why rules aren't enough

In groups of human participants, there are psychological implications to dissent, and not all participants are equal. For example, participants may: *be unequally affected by the decision, especially, disadvantaged *be called upon to make unusual sacrifices or take unusual tasks on to implement the decision *represent opinions or affected parties not actually present in the decision making process *have more knowledge than the other participants, or so much less that they add noise to decisions For these reasons, most consensus decision-making emphasizes finding out why dissent occurs. In democratic contexts,
political theory Political philosophy is the philosophical study of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a State (polity), state. In the case of its broad associative definition, gove ...
debates how to deal with dissent and consensus where violent opposition is possible (or even likely). Weale (1999) states the problem as: Rules and processes simply are never enough to resolve these questions, and a robust debate for millennia on
political virtues Sir Bernard Rowland Crick (16 December 1929 – 19 December 2008) was a British political theorist and democratic socialist whose views can be summarised as "politics is ethics done in public". He sought to arrive at a "politics of action", as ...
has focused on what human characteristics participants must cultivate to achieve harmony under diversity.


Blocking and other forms of dissent

To ensure the agreement or consent of all participants is valued, many groups choose unanimity or near-unanimity as their decision rule. Groups that require unanimity allow individual participants the option of blocking a group decision. This provision motivates a group to make sure that all group members consent to any new proposal before it is adopted. Proper guidelines for the use of this option, however, are important. The ethics of consensus decision-making encourage participants to place the good of the whole group above their own individual preferences. When there is potential for a block to a group decision, both the group and dissenters in the group are encouraged to collaborate until agreement can be reached. Simply
vetoing A veto (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Repu ...
a decision is not considered a responsible use of consensus blocking. Some common guidelines for the use of consensus blocking include: *Providing an option for those who do not support a proposal to "stand aside" rather than block. *Requiring a block from two or more people to put a proposal aside. *Requiring the blocking party to supply an alternative proposal or a process for generating one. *Limiting each person's option to block consensus to a handful of times in one's life. *Limiting the option of blocking to decisions that are substantial to the mission or operation of the group and not allowing blocking on routine decisions. *Limiting the allowable rationale for blocking to issues that are fundamental to the group's mission or potentially disastrous to the group.


Dissent options

A participant who does not support a proposal may have alternatives to simply blocking it. Some common options may include the ability to: *''Declare reservations'': Group members who are willing to let a motion pass but desire to register their concerns with the group may choose "declare reservations." If there are significant reservations about a motion, the decision-making body may choose to modify or re-word the proposal. *''Stand aside'': A "stand aside" may be registered by a group member who has a "serious personal disagreement" with a proposal, but is willing to let the motion pass. Although stand asides do not halt a motion, it is often regarded as a strong "nay vote" and the concerns of group members standing aside are usually addressed by modifications to the proposal. Stand asides may also be registered by users who feel they are incapable of adequately understanding or participating in the proposal. *''Object'': Any group member may "object" to a proposal. In groups with a unanimity decision rule, a single block is sufficient to stop a proposal. Other decision rules may require more than one objection for a proposal to be blocked or not pass (see previous section, ).


Process models

The basic model for achieving consensus as defined by any decision rule involves: *Collaboratively generating a proposal *Identifying unsatisfied concerns *Modifying the proposal to generate as much agreement as possible All attempts at achieving consensus begin with a good faith attempt at generating full-agreement, regardless of decision rule threshold.


Specific models

In the model,
affinity groupsAffinity Group may refer to: * Affinity group, a small group of political activists * Affinity Group Inc., a provider of products and services to the recreational vehicle (RV) market {{Disambig ...
make joint decisions by each designating a speaker and sitting behind that circle of spokespeople, akin to the
spoke A spoke is one of some number of rods radiating from the center of a wheel File:Roue primitive.png, An early wheel made of a solid piece of wood In its primitive form, a wheel is a circular block of a hard and durable material at whose cen ...
s of a wheel. While speaking rights might be limited to each group's designee, the meeting may allot breakout time for the constituent groups to discuss an issue and return to the circle via their spokesperson. In the case of an activist spokescouncil preparing for the A16 Washington D.C. protests in 2000, affinity groups disputed their spokescouncil's imposition of nonviolence in their action guidelines. They received the reprieve of letting groups self-organize their protests, and as the city's protest was subsequently divided into pie slices, each blockaded by an affinity group's choice of protest. Many of the participants learned about the spokescouncil model on the fly by participating in it directly, and came to better understand their planned action by hearing others' concerns and voicing their own.


