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Index (Coming Soon)
11, 17, 19, 31, 34, 37-39, 40, 42, 45-47, 49, 52-53
contract 17, 20, 42-43, 45
planner 37, 39
17, 20, 28-30
blocking concern 29, 30
brainstorming 14, 55
38, 40, 45, 51
checking the process 51
clarifying questions 12, 15
clarity of process 42
commitment 2, 21-22, 25, 44
cooperation 2, 5, 8, 22, 24, 27-28, 32, 44, 50
decisionmaking 1-3, 5, 7-9, 21, 23, 26-27, 41
disrespect 32, 49, 53
empowerment 5, 23-24
access to power 5, 26
equalizing participation 49
evaluation 20, 31-34, 38, 40, 46
facilitator 11-17, 19, 28, 32-33, 37, 39-41-47, 49-56
facilitation techniques 49
will 8, 25, 43
discussion techniques 10, 15, 19, 39, 54
introduction 10-11, 38, 40
meeting 2, 6, 11, 17, 19-20, 29, 31-56
non-directive leadership 41
notetaker 14, 40, 46
participation 2-3, 5, 9, 25, 27, 34, 37, 49, 55-56
passing the clipboard 52
patience 7, 25-26
2, 5, 17, 23, 26, 29
reformulating the proposal 52
respect 3, 5, 22, 23, 25-27, 30, 32, 46, 49, 53
6, 19, 27, 32, 34, 37-48, 52-53
silence 13, 44, 51
group 7, 44, 46, 51, 55
standard agenda 40
aside 16, 29-30,
stepping out of role 52
structure 2-3, 6, 9-10-11, 26-27, 31, 39, 55
a break 51
techniques 3, 6, 10-11, 15, 19, 34, 38-39, 41, 49-56
of purpose 19, 23
group 5-6, 13, 16-17, 24, 28, 42, 44, 46, 54-56
27 of 29
8/19/99 7:40 PM
Conflict and Consensus
handbook on Formal Consensus decision making
If war is the violent
resolution of conflict, then peace is not the absence of conflict, but rather,
the ability to resolve conflict without violence.
Consensus, as a decision making process, has been developing for centuries. Many
people, in diverse communities, have contributed to this development. From them,
I have borrowed generously and adapted freely.
Advantages of Formal Consensus
Conflict and Consensus
Art of Evaluation
Advantages of Formal Consensus
are many ways to make decisions. Sometimes, the most efficient way to make
decisions would be to just let the manager (or CEO, or dictator) make them.
However, efficiency is not the only criteria. When choosing a decisionmaking
method, one needs to ask two questions. Is it a fair process? Does it produce
judge the process, consider the following: Does the meeting flow smoothly? Is
the discussion kept to the point? Does it take too long to make each decision?
Does the leadership determine the outcome of the discussion? Are some people
judge the quality of the end result, the decision, consider: Are the
people making the decision, and all those affected, satisfied with the result?
To what degree is the intent of the original proposal accomplished? Are
the underlying issues addressed? Is there an appropriate use of resources? Would
the group make the same decision again?
Autocracy can work, but the idea of a benevolent dictator is just a dream. We
believe that it is inherently better to
involve every person who is affected by the decision in the decision making
process. This is true for several reasons. The decision would reflect the will
of the entire group, not just the leadership. The people who carry out the plans
will be more satisfied with their work. And, as the old adage goes, two heads
are better than one.
book presents a particular model for decision making we call Formal Consensus.
Formal Consensus has a clearly defined structure. It requires a commitment to
active cooperation, disciplined speaking and listening, and respect for the
contributions of every member. Likewise, every person has the responsibility to
actively participate as a creative individual within the structure.
Avoidance, denial, and repression of conflict is common during meetings.
Therefore, using Formal Consensus might not be easy at first. Unresolved
conflict from previous experiences could come rushing forth and make the process
difficult, if not impossible. Practice and discipline, however, will smooth the
process. The benefit of everyone's participation and cooperation is worth the
struggle it may initially take to ensure that all voices are heard.
often said that consensus is time-consuming and difficult. Making complex,
difficult decisions is time-consuming, no matter what the process. Many
different methods can be efficient, if every participant shares a common
understanding of the rules of the game. Like any process, Formal Consensus can
be inefficient if a group does not first assent to follow a particular
book codifies a formal structure for decision making. It is hoped that the
relationship between this book and Formal Consensus would be similar to the
relationship between Robert's Rules of Order and Parliamentary Procedure.
