Last week we opened the door on consensus building. What is it? Go read our intro! In brief, it’s a set of social contracts and a process. Consensus building gives groups the ability to make more durable and informed decisions in a way that prioritizes member input. While majority rule voting may work in certain cases for certain groups, consensus building promotes an ongoing editing process and dialogue that assumes that members will bring flexibility, openness, and an ability to listen and cooperate with one another.
We rarely if ever promote a one-size-fits-all approach to anything, but here are the general steps to consensus building that groups can adapt. While details and focus will of course change from group to group, we’d like to suggest a basic framework that leaders can adapt to their particular needs!
Image credit: Seeds for Change
The basic steps to consensus building
1. Facilitator introduces and clarifies the central issue:
Important for facilitator to be neutral here. Leaders who choose to facilitate the discussion (and we think that if they reasonably can, they should) are acting as a guide. In order for group members to feel free to include their own honest perspectives
2. Allow the discussion to broaden:
Now is the dive-in-and-get your-hands-dirty part. This is when everyone brings their opinions and information. This is NOT time to share ideas for problem solving or hypothetical solutions- that’s next. Facilitators should hear those hypotheticals and table them for later. For now, the priority is making sure that every single possible concern and perspective is on the table. This will allow the group to comprehensively understand the big picture and the full spectrum of desire and worry across the group.
3. Brainstorm solutions:
Leaders should keep group members in big picture thinking here too. Often groups can get hung up on nitpicking and censoring minor details. Facilitators should keep the dynamic centered on common goals and interests. We opened the aperture completely in the previous step, and now we’re narrowing it a bit. The group at this point has a good understanding of what everyone cares about. Now you can begin to dissect the pros and cons of various ideas.
4. Form a proposal:
Weave the various ideas together into a proposal that addresses the most important needs of the group.
Tweak, tweak, tweak until any edits and changes have been made.
Take the temperature of the group by reading through the proposal that they’ve co-created. Leaders can be very direct here. Ask if any group members are against the current proposal. If anyone is adamantly standing in the way or blocking, make sure that you put the onus on them to suggest amendments to the plan. Remember from our original post that
7. Repeat steps 4-6:
There’s a possibility that you’ll get it exactly right the first time, but you probably will not and that’s ok! It’s safe to assume that further editing will be the norm, particularly for group that have diversity in values, background, and opinion across the membership. Repeat until any squeaky wheels in the group are satisfied enough to move on. Satisfied enough to not keep blocking is really the key. We’ll do a future post on how to more specifically deal with folks who are having a tough time getting on board.
8. Move on to implementation:
Before this process can be considered done and ready to put to bed, the group needs to come to firm commitment on who will be implementing the proposal, what the timeline is, and how they intend to do that. This will have been completely pointless if leaders don’t make it a point to figure out immediate next steps.
Next week, we’ll be doing a brief post on the levels of agreement that groups can use in order to stratify their feelings during the proposal testing step. Then, we’ll get to those squeaky wheels and how to handle them!
The Team at Groupeasy