Consensus is the process of bringing a group together for the best solution that everyone can agree to. It differs from traditional antagonistic decision-making systems in that it tries to avoid winners and losers. Our community has operated by consensus since before it even had formal bylaws, but did not adopt a formal process until the October 14, 2006 Ritual for Business. That process was further modified at the April 2009 Ritual for Business, to allow for alternate resolutions when a block may be questionable. Please read below for more details on the process we currently use; if you have any questions, contact any community member or board member (they'll have the wooden name tags).
You do not have to be a member to have a proposal considered by the Committee of the Whole, or to voice your opinion on something being considered! However, you do have to show up when it is being considered, or communicate your concern/support to someone who will be there; please keep an eye on the agenda for our upcoming Rituals for Business to stay abreast of community activity.
Proposals should be distributed in full and in writing to the congregation ahead of the business meeting where it will be considered if possible; electronic methods are good but remember those without email! Most roles can be assigned before the meeting as well, especially the Facilitator. Try to anticipate questions and provide replies in the proposal, but brevity and clarity are important as well.
- At or before the beginning of the meeting, all roles should be assigned if they have not already. Vibes Watcher in particular should face no objections from the group.
- Facilitator then posts a full agenda of all items for consideration, including any time constraints.
- Ask if clarifications are needed on agenda or timeframe.
- Call for consensus on agenda.
- If there are concerns, collect them, address them, and call for consensus again. If one or a few people are confused or have questions of a clarifying nature (not objections), ask if they will go with the Doorkeeper to have it explained individually, without disrupting the timeline.
- If it has not already been done, Facilitator or Recorder should provide the (first) proposal to the group in writing.
- Ask if clarifications are needed. Recorder should document any clarifications that are not explicitly answered in the text.
- Call for consensus on the proposal as it is now written publicly: "Are there any concerns or objections?"
- Recorder documents all concerns and objections publicly (may need help). Now is not the time to try to offer solutions!
- Facilitator will attempt to group similar or functionally overlapping problems, asking those who brought them up if this is acceptable.
- Address the first problem/type of problem as a group.
- Solutions may now be proposed, or clarifications offered.
- One person speaks at a time, except (if needed) facilitator or vibes watcher.
- The problem is now before the group, and does not belong to one person.
- If solved to everyone's satisfaction, move on to next problem. Remember to record any agreed-upon changes to the proposal that were needed for resolution!
- If it cannot be solved to everyone's satisfaction, set it aside and move on to the next problem/type of problem. The Facilitator should make this call, taking into account the opinions of the group.
- If all objections have been addressed, call for consensus again as in 3B.
- Some persons may wish to stand aside; record any outstanding concerns with the final accepted proposal.
- If a member or members block, the blocking member(s) must either:
- resolve their objections within the current meeting, or
- stand aside, or
- appeal to the Committee of the Whole to refer the proposal back to a working group (that includes people who objected), or
- undertake the following steps:
- organize a series of meetings to think through the issues and mutually develop a new proposal that addresses the same problem.
- at least one of the blocking member(s) must attend every meeting.
- the meetings must all take place within one month.
- each meeting should have two to four members present, in addition to the blocking member(s).
- in the course of these meetings, the blocking member(s) must meet with at least 20% of the Full Active Membership of the community.
- meetings must be in real-time communication (e.g. IRC, conference call, or in person).
- the blocking member(s) can request one 1-month extension from the Committee of the Whole if unable to fulfull these requirements.
- if the blocking member(s) is able to develop a mutually agreed-upon proposal, they present it at the next Ritual for Business and it is then taken up by the Committee of the Whole as a new proposal.
- if the blocking member(s) are unable to to develop a mutually agreed-upon proposal but still wish to object as of the next Ritual for Business, then the original proposal as it stood at the end of the last meeting is taken up for supermajority vote of the Full Active Membership.
- if 75% of the participating voters approves the proposal, it passes.
- Full Active Members may vote at the Ritual for Business, or by signed proxy to another Full Active Member. Any Board Member-at-Large is obligated to serve as a proxy if asked.
- if 26% of the participating vote does not approve the proposal, it continues to be blocked and no more action may be taken on it without a new proposal.
- if the blocking members neither attend the following Ritual for Business nor appoint someone to attend in their stead, then the proposal as it stood at the end of the last Ritual for Business is considered consensed upon and the blocking member(s) are considered to have stood aside, with their objections recorded.
- If there are unresolved objections and time/energy is flagging, three options exist:
- Meet again at a future date to try to resolve remaining problems.
- Refer proposal back to a working group (including people who objected).
- Address the nature of any blocks as a group.
- This may be a good place to utilize the advocate, to help the blocker(s) articulate themselves.
- if the block addresses the values/goals of the community and cannot be resolved, there is no consensus and the proposal is blocked.
- If the group feels it is individually based or unrelated to the group's values/needs/goals, that person may be asked to stand aside (consensus must record the remaining objection/concern). If they are unwilling to stand aside, proceed with the steps outlined in III.G.
- If more than one person remains as a blocker with independent concerns, use options III.H.1 or III.H.2 instead.
- Evaluation of the Process (optional but useful)
- Did the group accomplish anything?
- If not, why not?
- Are we sticking to the problem-solving process?
- Are all members that are present participating?
- Are we listening to one another?
- How well did the facilitator or facilitators do?
- Facilitator - Runs the meeting, makes sure processes are followed, ideally is neutral about the question. Can interrupt others if necessary!
- Recorder - Takes all permanent notes, ideally is neutral on the question.
- Vibes Watcher - Keeps an eye on the emotional level of the group and individuals. Can interrupt as necessary. Can suggest use of advocate. Must be as neutral on the question as possible!
- Doorkeeper - Catches up people on the status of the discussion if they arrive late, have to go to the bathroom during discussion, etc.
- Advocate - Helps someone speak their objections or concerns, if they are unable to do so themselves for any reason.
- Call for Consensus - regardless of when it is used or for what (agenda or major proposal) always means asking “Are there any concerns or objections?” Avoid asking directly “Do we have consensus?”, as this can lead to groupthink.
- Concerns - may be minor, can be addressed with more information, minor amendments, or merely being noted in the meeting notes. May be worth standing aside for, in the end.
- Objections - may be major and worth blocking consensus. Must be addressed before consensus can be reached; will likely result in amendments to question/proposal.
- Stand Aside – A member uses this option when they have concerns about the proposal but does not wish to block. These concerns may be a personal matter, not necessarily related to the needs of the group as a whole. Some may be addressed after implementation.
- Block – A member uses this option when they feel strongly that the proposal is detrimental to the group, not just for personal reasons.
- Groupthink – A tendency to operate as a single unit, discouraging healthy discussion or debate, and excluding outsiders or views contrary to group norms.
There are further readings on this topic: thanks to Jari Holland Buck of Majestic Wolf Consulting for materials and training, and the Formal Consensus group of C.T. Lawrence Butler and Amy Rothstein for consensus process suggestions.