Consensus

Dorothy Werner

A. What is it?

Consensus is a process for making decisions without voting. Its main feature is that no action is taken unless all members of the group can support the action or agree not to obstruct it. Most well-functioning groups actually use consensus informally most of the time. Majority rule groups often discuss things until most objections have been answered before taking a vote.

B. How does it work?

An agenda item is discussed until the facilitator calls for a proposal. Someone proposes a consensus statement. The facilitator asks for any objections. At this point, any member may call for further discussion based on any reservations they may have. After any further discussion, the facilitator will again call for objections. If there are none, the statement is entered in the minutes as agreed to.

There are three possible responses to the call for objections:
-- Silence indicates consent.
-- A member may state that they wish to stand aside. This means that the member has some reservations, but will not obstruct the action being taken. Disagreements of stand asides are noted in the minutes but leave the group free to take action.
-- A member may block consensus. In this caase, the statement is not passed. The facilitator may call for further discussion or postpone further consideration. One common procedure in this case is to have the strongest proponent of the proposal state the objector's position as clearly as possible. Often, misunderstandings about the proposal can be resolved when objections are clarified. Blocks often result in new proposals which are more clear.

C. Why does it work?

1. It produces more intelligent decisions by incorporating the best thinking of everyone.
2. It keeps individual egos from being tied to win or lose.
3. It increases the likelihood of new and better ideas being thought up.
4. Everyone is invested in implementing a decision because all have participated in its formation. Participants have more energy for working on projects with which they are fully in agreement.
5. It significantly reduces the possibility that a minority will feel that an unacceptable decision has been imposed on them.

For a group like home educators with widely divergent views in many areas, the fourth and fifth reasons are especially important. The main drawback of consensus - that it is inefficient of time in the short run - is greatly reduced in our state - wide council because we seldom need to take quick action and most of our activity involves agreeing to delegate tasks to smaller groups or individuals. This drawback is far outweighed by the absence of disgruntled minorities sabotaging actions.

HOUSE by-laws do not require individual HOUSE groups to operate by consensus. Some groups find other structures easier.

D. Members' Responsibility

- Members are responsible for voicing their reservations about any proposal. Often others have similar feelings. Do not "go along" with a proposal that you disagree with.
- Be clear about your differences with the proposal.
- Listen to others' views carefully.
- If you are in favor, state clearly why duuring the discussion.

Sometimes people will "go along" when they disagree because of a feeling that time has run out or discomfort at being the lone dissenting voice. People may feel that they have "already lost" and so give up. When this happens, the group ends up with a dissatisfied minority - exactly the situation consensus decision - making seeks to avoid. Members must maintain a nonjudgmental atmosphere, welcome expressions of dissent regardless of personal feelings, and make the time to pursue discussion until true consensus is reached.