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
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
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.
(books and organizations) [Thanks to Tree
Schutt's approach to consensus process in nonviolent movement
activities, as well as his other
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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