Methods of decision making can be seen on a continuum with one person having
total authority on one end to everyone sharing power and responsibility on the
level of participation increases along this decision making continuum.
Oligarchies and autocracies offer no participation to many of those who are
directly affected. Representative, majority rule, and consensus democracies
involve everybody, to different degrees.
group, by definition, is a number of individuals having some unifying
relationship. The group dynamic created by consensus process is completely
different from that of Parliamentary Procedure, from start to finish. It is
based on different values and uses a different language, a different structure,
and many different techniques, although some techniques are similar. It might be
helpful to explain some broad concepts about group dynamics and consensus.
decision making is as much about conflict as it is about agreement, Formal
Consensus works best in an atmosphere in which conflict is encouraged,
supported, and resolved cooperatively with respect, nonviolence, and creativity.
Conflict is desirable. It is not something to be avoided, dismissed, diminished,
Majority Rule and Competition
Generally speaking, when a group votes using majority rule or Parliamentary
Procedure, a competitive dynamic is created within the group because it is being
asked to choose between two (or more) possibilities. It is just as acceptable to
attack and diminish another's point of view as it is to promote and endorse your
own ideas. Often, voting occurs before one side reveals anything about itself,
but spends time solely attacking the opponent! In this adversarial environment,
one's ideas are owned and often defended in the face of improvements.
Consensus and Cooperation
Consensus process, on the other hand, creates a cooperative dynamic. Only one
proposal is considered at a time.
Everyone works together to make it the best possible decision for the group. Any
concerns are raised and resolved, sometimes one by one, until all voices are
heard. Since proposals are no longer the property of the presenter, a solution
can be created more cooperatively.
consensus process, only proposals which intend to accomplish the common purpose
are considered. During discussion of a proposal, everyone works to improve the
proposal to make it the best decision for the group. All proposals are adopted
unless the group decides it is contrary to the best interests of the group.
Characteristics of Formal Consensus
a group decides to use Formal Consensus, it must honestly assess its ability to
honor the principles described in Chapter Three. If the principles described in
this book are not already present or if the group is not willing to work to
create them, then Formal Consensus will not be possible. Any group which wants
to adopt Formal Consensus needs to give considerable attention to the underlying
principles which support consensus and help the process operate smoothly. This
is not to say each and every one of the principles described herein must be
adopted by every group, or that each group cannot add its own principles
specific to its goals, but rather, each group must be very clear about the
foundation of principles or common purposes they choose before they attempt the
Formal Consensus decision making process.
Consensus is the least violent decision making process.
Traditional nonviolence theory holds that the use of power to dominate is
violent and undesirable. Nonviolence expects people to use their power to
persuade without deception, coercion, or malice, using truth, creativity, logic,
respect, and love. Majority rule voting process and Parliamentary Procedure both
accept, and even encourage, the use of power to dominate others. The goal is the
winning of the vote, often regardless of another choice which might be in the
best interest of the whole group. The will of the majority supersedes the
concerns and desires of the minority. This is inherently violent. Consensus
strives to take into account everyone's concerns and resolve them before any
decision is made. Most importantly, this process encourages an environment in
which everyone is respected and all contributions are valued.
Consensus is the most democratic decision making process.
which desire to involve as many people as possible need to use an inclusive
process. To attract and involve large numbers, it is important that the process
encourages participation, allows equal access to power, develops cooperation,
promotes empowerment, and creates a sense of individual responsibility for the
group's actions. All of these are cornerstones of Formal Consensus. The goal of
consensus is not the selection of several options, but the development of one
decision which is the best for the whole group. It is synthesis and evolution,
not competition and attrition.
Consensus is based on the principles of the group.
Although every individual must consent to a decision before it is adopted, if
there are any objections, it is not the choice of the individual alone to
determine if an objection prevents the proposal from being adopted. Every
objection or concern must first be presented before the group and either
resolved or validated. A valid objection is one in keeping with all previous
decisions of the group and based upon the commonly-held principles or foundation
adopted by the group. The objection must not only address the concerns of the
individual, but it must also be in the best interest of the group as a whole. If
the objection is not based upon the foundation, or is in contradiction with a
prior decision, it is not valid for the group, and therefore, out of order.
