The Consensus Council, Inc
1003 E Interstate Avenue - Suite 7
Bismarck, North Dakota 58503-0500
Ph: 701-224-0588 Fax: 701-224-0787
Consensus-Based Decision-Making Processes
A consensus based decision-making process is an effort in which affected parties
(stakeholders) seek to reach agreement on a course of action to address an issue or set of
related issues. In a consensus process, the stakeholders work together to find a
mutually acceptable solution.
Each consensus process is unique because the parties design their agreement to fit their
circumstances. However, successful consensus processes follow several guiding
Consensus Decision-making - Participants make decisions by agreement rather
than by majority vote.
Inclusiveness To the extent possible, all necessary interests are represented or, at
a minimum, approve of the decision.
Accountability - Participants usually represent stakeholder groups or interests.
They are accountable both to their constituents and to the process.
Facilitation - An impartial facilitator accountable to all participants manages the
process, ensures the ground rules are followed, and helps to maintain a
productive climate for communication and problem solving.
Flexibility - Participants design a process and address the issues in a manner they
determine most suitable to the situation.
Shared Control/Ground Rules - Participants share with the facilitator responsibility
for setting and maintaining the ground rules for a process and for creating
Commitment to Implementation - All stakeholders commit to carrying out their
Elements of a Consensus Based Decision:
All parties agree with the proposed decision and are willing to carry it out;
No one will block or obstruct the decision or its implementation; and
Everyone will support the decision and implement it.
Levels of Consensus:
I can say an unqualified "yes"!
I can accept the decision.
I can live with the decision.
I do not fully agree with the decision, however, I will not block it and will
Sample Ground Rules
1. It's Your Show: We understand that this is our process. The facilitators are
resources to take us where we agree to go. We determine the agenda, ground rules,
issues and process. We agree to attend and fully participate in all meetings.
2. Everyone is Equal: We agree that all participants in the process are equal.
3. No Relevant Topic is Excluded: We agree that no relevant topics are excluded from
consideration unless we agree they are. This is our opportunity to bring up and
thoroughly discuss issues that concern us.
4. No Discussion is Ended: We agree that no discussion is ended, including process
discussion, ground rules and rule of decision. Agreements reached at prior
meetings, unless implemented, are always open for further consideration.
5. Respect Opinions: We agree to respect each other's opinions. We will use gentle
candor in comments to each other and will not interrupt.
6. Respect the Time: We all understand the time constraints we face and agree to
respect the time. No one will dominate the discussions, and all participants will
have an opportunity to express their opinions.
7. Silence Is Agreement: We agree that silence on decisions is agreement. The
facilitators and other participants cannot read our minds. If it appears that the group
is reaching a consensus on an issue, if no one voices disagreement, it is assumed that
all are in agreement.
8. Keep the Facilitator Accurate: We agree to make certain that the facilitators capture
what we meant to say. We will keep the facilitators accurate.
9. Non-attribution: We agree that we will not attribute ideas or comments made by
participants to others outside of this process.
10. Rule of Decision: We agree that the rule of decision is Consensus, a described
above. We agree to strive for consensus. If agreement by all participants on an issue
is not possible, we will seek to develop a clear and balanced statement of the areas of
disagreement. Neutrality by any participant does not constitute a lack of consensus.
11. Media: We agree that all of our meetings are open to the media and to the public
unless we close all or a portion of them by consensus.
12. Substitutes/Proxies: We agree that we will not send substitutes or proxies. We may
send observers to meetings, but they will not have participant status.
13. Have Fun: We agree to do our best to enjoy the process and to help other
participants do so as well.
Consensus Decision Making
In simple terms, consensus refers to agreement on some decision by all members of a
group, rather than a majority or a select group of representatives. The consensus
process is what a group goes through to reach this agreement. The assumptions,
methods, and results are very different from traditional parliamentary procedure or
majority voting methods.
In the traditional political/legal processes, one side wins and one side loses. Some
issues come back time and again, or an issue may be so contentious that it is simply
never resolved. By contrast, a public policy consensus dialogue is framed and
agreements developed in a mutually beneficial way ensuring that no issue is "off
limits" and that all essential stakeholders are on board.
Acting according to consensus guidelines enables a group to take advantage of all
group members' ideas. By combining their thoughts, people can often create a higher-
quality decision than a vote decision or a decision by a single individual. Further,
consensus decisions can be better than vote decisions because voting can actively
undermine the decision. People are more likely to implement decisions they accept, and
consensus makes acceptance more likely.
What the consensus process requires
Consensus demands a high level of trust among the members of the group. People need
to believe that each member is a fair and reasonable person of integrity who has the
organization's best interests at heart. There are no perfect groups or perfect individuals,
but for consensus to work the members must believe that everyone is honestly doing
Another important element of the consensus process is a good facilitator. This person is
responsible for ensuring that everyone is heard, that all ideas are incorporated if they
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