Consensus voting

The group first elects, say, three referees or consensors. The debate on the chosen problem is initiated by the facilitator calling for proposals. Every proposed option is accepted if the referees decide it is relevant and conforms with the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is an international document adopted by the United Nations General Assembly The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA or GA; french: link=no, Assemblée générale, AG) is one of the six p ...
. The referees produce and display a list of these options. The debate proceeds, with queries, comments, criticisms and/or even new options. If the debate fails to come to a verbal consensus, the referees draw up a final list of options - usually between 4 and 6 - to represent the debate. When all agree, the chair calls for a preferential vote, as per the rules for a
Modified Borda Count Modified may refer to: *Modified (album), ''Modified'' (album), the second full-length album by Save Ferris *Modified racing, or "Modifieds", an American automobile racing genre See also

* Modification (disambiguation) * Modifier (disambiguatio ...
, MBC. The referees decide which option, or which composite of the two leading options, is the outcome. If its level of support surpasses a minimum consensus coefficient, it may be adopted.


Blocking

Groups that require unanimity commonly use a core set of procedures depicted in this flow chart. Once an agenda for discussion has been set and, optionally, the ground rules for the meeting have been agreed upon, each item of the agenda is addressed in turn. Typically, each decision arising from an agenda item follows through a simple structure: *''Discussion of the item'': The item is discussed with the goal of identifying opinions and information on the topic at hand. The general direction of the group and potential proposals for action are often identified during the discussion. *''Formation of a proposal'': Based on the discussion a formal decision proposal on the issue is presented to the group. *''Call for consensus'': The facilitator of the decision-making body calls for consensus on the proposal. Each member of the group usually must actively state whether they agree or consent, stand aside, or object, often by using a hand gesture or raising a colored card, to avoid the group interpreting silence or inaction as agreement. The number of objections is counted to determine if this step's consent threshold is satisfied. If it is, dissenters are asked to share their concerns with proceeding with the agreement, so that any potential harms can be addressed/minimized. This can happen even if the consent threshold is unanimity, especially if many voters stand aside. *''Identification and addressing of concerns'': If consensus is not achieved, each dissenter presents his or her concerns on the proposal, potentially starting another round of discussion to address or clarify the concern. *''Modification of the proposal'': The proposal is amended, re-phrased or ridered in an attempt to address the concerns of the decision-makers. The process then returns to the call for consensus and the cycle is repeated until a satisfactory decision passes the consent threshold for the group.


Quaker-based model

Quaker Quakers are people who belong to a historically Protestant Christian Protestantism is a form of Christianity that originated with the 16th-century Reformation, a movement against what its followers perceived to be Criticism of the Catholi ...

Quaker
-based consensus is said to be effective because it puts in place a simple, time-tested structure that moves a group towards unity. The Quaker model is intended to allow hearing individual voices while providing a mechanism for dealing with disagreements. The Quaker model has been adapted by
Earlham College Earlham College is a private liberal arts college A liberal arts college or liberal arts institution of higher education is a college A college (Latin: ''collegium'') is an educational institution or a University system, constituent part of ...
for application to secular settings, and can be effectively applied in any consensus decision-making process. Its process includes: *Multiple concerns and information are shared until the sense of the group is clear. *Discussion involves
active listening Active listening is a technique of careful listening and observation of non-verbal cues, with feedback in the form of accurate paraphrasing, that is used in counseling Counseling is the professional guidance of the individual by utilizing psycholog ...
and sharing information. *Norms limit number of times one asks to speak to ensure that each speaker is fully heard. *Ideas and solutions belong to the group; no names are recorded. *Ideally, differences are resolved by discussion. The
facilitator A facilitator is a person who helps a group of people to work together better, understand their common objectives, and plan how to achieve these objectives, during meetings or discussions. In doing so, the facilitator remains "neutral", meaning t ...

