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From RECL 3P25 Fall 2011 - Group 01 - Consensus Decision-Making
 Consensus Decision-Making
Consensus decision-making is a group decision making process that works to creatively include all people in making final decisions. When working to come to a common decision, you have to give and take. Contributions of all group members are collaborated and synthesized to come to a solution that everyone can agree on. It is important to remember that this is not a voting process it is a decision making technique to help to come to an agreement on the topic at hand that everyone agrees on. Not everyone will be happy with the result, but everyone will be able to live with the outcome.
Decisions are developed collaboratively, involving each member of the group. Any individual who has concerns regarding the direction in which the decision making process is going, are encouraged to voice their concerns to ensure that they are incorporated regarding the outcome of the decision.
Consensus decision making is the process of people meeting as a group, and coming to a final conclusion or decision unanimously. The consensus decision making process developed through many of the historical movements and people through history, many of whom are still actively using consensus in their own versions for decision making.
One of the most widely cited historical roots for consensus decision making is the Quakers, and the better known descendants, the Mennonites. They referred to this process of consensus decision making as “the rule of sitting down” or “sitzrecht”. When a group of people sat together and came to a final decision, it was said that they were part of God’s “divine will”. The first concrete appearance of this technique was at the Martyr’s Synod in 1527.
When it comes to the size of the group involved in this process, when the group became too big, the group had to divide to keep the personal face to face advantage of this style of decision making. This outlines how this can be a very useful tool when it comes to community development. The face to face ideology behind consensus is great for a collection of people’s thoughts and ideas to come together in one place. By having decisions made at the local level, the community is able to better come to a consensus on the needs and wants of the members themselves.
Consensus decision making can be used when a decision needs to be made about an issue, rules, dates within a city, business, family, school, etc. It can be used anywhere if people are willing to have other people opinions matter in the final decision. It should be used when groups of people get together to make a decision about an issue or event that they have some common ground on. It should not be used if there are more disagreements then there are agreements otherwise coming to a final decision will take a lengthy process. Usually managers or a committee will use consensus decision making to try and resolve an issue or make changes to their business to make it a better place.
Consensus decision making has been utilized within a democracy government. A committee comprised of members will get together and come to a consensus on developing platforms and laws that they think would be best for the citizens with the citizen’s opinions and thoughts in mind. In the past, Walmart managers have also used consensus decision making to decide what specific companies they will use for suppliers for certain items in their stores. School board committees have also used consensus decision-making as an effective technique when considering changes regarding policy. The board members will have to get together and come to a decision on a situation (e.g. rule implementation or changes etc.)based on the best interests of the students. Additionally, the Ontario Public Interest Research Group is a group of students at McMaster University who work on issues of human rights, the environment and social justice. They use consensus decision making principles to help guide their organization.
Group Consensus Decision-Making is a process that can take time, and can be completed through a systematic way to ensure the most efficient and successful results. The main procedure of the Consensus Decision-Making process consist of the following steps:
1. Introduction of issue – During this stage, the group compiles and shares all of the information that is relevant pertaining to the specific task.
2. Define question - Identify the important or the key questions that need to be addressed.
3. Discussion – This allows participants to voice their individual opinions, thoughts and ideas.
4. Proposal made - This stage consists of attempting to incorporate every group member's thoughts and ideas to come to a final decision that everyone will be able to deal with.
5. Discuss proposal – During this stage, the group looks at the strengths and weaknesses regarding the specific outcome that they have achieved.
6. Amend or change proposal - The group has the opportunity to account for any concerns that the group may have with the outcome. During this time, the original proposal often changes.
7. Test for consensus – This is the process where the groups can test which members are in agreement or not with the specific outcome. Additionally, any objections with the outcome are identified.
8. All agree then consensus reached
9. Implement decision
Throughout the Consensus Decision-Making process, it may be difficult for every member of the group to have the opportunity to voice their individual opinions during the discussion period. Additionally, it is important for other group members to effectively listen, and to allow everybody else in the group to voice their opinions as well. There are specific strategies that can be utilized to ensure that each member of the group has the same opportunity to voice their own opinions and concerns to ensure that everybody has equal input in the direction in which the group is moving towards the final decision. Below are a list of strategies that can be implemented to help to ensure that an equal amount of input is given from all group members.
• The group member's proposal/idea/ opinion is presented clearly to the group
• Present your position as logically as possible
• Think before you speak, make only key, important points
• Questions can be asked by anyone who wants to discuss it
• Each proposal is discussed, differences in opinion are natural and expected
• Do not assume there will be a winner and a loser, its not a debate
• Share feelings or approval/disagreement
• If a major objection occurs, the proposal is not passed
• If a strong concern is brought up, the proposal can still pass and the original concern will be noted
• Avoid techniques such as majority rule and votes
• Consensus Decision-Making involves discussion and accountability
• It is important to understand the concept of: Empowering vs. Overpowering - empowering members of the group to have their own opinions and beliefs rather than just one person "dominating" the discussion and as a result they get everything that they want
When compared to other techniques, consensus decision making can be seen as a more inclusive and democratic approach to implementing decisions. A strength of this particular technique is that it fosters individual opinions and beliefs. Everyone is given the opportunity to express their personal opinion and ideas. This is one of the many reasons consensus decision making is more effective than other techniques commonly used, such as, voting. Voting does not allow individuals to express their ideas. Voting usually involves picking between a number of choices. In consensus decision making, being able to compromise plays a large role in the final decision.
