Consensus is reached when everyone can “live with” a solution or agreement. They may not like the solution very much. However, the basic test is not a full “thumbs up” but that the solution doesn’t violate a basic need or interest. The consensus builder’s role is to find and express common ground. This is done employing a host of tools that set the stage for collaboration including ground-rules or guidelines, tone of voice, methods for registering an opinion (e.g. voting), and ways to engage participants in sharing ideas.
The Guardian Competencies
- Facilitate understanding of the consensus concept
- Know the pros and cons of consensus-building and alternative decision-making methods
- Model positive tone for collaboration
- Facilitate a consensus-building process
- Facilitate alternative decision-making methods
Understanding the Consensus Concept
While consensus is a common word, many people are unclear about its definition. The following definition is clear and concise and should be posted prominently whenever you’re engaged in a decision-making activity.
- Consensus means: I can live with that and support the decision.
- Consensus DOES NOT mean: I think this is the best solution.
While the use of a consensus decision-making process usually results in the most durable decisions, it isn’t always the most appropriate method for the occasion. Therefore, it’s useful to know an array of decision-making methods and their relative strengths and weaknesses. Refer to the chart of decision-making methods offered on Day 2 that summarizes each method along with their advantages and disadvantages.
Setting the Tone for Consensus
It is remarkable the degree to which a calm, constructive, and humorous demeanor by the facilitator can lead to positive results. You are the mirror and model for a group. Many times, people will make eye contact with you as the facilitator before doing so with fellow participants. By employing an unflappable tone for consensus decision-making, you increase the chances of shared solutions unfold. Some ways you can do this include: opening the event with a few words of positive intention, asking people to use inquiry questions rather than using assumptive or judgmental statements, and ensuring all people can be heard by asking participants to raise their hands.
Consensus Building Process
The following are the essential elements of a consensus-building process. Know these steps and be able to facilitate them when groups are looking for robust solutions to complex challenges.
- Set the Stage
- Help the group decide how much time is worth spending to attempt to reach consensus. Consensus decisions can take a lot of time, especially if no limits are set. Setting time limits helps move the process along.
- Are key players present? Make sure all parties necessary to resolve the issue are present.
- Review consensus definition and process.
- Define Current Situation, analyzing problem in terms of interests.
- Describe Desired Outcomes, so we know when the issue is resolved.
- Facilitate Discussion
- Distinguish between issues, information, ideas, decisions, questions, interests, and positions
- Identify and evaluate alternative solutions
- Craft a proposal allowing discussion to reach clarify
- Test for Consensus, repeating above steps as necessary.
- Implement Decision
It’s much harder to disagree with an idea that emerged from the group’s shared work. Use processes that allow ideas to surface from numerous participants. For instance, convene small groups or interview neighbors to create a list of ideas. Then you ask each small group to share their top ideas with the assembled group. This kind of careful building of momentum for ideas increases the chances for consensus outcomes.
Integral Facilitator’s Primer & Self-Assessment. Complete this assessment to determine your level of competency for each of these archetypes, then consider the questions that follow to help you craft a development plan to enhance your skills.
This model is taught in an applied format during our Journey of Facilitation and Collaboration Workshop, a five-day experiential event offered regularly at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and sometimes at other locations throughout the country based on interest and by invitation.