facilitator
("clerk" or "convenor" in the Quaker model) identifies areas of agreement and names disagreements to push discussion deeper. *The facilitator articulates the sense of the discussion, asks if there are other concerns, and proposes a "
minute The minute is a unit Unit may refer to: Arts and entertainment * UNIT, a fictional military organization in the science fiction television series ''Doctor Who'' * Unit of action, a discrete piece of action (or beat) in a theatrical presentation ...
" of the decision. *The group as a whole is responsible for the decision and the decision belongs to the group. *The facilitator can discern if one who is not uniting with the decision is acting without concern for the group or in selfish interest. *Ideally, all dissenters' perspectives are synthesized into the final outcome for a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. *Should some dissenter's perspective not harmonize with the others, that dissenter may "stand aside" to allow the group to proceed, or may opt to "block". "Standing aside" implies a certain form of silent consent. Some groups allow "blocking" by even a single individual to halt or postpone the entire process. Key components of Quaker-based consensus include a belief in a common
humanity Humanity most commonly refers to: * Human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most populous and widespread species of primates, characterized by bipedality, opposable thumbs, hairlessness, and intelligence allowing the use of culture, language a ...
and the ability to decide together. The goal is "unity, not unanimity." Ensuring that group members speak only once until others are heard encourages a diversity of thought. The facilitator is understood as serving the group rather than acting as person-in-charge. In the Quaker model, as with other consensus decision-making processes, articulating the emerging consensus allows members to be clear on the decision in front of them. As members' views are taken into account they are likely to support it.


Roles

The consensus decision-making process often has several roles designed to make the process run more effectively. Although the name and nature of these roles varies from group to group, the most common are the
facilitator A facilitator is a person who helps a group of people to work together better, understand their common objectives, and plan how to achieve these objectives, during meetings or discussions. In doing so, the facilitator remains "neutral", meaning t ...

facilitator
, consensor, a timekeeper, an empath and a secretary or notes taker. Not all decision-making bodies use all of these roles, although the facilitator position is almost always filled, and some groups use supplementary roles, such as a Devil's advocate or greeter. Some decision-making bodies rotate these roles through the group members in order to build the experience and skills of the participants, and prevent any perceived concentration of power. The common roles in a consensus meeting are: *''Facilitator'': As the name implies, the role of the facilitator is to help make the process of reaching a consensus decision easier. Facilitators accept responsibility for moving through the agenda on time; ensuring the group adheres to the mutually agreed-upon mechanics of the consensus process; and, if necessary, suggesting alternate or additional discussion or decision-making techniques, such as go-arounds, break-out groups or role-playing. Some consensus groups use two co-facilitators. Shared facilitation is often adopted to diffuse the perceived power of the facilitator and create a system whereby a co-facilitator can pass off facilitation duties if he or she becomes more personally engaged in a debate. *''Consensor'': The team of consensors is responsible for accepting those relevant proposals; for displaying an initial list of these options; for drawing up a balanced list of options to represent the entire debate; to analyse the preferences cast in any subsequent ballot; and, if need be, to determine the composite decision from the two most popular options. *''Timekeeper'': The purpose of the timekeeper is to ensure the decision-making body keeps to the schedule set in the agenda. Effective timekeepers use a variety of techniques to ensure the meeting runs on time including: giving frequent time updates, ample warning of short time, and keeping individual speakers from taking an excessive amount of time. *''Empath'' or ''vibe watch'': The empath, or 'vibe watch' as the position is sometimes called, is charged with monitoring the 'emotional climate' of the meeting, taking note of the body language and other non-verbal cues of the participants. Defusing potential emotional conflicts, maintaining a climate free of intimidation and being aware of potentially destructive power dynamics, such as sexism or racism within the decision-making body, are the primary responsibilities of the empath. *''Note taker'': The role of the notes taker or secretary is to document the decisions, discussion and action points of the decision-making body.


Tools and methods

* Some consensus decision-making bodies use a system of colored cards to indicate speaker priority. For instance, red cards to indicate feedback on a breach in rules or decorum, yellow cards for clarifying questions, and green cards for desire to speak. * Hand signals are another method for reading a room's positions nonverbally. They work well with groups of fewer than 250 people and especially with multi-lingual groups. The nature and meaning of individual gestures varies between groups, but a widely adopted core set of hand signals include: wiggling of the fingers on both hands, a gesture sometimes referred to as "twinkling", to indicate agreement; raising a fist or crossing both forearms with hands in fists to indicate a block or strong disagreement; and making a "T" shape with both hands, the "time out" gesture, to call attention to a point of process or order. One common set of hand signals is called the "Fist-to-Five" or "Fist-of-Five". In this method each member of the group can hold up a fist to indicate blocking consensus, one finger to suggest changes, two fingers to discuss minor issues, three fingers to indicate willingness to let issue pass without further discussion, four fingers to affirm the decision as a good idea, and five fingers to volunteer to take a lead in implementing the decision. A similar set of hand signals are used by the
Occupy Wall Street Occupy Wall Street (OWS) was a protest Social movement, movement against economic inequality that began in Zuccotti Park, located in New York City's Financial District, Manhattan, Wall Street financial district, in September 2011. It gave rise ...

