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Consensus Process

From a co-intelligence perspective, consensus means more than merely broad agreement. In fact, when we're aiming for true consensus we're less concerned about generating agreement than generating wise solutions that take into account all the relevant needs and perspectives. Once we have taken into account the full picture, agreement usually follows naturally -- and it's not a reluctant, conditional agreement. When we all shape the outcome, we become invested in its success. Implementation is much smoother than when a majority has ruled and left an upset minority to impede progress.

Those intent on agreement-by-any-means use force, compromise, tangential deal-making and other strategies to get agreement. This may bring more parties onto their bandwagon, but it seldom results in a truly wise agreement. From the co-intelligence perspective, this sort of agreement-brokering is almost like cheating on a test to get a high score, rather than learning the material well enough that you understand it, so that passing the test is a natural -- and secondary -- outcome. Agreement-brokering may be necessary in some very difficult circumstances, but it isn't true consensus and shouldn't be accepted as standard practice.

When people compete for individual gain instead of cooperating for mutual or collective gain, they use their brilliance to undermine each other, thus reducing their collective intelligence. True consensus process taps into the creativity, insights, experience, and perspectives of all the parties involved. Significantly, consensus process treats the differences between people not as problems, but as stimulants to deeper inquiry and greater wisdom.

While consensus process is most directly applicable to groups of up to several dozen people, it has been expanded to groups of thousands by dividing people into smaller groups who send spokespeople to a spokescouncil. Both the smaller groups and the spokescouncil are run by consensus, and issues go back and forth between the two levels until full agreement is reached. An innovation called the Wisdom Council allows a large population (a community or country) to also get the benefits of consensus process.



Although many close-knit, values-based groups practice consensus without a facilitator, most groups need help navigating their own rapids. The best book I know of for this purpose is Sam Kaner's Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making (New Society Publishers, 1996), which is filled with simple, powerful theory and practical suggestions presented in a convenient page-by-page format intended to be photocopied for sharing among participants


Jim Rough's Dynamic Facilitation and Choice-Creating Seminar - This seminar teaches the most fluid, powerful form of consensus process I know, which also happens to be the process behind the Wisdom Council, the most powerful democratic innovation I know. My own experience in the seminar is described briefly at the bottom of the Wisdom Council page.

Group Facilitation Skills: Putting Participatory Values into Practice - Taught by Sam Kaner , author of the above book. Brimming with useful tools. Community at Work, 1 Tubbs St., San Francisco, CA 94107; (415) 641-9773.

Other resources (books and organizations) [Thanks to Tree Bressen]


See also

Randy Schutt's approach to consensus process in nonviolent movement activities, as well as his other papers

For a sacred form of consensus, see The Quaker Way of Discussing Business

How We Really Shut Down the WTO (process notes) by Starhawk and other articles at Co-intelligence thoughts on Seattle WTO demonstrations.



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