Monday, October 15, 2007

What is Consensus Decision-Making?

Some of my recent blogs have dealt with the role of Neighborhood Associations in helping determine policy to preserve quality of life by conditioning future development and by other means.

These have attracted several comments, some of which were quite agitated.
That made me wonder whether it was something I said, or because I said something at all on this subject!
It seems a very sensitive subject, doesn't it?

Consistently, my focus has been on seeking 'consensus'.

What does that mean, you might ask?

Here's the definition from Wikipedia:
"The word 'consensus' derives from the Latin cum meaning 'with' or 'together with', and sentire meaning to 'think' or 'feel'.
Thus, etymologically, 'consensus' means to 'think or feel together'.

As a decision-making process, consensus aims to be:

• Inclusive: As many stakeholders as possible should be involved in the consensus decision-making process.

• Participatory: The consensus process should actively solicit the input and participation of all decision-makers.

• Co-operative: Participants in an effective consensus process should strive to reach the best possible decision for the group and all of its members, rather than opt to pursue a majority opinion, potentially to the detriment of a minority.

• Egalitarian: All members of a consensus decision-making body should be afforded, as much as possible, equal input into the process.
All members have the opportunity to table, amend and veto or "block" proposals.

• Solution-oriented: An effective consensus decision-making body strives to emphasize common agreement over differences and reach effective decisions using compromise and other techniques to avoid or resolve mutually-exclusive positions within the group.
That sounds pretty simple, doesn't it?

In practice, and on controversial subjects, it is not simple!
It is often impossible.

When complete consensus is not possible, what happens?

Life goes on anyway.
But, maybe a partial consensus is possible.

The exercise is to figure out what can be agreed upon first.
Then identify the 'sticky wickets' that comprise the main barriers to reaching agreement.
Both sides of the equation are valuable things to know, especially when the time comes for decisions to be made.

And, one way or another, decisions will be made!

Those decisions may be difficult, time consuming and contentious, but they will be made.
Hopefully, they will be made fairly and will stand up to the tests of time.
If a decision can't stand the test of time, other decisions must be made that will.

No one ever said this was easy!

Like the Midas Muffler Ad said, 'you can pay me now, or pay me later'.

Earlier input is better in my book.