Occupy Wall Street
protesters in their group negotiations. *
First-past-the-post In a first-past-the-post electoral system An electoral system or voting system is a set of rules that determine how elections and Referendum, referendums are conducted and how their results are determined. Political electoral systems are org ...
is used as a ''fall-back method'' when consensus cannot be reached within a given time frame. If the potential outcome of the fall-back method can be anticipated, then those who support that outcome have incentives to block consensus so that the fall-back method gets applied. Special fall-back methods have been developed that reduce this incentive.


Criticism


Criticism of blocking

Critics of consensus blocking often observe that the option, while potentially effective for small groups of motivated or trained individuals with a sufficiently high degree of
affinity Affinity may refer to: Commerce, finance and law * Affinity (law) In law and in cultural anthropology Cultural anthropology is a branch of anthropology Anthropology is the scientific study of human Humans (''Homo sapiens' ...
, has a number of possible shortcomings, notably *''Preservation of the status quo'': In decision-making bodies that use formal consensus, the ability of individuals or small minorities to block agreement gives an enormous advantage to anyone who supports the existing state of affairs. This can mean that a specific state of affairs can continue to exist in an organization long after a majority of members would like it to change. The incentive to block can however be removed by using a special kind of voting process. *''Susceptibility to widespread disagreement'': Giving the right to block proposals to all group members may result in the group becoming hostage to an inflexible minority or individual. When a popular proposal is blocked the group actually experiences widespread disagreement, the opposite of the consensus process's goal. Furthermore, "opposing such obstructive behavior an beconstrued as an attack on freedom of speech and in turn resolve on the part of the individual to defend his or her position." As a result, consensus decision-making has the potential to reward the least accommodating group members while punishing the most accommodating. *''Stagnation and group dysfunction'': When groups cannot make the decisions necessary to function (because they cannot resolve blocks), they may lose effectiveness in accomplishing their mission. *''Susceptibility to splitting and excluding members'': When high levels of group member frustration result from blocked decisions or inordinately long meetings, members may leave the group, try to get to others to leave, or limit who has entry to the group. *''Channeling decisions away from an inclusive group process'': When group members view the status quo as unjustly difficult to change through a whole group process, they may begin to delegate decision-making to smaller committees or to an executive committee. In some cases members begin to act unilaterally because they are frustrated with a stagnated group process.


Groupthink

Consensus seeks to improve
solidarity Solidarity is an awareness of shared interests, objectives, standards, and sympathies creating a psychological sense of unity of groups or classes, which rejects the class conflict Class conflict, also referred to as class struggle and class ...

solidarity
in the long run. Accordingly, it should not be confused with
unanimity Unanimity is agreement by all people in a given situation. Groups may consider unanimous decisions as a sign of e.g. social, political Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with Decision-making, making decisions in ...
in the immediate situation, which is often a symptom of
groupthink Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a social group, group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Cohesiveness, or the desire for ...

groupthink
. Studies of effective consensus process usually indicate a shunning of unanimity or "illusion of unanimity" that does not hold up as a group comes under real-world pressure (when dissent reappears).
Cory Doctorow Cory Efram Doctorow (; born July 17, 1971) is a Canadian-British blogger, journalist, and science fiction author who served as co-editor of the blog ''Boing Boing''. He is an activist in favour of liberalising copyright laws and a proponent of the ...

