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Of One Mind: Consensus-Based Decision Making

Of One Mind: Consensus-Based Decision Making

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand the process of consensus-based decision making

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Of One Mind: Consensus-Based Decision Making

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Is it possible for people to come together and make a decision where everyone is in agreement? You've probably been in a meeting where maybe your boss has stood up and said I want everybody to really agree to this. I want your buy in. I want complete buy in to this decision. It's a wonderful idea, but is it realistic?

I'm Marlene, and today I'd like to talk with you about that. I'd like to talk with you about something called consensus based decision making. It's a variation on the conflict resolution process to help groups make a joint decision that will meet their mutual needs. And it's based on consensus.

Consensus is a general agreement on the rightness of a course of action, or a belief or a decision. Doesn't necessarily mean it's unanimous. It's a general agreement. And the consensus based decision making model seeks that general agreement on the right course of action, and there's a process for doing this.

Now think about the need for a process here. It has to be something a little bit more complex than a simple yes or no. Because yes might mean I love it-- enthusiastic support, or it might mean well, I don't know. I can live with it, I guess.

Or no could mean hold on here for a moment. I need some more information. I don't totally understand this. I have a couple of questions and concerns. Or no could mean absolutely not. This offends me.

So there's a wide variety of responses people can have for any particular action or proposal that's on the table. So how does the consensus based decision making model work? Well, it's based on collaboration. Working together to jointly solve a problem, and there's a process here. Let me show you the process.

A group comes together-- the parties that are involved, and they discuss the options for whatever it is they need to decide. They generate a proposal. Identify concerns with that particular proposal. Modify the proposal.

Then assess how much support do we have in the room here? How much support do we have for this proposal? And then the last step is to finalize the proposal. Either move ahead, or if there's not enough support, you want to go back. You want to circle back here. Perhaps to step one where you're going to go back to some discussion here, or maybe to three where you're identifying the concerns, and then modifying the proposal.

So it's an iterative process, and it can take some time here. So there are some advantages to this process when you really want to get the buy in. It's really important to get ownership.

Now the disadvantages of course would be the amount of time that it can take, and that maybe it doesn't fit with the decision making process of an organization if you're doing this organizationally. But if you need to really create buy in via ownership, it's a very good process to go through-- to spend the time.

Now when would that be the case? Well the stakes are very high, and the decision you're making-- the result has some longevity to it. It's going to last for a while. For example, in your organization if you're trying to decide where to move headquarters, or you're a nonprofit and you're changing the name of the nonprofit. Those are big decisions, and having consensus among the people who are involved in this-- taking the time to do that to get real buy in makes sense.

However if it's a smaller decision. More routine. Maybe you need to figure out how to staff the office over the holidays when people are gone. A decision like this perhaps does not require consensus based decision making.

It's also important to look at how many people is this going to affect? Is it just a few or do you really need stakeholder buy in? And is it important that the stakeholders feel a sense of empowerment because they're involved in implementation? So on a larger scale you may have a policy here, or regulations that involve government officials, government agencies, businesses, and environmental agencies, and all of those parties are stakeholders in whatever decision is made around a policy or around a regulation.

So it's important to get buy in here. It's important to get consensus. So this is a process that you go through, and as I said it's iterative. It can take awhile.

So how do you make the final decision? How do you come to a decision when yes can mean so many things and no can mean so many things? Well you use a scale, and the scale could look something like this.

When you are voting here-- perhaps assessing support in step five-- you can ask people well, do you fully agree? Do you agree with reservations which means I have some reservations, but I could live with it. I support it. I could live with it.

Or you disagree, but you won't prevent it. You just want your disagreement noted, but you won't prevent this from moving ahead. Or are you going to block the decision. You feel that strongly about your no vote.

So these are all options. Some groups also allow members abstain, so that would be a fifth option. So you're assessing the support here, and deciding whether or not you need to circle back and discuss some more, identify concerns, modify the proposal.

Now who decides when to decide? There are many ways to do this, and many groups have their different rules. How much support do you need? 80% support? Do you need nobody blocking the decision to move ahead?

The group needs to decide what consensus means to that particular group, and to give the authority to whoever is facilitating the group to make that decision once everybody understands how they're defining true consensus. When they are actually going to finalize the decision.

Another way groups do this is they might do it anonymously, where people put in their votes and they don't say how they voted. Or they may then stand up and speak to their concerns. Or they might even use cards. Red card is absolutely no, yellow card is I have some cautions or concerns, and a green card is go ahead.

So there are a number of creative ways that you can assess the support in step five. So once again, consensus based decision making is a model that has a lot of advantages for decision making when there are multiple parties. There's a need for stakeholder buy in. The results that you're going for have a longevity to them. They're going to last for awhile. The stakes are high.

Thank you for joining me, and I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know

A general agreement on the rightness of a belief, action, or decision.

Consensus-Based Decision Making

A form of decision making in which parties to the decision seek general agreement on the right course of action.