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“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” — John 13:34

National Network of Presbyterian College Women Coordinating Committee  Consensus Model of Decision Making

Decision making processes

Decision-making involves a process. Some processes are authoritative: “I’m in charge, and we do what I say.” Some are democratic: “We have several opinions on this issue. Let’s vote, and the majority rules.” Some are elective: “I’m going to choose someone to represent me in making decisions and trust that the person I elect will reflect my opinion.”

What is the consensus model of decision making?

Decision-making by consensus involves the cooperative development of a decision that is supported by the entire group. The consensus model emphasizes the equal weight of each person in making a decision engaging in cooperation rather than competition. Benefits of the consensus model include the likelihood of having a higher-quality decision, the likelihood of enhanced creativity, the level of commitment to the decision because participants worked so hard in coming to it and the values that are implicit in the process, including cooperation, mutual trust, community and fairness.

How does the consensus model work?

1. When a decision must be made, a facilitator introduces an idea for discussion, clearly defining the area to be discussed and what has to be decided.

2. Background information on the issue is provided by group members or others outside the group. Relevant information may be added as it arises in the context of group discussion. Everyone wishing to speak to the issue has ample opportunity to think through an opinion on the decision to be made. Each contribution builds on previous statements, agreeing or disagreeing or expanding, yet each contribution is unique. Discussion includes factual material, opinion, definition of the problem, individuals’ thoughts and feelings, suggested approaches for handling the decision, etc.

3. Ideas are developed and clarified until it appears that all viewpoints have been expressed. The facilitator states the conclusion toward which the group appears to be moving. When it appears that everyone has had an opportunity to speak, a “consensus check” occurs. At this point, every participant voices a choice on the decision to be made. If not all parties agree to the decision, discussion continues until a decision on which all parties agree can be made.

What happens if the group simply cannot reach consensus?

4. If a person feels she is unable to agree to the consensus but does not want to block consensus, then she may choose to “stand aside.” This means that the group agrees that consensus has been reached. However, a person should choose to “stand aside” ONLY if she is able to support the consensus decision. Standing aside should never be used to pressure someone to accept a group decision or to avoid addressing the tough issues that might be involved in making a decision.

5. If a person feels strongly that she is unable to support the consensus decision, then she may “block” the consensus. The group then moves into a democratic process of decision-making, voting “for” or “against” the proposed decision. The majority vote prevails. Blocking the consensus should be used only as a last resort and only if the group has put forth a painstaking effort to come to consensus. The purpose of allowing both standing aside and blocking the consensus allows for the integrity of the individual to be held in tension with the integrity of the group.

What are some basic assumptions of the consensus model?

6. Members of the decision making body should understand the philosophy and process of the consensus model and agree to this method of decision making.

7. Members should be willing to hold a discussion  in a spirit of cooperation and trust, listening to one another’s contributions. They should attempt to equalize power, accept responsibility for their decision-making, pay attention to the process as much as the issue to be decided and promote creativity in the decision-making process.

8. Members should assure that all people feel comfortable as part of the group by proceeding slowly in order to leave space for quieter members to participate.

9. Members should listen carefully to what others say and ask questions when comments are not understood clearly. Members should trust that other participants are listening to her.

10. Members should build on what others say and synthesize the discussion — rather than put ideas into conflict with one another — taking time to ensure clear understanding of the matter.

11. Members should think creatively, break free from ruts and look for new alternatives.


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