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Consensus decision making

Consensus is based on the principle that every voice is worth hearing, every concern is justified. If a proposal makes a few people, even one person, deeply unhappy - then there is a valid reason for that unhappiness, and if we ignore it, we are likely to make a mistake.

How it works..

The consensus usually works with a facilitator, who is agreed by the group at the start of the meeting.

One person puts forward a proposal. The facilitator makes sure everyone gets a chance to put forward concerns, or speak for it. Negative reactions are not expressed as hard/fast positions. Instead of saying "I am catagorically against it", you say "I am concerned about it, because..." Voicing concerns allows the proposal to be modified to meet those proposals.

If a person feel their concerns cannot be met, and the group is enthusiastic, they can "stand aside", and simply not participate in that part of the group.

If they have STRONG objections to a proposal that affects them, they can _block_ the proposal. Blocks are used rarely and carefully. But the block gives each individual ultimate power to influence decisions that affect her/him. If someone feels strongly enough about something to block it, they are probably aware of factors the group should consider more carefully.

consensus takes time. Its also fails to work well in large groups, simply because there isn't time to hear everyone. It also can't deal with dualist questions imposed from outside the community.

Roles within a consensus based group

The Facilitator

The facilitator observes the content of talk in a meeting. They keep the meeting focussed and moving. Commonly people will drift off the subject under discussion and begin talking about something else. The facilitator reminds them what the subject is, and if necessary arranges for later discussion of new issues raised.

From time to time the facilitor may summarise what has been said so far, and what has been decided as relevant.

The facilitor calls on people to speak. It is their job to ensure that everyone has the chance to state their concerns.

The facilitator should be neutral on the subject being dicussed. If they hold strong views, another facilitator can be chosen for that topic.


The timekeeper's job, when time is limited, is to ensure that people remain aware of how much time is passing discussing each item.


Peacekeepers function not only during meetings, but whenever the group is active. Their role is to keep order and prevent crises. They difuse potential violence from outside the group or within it.


The notestaker takes notes and ensures that they are presented to the group for checking. "This should be the person who monopolises the conversation most"


Coordinators act as a switchboard - they keep track of what is being done, who is doing it and what needs to be done. "It is a marvellous opportunity to make mistakes and learn to take critisisms". Coordinators should switch roles often.

Original text | Spanish translation

| Sommaire |

Horizon Local 1997