Consensus Process is…purposeful engagement in making decisions together in a way that is inclusive and
non-hierarchical. It is a creative process which synthesizes the ideas of all members of a group towards a
decision that suits the needs of the group, and the comfort level of the individual members.
Why Consensus? Decisions made by consensus are meaningful, holistic, and easier to carry forward than
decisions made by voting and authoritarian decision-making processes. This is because all voices are
heard in the process, and all members participating in the decision are invested in a successful outcome.
Here’s how it works
Introduce the Issue
Gather and Share all relevant information.
Clarify the Issue and Context
What are the key questions? Is this the right time and place to discuss the issue? Do we have
enough information to make a decision?
Explore and Discuss the Issue
Look at the diversity of ideas and possible solutions, noting areas of agreement and
Synthesis a Proposal
Try to incorporate all viewpoints.
Discuss and Amend the proposal
Discuss the strengths and drawbacks. Identify and request friendly amendments, identify
unfriendly amendments and potential blocks.
Test for Consensus; Decision and Re-Statement
Before asking if everyone is agreed, ask if there are any stand-asides (individuals who do not fully
support the decision, but will not stand in the way of it moving forward). Then ask if there are
any blocks (people who feel that the decision compromises the integrity of the group in terms of
its purpose, goals, and values and will prevent the decision from moving forward). If there are no
blocks, ask if everyone is agreed.
Implement the Decision
Once everyone is agreed, discuss how the decision will be carried forward and assign roles.
For Committee: Many groups opt to develop proposals in committee. If this is the case, I recommend
completing steps 1–3 with the large group, sending the issue to committee for step 4, and bringing the
proposal back to the group for steps 5–7.
For Majority Decision: For some groups, coming to a complete and unified consensus is not necessarily
feasible. These groups modify what it means to take decision. Consensus Minus One, for instance, means
that if only one person blocks a decision, then the decision stands. In these situations, at least two people
must block in order to stop a decision from moving forward. Other modifications include 90% majority
rule or 2/3 majority rule.
What if there is a Block?
Consider your Options:
Ask the person blocking if he/she is willing to stand aside.
Return to discussion of the issue and develop a new proposal with the block in mind.
Leave the proposal/discussion for another time; take a break for reflection.
Accept the block and do not move forward.
Use mediation tools or an outside mediator; develop a reconciliation committee to address
frequent blocking, if necessary.
Resort to other modes of decision-making, such as random choice or voting.
Consensus Process Tools
Here are a few tools that are useful in facilitating consensus process, and move the discussion forward in
ways that are creative and productive.
Consensus Process works best when one or two individuals in the group facilitate the process, and help
guide the group through each stage towards making a decision.
When working with a large group, it is often useful to break down into smaller groups as a way of allowing
more voices to be heard and more creative ideas to surface.
In a large group, the use of hand signals can indicate one’s desire to speak, acknowledge a point of
information, or communicate silent agreement, among other things. This is an effective way of easing
communication and maintaining momentum without allowing for disruption or disrespect between
These are easy ways to get a lot of ideas out in the open relatively quickly.
In a Go-Round…the facilitator asks a question and each member of a group answers in order, without
responding to one another.
In a Brainstorm…individuals can respond to and build off of each others ideas.
In a Popcorn…the facilitator asks for ideas and everyone in the group is free to respond with whatever
comes to mind without any particular order.
Talking Sticks are wonderful for equalizing airtime and preventing interruption. The group selects an
object to represent a Talking Stick, and once someone in the group is holding it, only he/she can talk.
Active & Reflective Listening
Active & Reflective Listening involves listening carefully to what another person is saying, and repeating
back to him/her what you have heard, not what you think about what you heard. The idea is to help the
other person achieve more clarity about his/her feelings on a particular issue.
Fishbowls operate by drawing out a few members of a group to discuss an issue, while the larger group
watches from a surrounding circle
Pros & Cons
Sometimes it is extremely clarifying for a group to make a list of the Pros & Cons of a specific decision.
A Straw Poll is a fake vote. It is as simple as the facilitator asking who is for a decision, and who is against
it. It can be very helpful in assessing how invested a group is in a specific decision or action.
During particularly heated or contentious discussions, it can be helpful and clarifying to have individuals
who feel very strongly on an issue switch roles, and argue for the opposite side.
— The website of Tree Bressen, Consensus Trainer and Facilitator
— A web resource about Consensus and Facilitation
– The International Institute for Facilitation and Change
— The website of the Alpha Institute