Consensus decision-making is a process that builds trust and creates ownership and commitment. An effective consensus process (consensus-building) is inclusive and engages all participants. Consensus decisions can lead to better quality outcomes that empower the group or community to move forward to create their future together.
Consensus is a cooperative process in which all group members develop and agree to support a decision in the best interest of the whole. In consensus, the input of every participant is carefully considered and there is a good faith effort to address all legitimate concerns. (Dressler, 2006)
Consensus as a process
Often referred to as "consensus building," the process is a journey of preparing participants to make a decision. Discussion is needed to identify issues, clarify questions, establish decision-making criteria and address all concerns.
The goal is to create an understanding of the issues and then share the perspectives of all involved. Using a trained facilitator to plan the process and lead conversations to get to a decision is important.
Facilitators employ a number of strategies within the consensus process:
Gaining buy-in from all members about the purpose or goal of the session
Ensuring that every idea is acknowledged in writing and honored
Linking thoughts together so that people can formulate a common idea
Creating areas of shared understanding
Naming categories of related ideas
Consensus as a product
Consensus is the outcome of a consensus-building process. After listening to all perspectives, participants develop a proposal that honors the wisdom of the group. When people think and talk together, they can find a solution or proposal to move forward as a group.
A consensus decision does not mean that everyone agrees on all the details or that some have changed their ideas or perspectives. Ideally, a consensus decision reflects mutual understanding, agreement to support a decision and commitment to take action steps for the benefit of the group.
Benefits of consensus decision-making
Inclusive participation engages and empowers the group
Requires a commitment to work together and increases cooperation
Creates shared understanding through discussion that bridges differences
Equalizes the distribution of power in a group
Can create better decisions that are more representative of the larger community
Creates more ownership and commitment
Results in more effective implementation because the entire group takes action on the project or plan
Choose consensus when …
There are many stakeholders and perspectives for a complex problem.
People are willing to participate.
The group has authority to make decisions and will be affected by them.
Creative solutions are needed.
You need everyone involved to be committed to the decision or plan.
Choose alternatives when …
There is no common goal or purpose.
There is an unwillingness to participate or cooperate.
Group has low trust or a lack of commitment.
Time is limited or there is an emergency.
Needed information is not available.
People are polarized on issues or values.
The problem has a clear solution.