There are two types of decisions:
- Policy Decisions
- Event Decisions
Policy decisions are intended from the start to become standard against which future circumstances are compared, and future decisions are made without further group decision-making because the "policy" is set by the earlier group decision.
Event decisions are intended from the beginning to be only for the specific set of circumstances being considered and do not automatically carry forward to the next similar situation.
Each decision needs to be clearly defined as a policy decision, an event decision, or some combination of both. Creativity is the key here. The more clarity brought to the classification of each proposal and any and all of its parts as either policy or event decisions will serve the group's process interests in direct proportion to the effort expended.
This is not always easy to do and often the party making the proposal will classify it one way and, someone else hearing it for the first time, might classify it differently. And sometimes, the same proposal is both, usually meaning that 2 decisions need to be made: one concerning the policy-making aspects of the proposal and the other to address the practical, event specific aspects of the proposal.
The way in which an individual holds the type of decision at hand significantly affects the dynamics of consenting to a decision for which one has unresolved concerns, commonly referred to as "standing aside." If it is understood that this is a policy decision, this would mean that anyone who "agreed to disagree" or stand aside and give their consent to this proposal, would be obligated to Cooperate with the implementation of the policy and abide by it in practice, now and in the future.
Using the Formal Consensus process, it is not acceptable to consent to a policy decision, even with strongly held concerns for which one stood aside, and then not cooperate with that policy. If the decision at hand is a one time, single event decision, it is entirely possible for someone to clearly state their intention not to participate in the event before the decision is made and, if they have no concerns about the group doing it, consent to it.
For those who stood aside, it is understood that they have no intention of cooperating with the decision but they will not interfere with other group members implementing the decision. These are diametrically different behaviours solely dependent on whether the proposal at hand is considered a policy or event decision.
Most event decisions and many policy decisions have a great deal of variation as to what constitutes Consensus. As just mentioned, the group could easily tolerate one or more members clearly declaring their intention not to participate, say in an all day excursion sponsored by the group, and still decide to do the trip without those members.
However, some decisions are, by their significance to the purpose of the group, too important to simply accept a Consensus, and need to be actually agreed to by the members of the group before the decision can be adopted. These decisions require agreement before they can be adopted. This means there would be no stand asides and everyone understands that they are giving not only consent to let the decision be made, they are in actual agreement with the decision.
While there are many people who seem to think that Consensus means agreement with the decision, in Formal Consensus, the decisions that require agreement from all members are rare and reserved for only those decisions that are of major significance to the group or define its purpose.
Some groups, because of their specific common purpose, might decide that no decisions ever require agreement and use what might be called absolute Consensus, where anyone can choose to stand-aside, agree or disagree or otherwise give their consent without agreeing, in part or entirely, with the decision.
Much of the work of discovering whether a proposal is a policy decision or event decision happens during agenda planning. This is not to say the agenda planning group makes the decision as to which type it is or is not. It is either completely clear or it is an evolving process in which many different people are involved. Either way, it comes up during agenda planning because it will likely effect how the agenda is planned. Experienced practitioners will learn to include their thoughts regarding these "policy decision vs. event decision issues when submitting a proposal for the agenda.
Sources: Consensus for Cities
Contributors: C.T. Butler
Recommended Books: Consensus for Cities