•Better quality decisions – the decisions are critically analyzed by an entire group of people so the final decision is the best one possible
•Decision reflects the entire group - the final decision is cohesive amongst all group members and does not just reflect the opinion of one or few people
•Confrontation is limited - conflict and disagreement is lessened due to an open discussion concept, people are able to freely express their ideas and opinions
•Facilitates active listening - everyone in the group is listening to each other which increases the chance of individual understanding
•Everyone has a stake in the final decision – people are more likely to follow through with their role in the implementation of the final decision due to ownership
Additionally, an important strength of consensus decision making is it promotes win-win outcomes. If the group is successful in their decision making, everyone is happy and therefore it becomes a win-win situation. Even if the decision was not exactly what everyone wanted, people are able to live with the outcome and actively participate in the final decision.
 Limitations/ Barriers
A Group Exceeds Its Carrying Capacity – A group that has a large amount of members can restrain the decision making process delaying the final decision for days to months to follow.
Lack Of Regulations To Lead – decision-making groups are not given enough information on what policies to follow which in turn can lead groups to the wrong conclusions.
Little To No Leadership – there is not a specific leader in the process of decision making which can make it confusing for groups of people to achieve their objectives.
Differences On A Group's Work Structure – the Decision making process doesn’t help if two different groups already have preset goals and priorities to follow. This can lead to a misunderstanding if members are not knowledgeably aware of another group’s terminology.
Types of Problematic Members include:
The ‘Blocker' - a person who rejects the decision because they feel strongly against it.
The ‘Withdrawer' - a person who neither complies or rejects the decision made.
The ‘Non-Supportive’ Member – a person who doesn’t care for the decision but still agrees with it.
The 'Compliant' Member – a person who complies with others in the group even if they don’t really care or are strongly against the decision being made.
The ‘Reserved’ Member - a person who believes it’s an issue but agrees to live with it.
 Tips for Successful Implementation
For successful implementation of a consensus decision making the group must pay special attention to key features of the process.
Some tips for successful implementation are:
• Ensure that all members of the group are contributing ideas and have the chance to be heard
• Make sure that the idea, discussion and proposal is clear, and that people understand exactly what they are discussing
• It is essential to have the situation being discussed in writing, this provides the groups with visual aid that everyone can reference as the conversation proceeds
• Implement techniques that control the conversation and avoid over powering personalities. Avoiding over powering personalities is key to making sure others are being heard
• Providing visual aids that show the groups progress, such as the use of a chart, where everyone has a space to contribute
• Use friendly “amendments" that add to another person’s idea, instead of being opposed or "blocking" a proposal
• Set deadlines, because a discussion that is more controversial in nature or has varying opinions could go on for longer than the group intended
• Time allocation is very important, although it is important to set deadlines, it is also important to allow for enough time, even if it means more than one discussion session
Tips for coming to a consensus, retrieved from: http://www.markshep.com/peace/Consensus.html, on November 19/11
Guidelines for coming to a consensus, retrieved from: http://seedsforchange.org.uk/free/consensus#guide, on November 23/11
Consensus decision making procedures, retrieved from: http://www.youngfoundation.org/files/images/grp_dec_mak_website.pdf, on November 17/11
Barriers to reaching a group consensus, retrieved from: http://www.actupny.org/documents/CDdocuments/Consensus.html, on November 18/11
Strategic leadership for consensus decision making, retrieved from: http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/ndu/strat-ldr-dm/pt3ch11.html, on November 22/11
A brief history of consensus decision making, retrieved from: http://rhizomenetwork.wordpress.com/2011/06/18/a-brief-history-of-consenus-decision-making/, on November 24/11
Inform Hamilton, Ontario Public Interest Group, retrieved from: http://www.inform.hamilton.ca/record/HAM0872, November 23/11
When not to use consensus, retrieved from: http://rhizomenetwork.wordpress.com/2011/05/30/when-not-to-use-consensus/, November 24/11
Consensus in large groups, retrieved from: http://files.uniteddiversity.com/Decision_Making_and_Democracy/Consensus/Consensus_in_Large_Groups.pdf, November 23/11
 External Links
Glossary of Terms 
Strategic Leadership and Decision-Making 
Process Chart 
Barriers & Limitations 
Travis Clements, Michelle Pett, Mackenzie Gibson, Ryan Kasperowitsch, Erin Burford, Emily Bandeen.