Cory Doctorow
,
Ralph Nader Ralph Nader (; born February 27, 1934) is an American political activist, author, lecturer, and attorney. He is noted for his involvement in consumer protection, environmentalism, and government reform causes. The son of Lebanese immigrants to ...
and other proponents of
deliberative democracy Deliberative democracy or discursive democracy is a form of democracy Democracy ( gr, δημοκρατία, ''dēmokratiā'', from ''dēmos'' 'people' and ''kratos'' 'rule') is a form of government in which people, the people have the authori ...
or judicial-like methods view explicit dissent as a symbol of strength. In his book about Wikipedia,
Joseph Reagle Joseph Michael Reagle Jr. (born 1972) is an American academic and author focused on digital technology and culture, including Wikipedia, online comments, geek feminism, and life hacking. He is Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Northe ...
considers the merits and challenges of consensus in open and online communities. Available for free download in multiple formats at: . Randy Schutt, Starhawk and other practitioners of
direct action Direct action originated as a political term for economic and political acts in which the actors use their power (e.g. or physical) to directly reach certain goals of interest; in contrast to those actions that appeal to others (e.g. authori ...
focus on the hazards of apparent agreement followed by action in which group splits become dangerously obvious. Unanimous, or apparently unanimous, decisions can have drawbacks. They may be symptoms of a
systemic bias Systemic bias, also called institutional bias, and related to structural bias, is the inherent tendency of a process to support particular outcomes. The term generally refers to human systems such as institutions. Structural bias, in turn, has b ...
, a rigged process (where an agenda is not published in advance or changed when it becomes clear who is present to consent), fear of speaking one's mind, a lack of creativity (to suggest alternatives) or even a lack of courage (to go further along the same road to a more extreme solution that would not achieve unanimous consent). Unanimity is achieved when the full group apparently consents to a decision. It has disadvantages insofar as further disagreement, improvements or better ideas then remain hidden, but effectively ends the debate moving it to an implementation phase. Some consider all unanimity a form of groupthink, and some experts propose "coding systems ... for detecting the illusion of unanimity symptom". In ''Consensus is not Unanimity'', consensus practitioner and activist leader
Starhawk Starhawk (born Miriam Simos on June 17, 1951) is an American feminist and author. She is known as a theorist of feminist Neopaganism and ecofeminism. She is a columnist for Beliefnet.com and for ''On Faith'', the ''Newsweek''/''Washington Post'' ...
wrote: Confusion between unanimity and consensus, in other words, usually causes consensus decision-making to fail, and the group then either reverts to majority or supermajority rule or disbands. Most robust models of consensus exclude uniformly unanimous decisions and require at least documentation of minority concerns. Some state clearly that unanimity is not consensus but rather evidence of intimidation, lack of imagination, lack of courage, failure to include all voices, or deliberate exclusion of the contrary views.


Criticism of majority voting processes

Some proponents of consensus decision-making view procedures that use
majority rule Majority rule is a decision rule that selects alternatives which have a majority A majority, also called a simple majority to distinguish it from similar terms (see the "Related terms" section below), is the greater part, or more than half, ...
as undesirable for several reasons. Majority
voting Voting is a method for a group, such as a meeting or an electorate Electorate may refer to: * The people who are eligible to vote in an Election#Electorate, election, especially their number e.g. the term ''size of (the) electorate'' * The dom ...

voting
is regarded as
competitive Competition is a rivalry A rivalry is the state of two people or groups engaging in a lasting competitive relationship. Rivalry is the "against each other" spirit between two competing sides. The relationship itself may also be called "a riv ...
, rather than
cooperative A cooperative (also known as co-operative, co-op, or coop) is "an autonomous The federal subject The federal subjects of Russia, also referred to as the subjects of the Russian Federation (russian: субъекты Российск ...

cooperative
, framing decision-making in a win/lose dichotomy that ignores the possibility of
compromise To compromise is to make a deal between different parties where each party gives up part of their demand. In arguments, compromise is a concept of finding agreement through communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to ...
or other mutually beneficial solutions. Carlos Santiago Nino, on the other hand, has argued that majority rule leads to better deliberation practice than the alternatives, because it requires each member of the group to make arguments that appeal to at least half the participants. Some advocates of consensus would assert that a majority decision reduces the commitment of each individual decision-maker to the decision. Members of a minority position may feel less commitment to a majority decision, and even majority voters who may have taken their positions along party or bloc lines may have a sense of reduced responsibility for the ultimate decision. The result of this reduced commitment, according to many consensus proponents, is potentially less willingness to defend or act upon the decision. Majority voting cannot measure consensus. Indeed,—so many 'for' and so many 'against'—it measures the very opposite, the degree of dissent. Consensus voting, in contrast, the Modified Borda Count, MBC, can identify the consensus of any electorate, whenever such a consensus exists. Furthermore, the rules laid down for this procedure can be the very catalyst of consensus.


Additional critical perspectives

Some formal models based on
graph theory In mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers ( and ), formulas and related structures (), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (), and quantities and their changes ( and ). There is no gen ...
attempt to explore the implications of suppressed
dissent Sticker art arguing that dissent is necessary for democracy.">democracy.html" ;"title="Sticker art arguing that dissent is necessary for democracy">Sticker art arguing that dissent is necessary for democracy. Dissent is an opinion, philosophy or ...

dissent
and subsequent sabotage of the group as it takes action. High-stakes decision-making, such as judicial decisions of appeals courts, always require some such explicit documentation. Consent however is still observed that defies factional explanations. Nearly 40% of the decisions of the
United States Supreme Court The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States of America The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a cou ...

