What Does Consensus Look Like in Practice?


One example might look like this (remember there are dozens of scenarios for how proposals can get made, discussed, and decisions made):

A proposal comes before a group. The facilitator asks us for clarifying questions only. As soon as the questions start drifting into the category of "What if such and such would happen...?" then the facilitator indicates to the group that they seem to be moving into raising concerns. S/he then asks the group  to brainstorm concerns (recorded on large chart). Also brainstorm positives about the proposal. Next people might meet in small groups to do preliminary thinking and discussion abut the proposal and concerns. Each small group sees what it can agree to and records it. The group then briefly report back what they have tentatively decided. It might sound something like this:

"Group one thinks that the proposal is excellent but feels that the date is an unrealistic one. We would suggest a later time."

"Group Two agrees with the proposal in principle but would like a later date, an we have real reservations about how the people would be selected."

As the reports are in, the facilitator(s) (use more than one when possible) makes an educated guess at what the group is thinking and summarizes, "It sounds as if we can agree to the proposal tentatively if we can work out the following points; date (and it seems that everyone would like a later one); personnel and the way they are to follow up..."

People might make suggestions from the floor to solve the problems, or the small groups can meet again to do that work.

Two points that make this process go smoothly are the facilitator's ability to sense and state points of agreement and to encourage an orderly flow of ideas and concerns without letting the group go off tangents.


Sources: Building Social Change Communities

Contributors: Susanne Terry, The Training/Action Affinity Group of Movement for a New Society

Recommended Books:  Building Social Change Communities