Consensus decision making
Consensus is the agreement of everybody involved. We try to reach consensus so all individuals can take part in the decisions over their own life at the Social Centre.
The proposed consensus can be blocked by anyone who has strong objections, also this power has to be exercised with utmost care and responsibility.
In the following paragraphs we describe the most important methods that help the process.
Each individual is responsible to ensure that everybody has equal say in the meeting and that the discussion stays relevant. However especially when many people come together the need arises for a person who explicitly facilitates the meeting.
The facilitator has an active guiding role.
- The facilitator guides the discussion while making sure that each person is allowed to say their piece and that participants listen to each other and take each other seriously.
- She ensures a clear structure for agenda, agenda points in a logical order, and makes sure that the meeting sticks to these points.
- The facilitator ensures that each point is introduced properly and that as many people as possible take active roles in the decision making process.
- She gives the word and periodically updates the participants on the status of the meeting, like which agenda point is under discussion, what are the major proposals and arguments, how much time remains to reach a consensus.
- If she smells that consensus maybe near, she summarizes the current proposal and asks the participants if they accept it.
In big and complicated meetings it is good to divide the roles and powers of the facilitator between several people. For example someone can keep a list of people who are waiting to speak and give the word, while another person takes care that the meeting constructively follows the agenda, and a third person ensures that the atmosphere stays under control.
The minute-taker’s role in the meeting is equally important as that of the facilitator. The minute-taker listens closely to the arguments and writes them down as well as the decisions made. Good and complete minutes avoid misunderstanding. It’s important that the reader gets a complete picture of the discussion, the arguments exchanged and the decisions taken. When a degree of secrecy is required, the minute-taker can use only nicknames or perhaps completely omit reference to individuals.
The consensus meeting method
In consensus meetings, the group chooses the facilitator and minute-taker at the start of the meeting. Then, after a round of proposals the agenda is decided upon. If an agenda point is not explained well or is unclear, then reaching a good conclusion and decision is already impossible before discussion has even started.
Step one: When an agenda point doesn’t cause much discussion, then consensus can sometimes already be achieved after the first discussion.
Step two: When there are objections, probably more discussion and / or clarification is necessary. In order to avoid discussing all objections at the same time, a list can be made of the objections. This can then be grouped according to the type of objection.
Step three: Each group of objections is considered one by one. For each objection you try to reach a satisfying solution which shows considerations for the objections, then you try again to see if there is consensus.
Step four: If that’s not the case, then the point is obviously so sensitive that more discussion is necessary. You then note the remaining objections and ask the objectors for more clarification. Then you ask what would remove the objection. You do this for each individual objection.