United States Supreme Court
, for example, are unanimous, though often for widely varying reasons. "Consensus in Supreme Court voting, particularly the extreme consensus of unanimity, has often puzzled Court observers who adhere to ideological accounts of judicial decision making." Historical evidence is mixed on whether particular Justices' views were suppressed in favour of public unity. Another method to promote agreement is to use a voting process under which all members of the group have a strategic incentive to agree rather than block. However, this makes it very difficult to tell the difference between those who support the decision and those who merely tactically tolerate it for the incentive. Once they receive that incentive, they may undermine or refuse to implement the agreement in various and non-obvious ways. In general
voting system An electoral system or voting system is a set of rules that determine how elections and referendums A referendum (plural: referendums or less commonly referenda) is a direct and universal vote in which an entire electorate is invited to vote ...
s avoid allowing offering incentives (or "bribes") to change a heartfelt vote. In the
Abilene paradoxIn the Abilene paradox, a group of people collectively decide on a course of action that is counter to the preferences of many or all of the individuals in the group. It involves a common breakdown of group communication in which each member mistaken ...
, a group can unanimously agree on a course of action that no individual member of the group desires because no one individual is willing to go against the perceived will of the decision-making body. Since consensus decision-making focuses on discussion and seeks the input of all participants, it can be a time-consuming process. This is a potential liability in situations where decisions must be made speedily, or where it is not possible to canvass opinions of all delegates in a reasonable time. Additionally, the time commitment required to engage in the consensus decision-making process can sometimes act as a barrier to participation for individuals unable or unwilling to make the commitment. However, once a decision has been reached it can be acted on more quickly than a decision handed down. American businessmen complained that in negotiations with a Japanese company, they had to discuss the idea with everyone even the janitor, yet once a decision was made the Americans found the Japanese were able to act much quicker because everyone was on board, while the Americans had to struggle with internal opposition.


Examples

Outside of Western culture, multiple other cultures have used consensus decision-making. One early example is the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy Grand Council, which used a 75% supermajority to finalize its decisions, potentially as early as 1142. In the Xulu and
Xhosa Xhosa may refer to: * Xhosa people, a nation, and ethnic group, who live in south-central and southeasterly region of South Africa * Xhosa language, one of the 11 official languages of South Africa, principally spoken by the Xhosa people See also ...
(South African) process of
indaba An indaba (pronounced ''in-dah-bah''; * ) is an important conference held by the izinDuna INduna (plural: iziNduna) is a IsiZulu, Zulu/Xhosa language, Xhosa title meaning ''advisor'', ''great leader'', ''ambassador'', ''headman'' or ''commander' ...

indaba
, community leaders gather to listen to the public and negotiate figurative thresholds towards an acceptable compromise. The technique was also used during the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. In
Aceh Aceh () is the westernmost province A province is almost always an administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity, first-level subdivision ...
and
Nias Nias ( id, Pulau Nias, Nias language: ''Tanö Niha'') is an island located off the western coast of Sumatra Sumatra is one of the Sunda Islands of western Indonesia. It is the largest island that is fully within Indonesian territory, as wel ...

