London Commons/A brief overview of consensus

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This is the content from a pamphlet called: A brief overview of consensus decision making. This is the basis for the decision making process that the London Commons will use for its meetings in the future, so please read it and post any comments, concerns or changes.

What is consensus?

Consensus is a decision making model that is unique in that it stresses cooperative development of a decision, with group members working together as opposed to competing. Conflict and dissent are valued, keeping in mind that everyone is there with a common purpose. The goal of consensus is to reach a decision by utilizing everyone's knowledge and experience. While the decision reached may not necessarily be the ideal or intended outcome of each individual member of the group, it is one that can be accepted and supported by all.


Why do we use it?

Three main advantages of consensus

Power Equity Often within groups, informal hierarchies can form. These dynamics can be emphasized during decision making if the model in place is a hierarchical one. Consensus, as a model, recognizes these tendencies and helps to better distribute power by ensuring that everyone participating is equally valued. Also, it tends to de-emphasize the role of factions or parties and promote individual expression.


Quality of the decision Since the decision must be suitable for a variety of people, it is more likely to be discussed and examined thoroughly and meet complex standards of workability, desirability and integrity. It also increases the likelihood of unforeseen and creative solutions that are a product of meshing dissimilar ideas


Commitment and Satisfaction The process needed to reach consensus often requires intense involvement from group members. When people contribute to creating a decision and have opportunities to voice concerns, they are more likely to be satisfied and follow through with the final decision. Participants are not just committed to a decision by default or by contract.


Defining roles

Facilitator

The Facilitator does not make decisions for the group, but rather helps the group come to its own decisions. The Facilitator accepts responsibility for:

  • Keeping the group moving forward in a productive, focused manner
  • Maintaining process and ground rules
  • Encouraging (equal) participation
  • Introducing and following an agenda
  • Ensuring all decisions made are feasible and accepted by the whole group

For these purposes, the Facilitator has the right to:

  • Interrupt a speaker to remind them to stay on topic, be concise or not repeat
  • Speak out of turn in order to assist the meeting process
  • Initiate go-arounds and call on someone to speak
  • Make minor judgement calls on agenda items as the meeting progresses without asking group

Note: At times the designate will be acting exclusively as a facilitator but they may also be times where a group member who would like to participate in the content of the meeting must facilitate. In that case, the facilitator must somehow make that distinction clear and when participating follow all regular rules.


Mood minder/Dynamic watcher

The role of this person is to keep an eye on body language, tone of voice, energy level and the emotional climate of the group or discussion. The mood minder is encouraged to interrupt the group when necessary with an observation about how things are going and to suggest remedies. Things to watch for:

  • Conversation being dominated by certain individuals, groups, genders, etc.
  • People losing focus
  • A lack of ideas or energy within group
  • Side conversations
  • People interrupting or speaking out of turn

Mood minders may present perceived problems of group dynamics and ask the group for a solution, or may:

  • Suggest a break
  • Suggest a go-around
  • Ask that the group hear more from less dominant members, groups, genders, etc.
  • Give a reminder of ground rules and common goals


Minute Taker

The main responsibility of the minute taker is to keep a written record of the meeting. This person can also be in the role of facilitator.

It is beneficial to record:

  • Information
  • Conclusions
  • Decisions


It is not worthwhile to record:

  • Opinions
  • Emotions
  • Anecdotes
  • tangential conversations

Speakers list

Responsible for keeping a list and calling on everyone who would like to speak, in the order that they made it known. Traditionally, to let the List taker know that you would like to speak you must raise your hand or make eye contact.

  • (Can also be the role of the facilitator or minute taker)

(the following are not always necessary roles)

Time keeper

(for time sensitive meetings) Keeps an eye on the time, reminds group when they are nearing the agreed limit for item

Devils advocate

Designated to represent the unrepresented position in a discussion

Participant

Participants are responsible as much as anyone else for contributing to the content and flow of a meeting.

You are responsible for:

  • raising issues/ adding issues to the agenda
  • giving opinions/expertise on issues being discussed
  • presenting options
  • taking part in decision making
  • following ground rules and process

WHEN A DECISION IS ON THE TABLE

When a solution is proposed, a participant may:

  • ask for clarification if needed
  • accept the solution
  • abstain from the decision making: usually occurs when someone...
    • feels they are in a conflict of interest
    • does not have enough info to make a decision but is comfortable leaving it to the group
    • is not completely satisfied with decision, but can live with it
    • can't make up their mind, is comfortable with moving on
    • is not comfortable with speaking in front of an unfamiliar group of people
  • block the decision:used rarely, mainly when someone...
    • disagrees so strongly with the decision that they cannot in good conscience allow it
    • believe that it is contrary to the basis of unity or mission of the group

It only takes one person to block a decision, at which point the group must hear their concerns and return to find new solutions or amend the current one.

  • defer the decision: When it is apparent that an issue is not going to resolved at this point in time, or discussion is becoming unproductive, the group may want to take a break or to defer it to another meeting or point in the discussion.

PARTICIPATION GUIDELINES

Before the meeting begins it is beneficial to have the group define a set of ground rules and/or basic assumptions. These vary between groups and meetings but generally outline how the meeting will run, what rights and responsibilities the participants/facilitator have and common goals. They are guidelines to underline core values of the group.


Example of participation guidelines

  • Do not interrupt people as they speak or the agreed upon order of speakers. Try to avoid side conversaions.
  • Be respectful and polite
  • Speak to the issues and politics of the matter, not to a person
  • Speak for yourself only ("I"statements)
  • Stay focused / on topic
  • Be concise, do not repeat yourself or others
  • Everyones opinions/ideas are equally valued

Document license

This document is released under both the GNU Free Documentation License 1.2 and the Creative Commons By-ShareAlike-NonCommericial 2.5 license.