Nias
cultures (Indonesian), family and regional disputes, from playground fights to estate inheritance, are handled through a ''musyawarah'' consensus-building process in which parties mediate to find peace and avoid future hostility and revenge. The resulting agreements are expected to be followed, and range from advice and warnings to compensation and exile. Consensus-building and direct democracy experimentation was a feature of voter registration projects by the
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, often pronounced ) was the principal channel of student commitment in the United States to the civil rights movement during the 1960s. Emerging in 1960 from the student-led sit-ins at segreg ...
(SNCC) in the
American South The Southern United States, also referred to as the Southern States, the American South, Dixie, the Southland, or simply the South, is a geographic and cultural region In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally ...
; the Economic Research and Action Project (ERAP) of
Students for a Democratic Society Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was a national student activist organization in the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country Contiguous United St ...
(mid-1960s), some
women's liberation The women's liberation movement (WLM) was a political alignment of women and feminist intellectualism that emerged in the late 1960s and continued into the 1980s primarily in the industrialized nations of the Western world, which effected great c ...
groups (late 1960s to early 1970s) and anti-nuclear and
peace movement A peace movement is a social movement which seeks to achieve ideals, such as the ending of a particular war (or wars) or minimizing inter-human violence in a particular place or situation. They are often linked to the goal of achieving world peac ...
groups (late 1970s and early 1980s). For example, the anti-nuclear
Clamshell Alliance 105px, rightThe Clamshell Alliance is an List of anti-nuclear groups in the United States, anti-nuclear organization founded in 1976 to oppose the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant in the U.S. state of New Hampshire. It has been dormant for many ...
and
Movement for a New Society The Movement for a New Society (MNS) was a U.S.-based network of social activist collectives, committed to the principles of nonviolence Nonviolence is the personal practice of not causing harm to one's self and others under every condition. It ...
engaged in consensus decision-making processes. The origins of formal consensus-making can be traced significantly further back, to the
Religious Society of Friends Quakers are people who belong to a historically Protestant Christian Protestantism is a form of Christianity that originated with the 16th-century Reformation, a movement against what its followers perceived to be Criticism of the Catholi ...
, or Quakers, who adopted the technique as early as the 17th century.
Anabaptists Anabaptism (from Neo-Latin , from the Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is ...
, including some
Mennonite Mennonites are members of certain Christianity, Christian groups belonging to the church communities of Anabaptist denominations named after Menno Simons (1496–1561) of Friesland. Through his writings, Simons articulated and formalized the tea ...
s, have a history of using consensus decision-making and some believe Anabaptists practiced consensus as early as the
Martyrs' Synod The Martyrs' Synod took place in Augsburg Augsburg ( , , ; bar, Augschburg, links=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swabian_German, label=Swabian German) is a city A city is a large human settlement.Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of H ...
of 1527. Some Christians trace consensus decision-making back to the Bible. The Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia references, in particular, Acts 15 as an example of consensus in the New Testament. The lack of legitimate consensus process in the unanimous conviction of Jesus by corrupt priests in an illegally held
Sanhedrin The Sanhedrin (Hebrew Hebrew (, , or ) is a Northwest Semitic languages, Northwest Semitic language of the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic language family. Historically, it is regarded as the language of the Israelites, Judeans and th ...

Sanhedrin
court (which had rules preventing unanimous conviction in a hurried process) strongly influenced the views of pacifist Protestants, including the Anabaptists (Mennonites/Amish), Quakers and Shakers. In particular it influenced their distrust of expert-led courtrooms and to "be clear about process" and convene in a way that assures that "everyone must be heard". Consensus voting was advocated, among others, by Ramón Llull in 1199, by Nicholas Cusanus in 1435, by
Jean-Charles de Borda Jean-Charles, chevalier de Borda (4 May 1733 – 19 February 1799) was a French mathematician A mathematician is someone who uses an extensive knowledge of mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such t ...
in 1784, by Hother Hage in 1860, by (Lewis Carroll) in 1884, and by Peter Emerson in 1986.


Japanese business

Japanese companies normally use consensus decision-making, meaning that unanimous support on the board of directors is sought for any decision. A ringi-sho is a circulation document used to obtain agreement. It must first be signed by the lowest level manager, and then upwards, and may need to be revised and the process started over.


IETF rough consensus model

In the
Internet Engineering Task Force The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is an open standards organization, which develops and promotes voluntary Internet standards, in particular the technical standards that comprise the Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP). It has no formal ...
(IETF), decisions are assumed to be taken by ''
rough consensus Rough consensus is a term used in consensus decision-making to indicate the "sense of the group" concerning a particular matter under consideration. It has been defined as the "dominant view" of a group as determined by its chairperson. The term w ...
''. The IETF has studiously refrained from defining a mechanical method for verifying such consensus, apparently in the belief that any such codification leads to attempts to " game the system." Instead, a
working group A working group, or working party, is a group of experts working together to achieve specified goals. The groups are domain-specific and focus on discussion or activity around a specific subject area. The term can sometimes refer to an interdis ...
(WG) chair or BoF chair is supposed to articulate the "sense of the group." One tradition in support of rough consensus is the tradition of humming rather than (countable) hand-raising; this allows a group to quickly discern the prevalence of dissent, without making it easy to slip into
majority rule Majority rule is a decision rule that selects alternatives which have a majority A majority, also called a simple majority to distinguish it from similar terms (see the "Related terms" section below), is the greater part, or more than half, ...
. Much of the business of the IETF is carried out on
mailing list A mailing list is a collection of names and addresses used by an individual or an organization to send material to multiple recipients. The term is often extended to include the people subscribed to such a list, so the group of subscribers is refe ...
s, where all parties can speak their views at all times.


Social constructivism model

In 2001, Robert Rocco Cottone published a consensus-based model of professional decision-making for counselors and psychologists. Based on social constructivist philosophy, the model operates as a consensus-building model, as the clinician addresses ethical conflicts through a process of negotiating to consensus. Conflicts are resolved by consensually agreed on arbitrators who are selected early in the negotiation process.


US Bureau of Land Management collaborative stakeholder engagement

The United States
Bureau of Land Management The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is an agency within the responsible for administering . Headquartered in and with oversight over , it governs one eighth of the country's landmass. President created the BLM in 1946 by combining two ex ...
's policy is to seek to use collaborative stakeholder engagement as standard operating practice for natural resources projects, plans, and decision-making except under unusual conditions such as when constrained by law, regulation, or other mandates or when conventional processes are important for establishing new, or reaffirming existing, precedent.


Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth

The
Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, formally known as the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and, after 1791, the Commonwealth of Poland, was a country and bi-federation A federation (also known as a federal state) is ...
of 1569–1795 used consensus decision-making in the form of ''
liberum veto Image:Polish Sejm 1622.jpg, 250px, Sejm session at the Royal Castle, Warsaw, 1622 The ''liberum veto'' (Latin for "free veto") was a parliamentary device in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. It was a form of unanimity voting rule that allowed ...
'' ('free veto') in its Sejms (legislative assemblies). A type of
unanimous consent In parliamentary procedure, unanimous consent, also known as general consent, or in the case of the parliaments under the Westminster system, leave of the house (or leave of the senate), is a situation in which no member present objects to a prop ...
, the ''liberum veto'' originally allowed any member of a Sejm to veto an individual law by shouting ''Sisto activitatem!'' (Latin: "I stop the activity!") or ''Nie pozwalam!'' (Polish: "I do not allow!"). Over time it developed into a much more extreme form, where any Sejm member could unilaterally and immediately force the end of the current session and nullify any previously passed legislation from that session. Due to excessive use and intentional sabotage from neighboring powers bribing Sejm members, legislating became very difficult and weakened the Commonwealth. Soon after the Commonwealth banned ''liberum veto'' as part of its
Constitution of 3 May 1791 The Constitution of 3 May 1791 ( pl, Konstytucja 3 maja; Belarusian: ''Канстытуцыя 3 мая'', transcription: ''Kanstytucyja 3 maja''; Balerusian Taraškievica: ''Канстытуцыя 3 траўня'', transcription: ''Kansty ...
, it dissolved under pressure from neighboring powers.


See also

*
Consensus based assessmentConsensus-based assessment expands on the common practice of consensus decision-making and the theoretical observation that expertise can be closely approximated by large numbers of novices or journeymen. It creates a method for determining measure ...
*
Consensus democracy Consensus democracy is the application of consensus decision-making to the process of legislation in a democracy Democracy ( gr, δημοκρατία, ''dēmokratiā'', from ''dēmos'' 'people' and ''kratos'' 'rule') is a form of governm ...
*
Consensus government A consensus government is one in which the cabinet Cabinet or The Cabinet may refer to: Furniture * Cabinetry, a box-shaped piece of furniture with doors and/or drawers * Display cabinet, a piece of furniture with one or more transparent glass ...
*
Consensus reality Consensus reality is that which is generally agreed to be reality Reality is the sum or aggregate of all that is real or existent within a system, as opposed to that which is only Object of the mind, imaginary. The term is also used to refer to ...
*
Consensus theory of truthA consensus theory of truth is the process of taking statements to be true simply because people generally agree upon them. Varieties of consensus Consensus gentium An ancient criterion of truth, the '' consensus gentium'' (Latin Latin (, or , ...
*
Contrarian A contrarian is a person who holds a contrary position, especially a position against the majority. In journalism Contrarian journalism is characterised by articles and books making counterintuitive claims, or attacking what is said to be the ...

Contrarian
* Copenhagen Consensus *
Deliberation Deliberation is a process of thoughtfully weighing options, usually prior to voting. Deliberation emphasizes the use of logic and reason as opposed to power-struggle, creativity, or dialogue. Group decision-making, Group decisions are generally ma ...
*
Dialogue mapping The issue-based information system (IBIS) is an argumentation Two men argue at a political protest in New York City. Argumentation theory, or argumentation, is the interdisciplinary Interdisciplinarity or interdisciplinary studies involves t ...
* '' Ethics of Dissensus'' * Idea networking * Libertarian socialism * Nonviolence * Polder model * Seattle process * Social representations * Sociocracy * Truth by consensus


Notes


Further reading

* {{DEFAULTSORT:Consensus Decision-Making Consensus, Anarchist theory Community organizing Group decision-making Evaluation methods Meetings Working groups Collaboration Egalitarianism Democracy