Consensus is desirable in larger groups.
structure is vague, decisions can be difficult to achieve. They will become
increasingly more difficult in larger groups. Formal Consensus is designed for
large groups. It is a highly structured model. It has guidelines and formats for
managing meetings, facilitating discussions, resolving conflict, and reaching
decisions. Smaller groups may need less structure, so they may choose from the
many techniques and roles suggested in this book.
Consensus works better when more people participate.
Consensus is more than the sum total of ideas of the individuals in the group.
During discussion, ideas build one upon the next, generating new ideas, until
the best decision emerges. This dynamic is called the creative interplay of
Creativity plays a major part as everyone strives to discover what is best for
the group. The more people involved in this cooperative process, the more ideas
and possibilities are generated. Consensus works best with everyone
participating. (This assumes, of course, that everyone in the group is trained
in Formal Consensus and is actively using it.)
Consensus is not inherently time-consuming.
Decisions are not an end in themselves. Decision making is a process which
starts with an idea and ends with the actual implementation of the decision.
While it may be true in an autocratic process that decisions can be made
quickly, the actual implementation will take time. When one person or a small
group of people makes a decision for a larger group, the decision not only has
to be communicated to the others, but it also has to be acceptable to them or
its implementation will need to be forced upon them. This will certainly take
time, perhaps a considerable amount of time.
other hand, if everyone participates in the decision making, the decision does
not need to be communicated and its implementation does not need to be forced
upon the participants. The decision may take longer to make, but once it is
made, implementation can happen in a timely manner. The amount of time a
decision takes to make from start to finish is not a factor of the process used;
rather, it is a factor of the complexity of the proposal itself. An easy
decision takes less time than a difficult, complex decision, regardless of the
process used or the number of people involved. Of course, Formal Consensus works
better if one practices patience, but any process is improved with a generous
amount of patience.
Consensus cannot be secretly disrupted.
may not be an issue for some groups, but many people know that the state
actively surveilles, infiltrates, and disrupts nonviolent domestic political and
religious groups. To counteract anti-democratic tactics by the state, a group
need to develop and encourage a decision making process which could not be
covertly controlled or manipulated. Formal Consensus, if practiced as described
in this book, is just such a process. Since the assumption is one of cooperation
and good will, it is always appropriate to ask for an explanation of how and why
someone's actions are in the best interest of the group. Disruptive behavior
must not be tolerated. While it is true this process cannot prevent openly
disruptive behavior, the point is to prevent covert disruption, hidden agenda,
and malicious manipulation of the process. Any group for which infiltration is a
threat ought to consider the process outlined in this book if it wishes to
remain open, democratic, and productive.
Decisions are adopted when all participants consent to the result of discussion
about the original proposal. People who do not agree with a proposal are
responsible for expressing their concerns. No decision is adopted until there is
resolution of every concern. When concerns remain after discussion, individuals
can agree to disagree by acknowledging that they have unresolved concerns, but
consent to the proposal anyway and allow it to be adopted.
Therefore, reaching consensus does not assume that everyone must be in complete
agreement, a highly unlikely situation in a group of intelligent, creative
Consensus is becoming popular as a democratic form of decision making. It is a
process which requires an environment in which all contributions are valued and
participation is encouraged. There are, however, few organizations which use
model of consensus which is specific, consistent, and efficient. Often, the
consensus process is informal, vague, and very inconsistent. This happens when
the consensus process is not based upon a solid foundation and the structure is
unknown or nonexistent. To develop a more formal type of consensus process, any
organization must define the commonly held principles which form the foundation
of the group's work and intentionally choose the type of structure within which
the process is built.
book contains the building materials for just such a process. Included is a
description of the principles from which a foundation is created, the flowchart
and levels of structure which are the frame for the process, and the other
materials needed for designing a variety of processes which can be customized to
fit the needs of the organization.
Structure of Formal Consensus
groups regularly use diverse discussion techniques learned from practitioners in
the field of conflict resolution.
Although this book does include several techniques, the book is about a
structure called Formal Consensus. This structure creates a separation
between the identification and the resolution of concerns.
Perhaps, if everybody in the group has no trouble saying what they think, they
won't need this structure. This predictable structure provides opportunities to
those who don't feel empowered to participate.
Consensus is presented in levels or cycles. In the first level, the idea is to
allow everyone to express their perspective, including concerns, but group time
is not spent on resolving problems. In the second level the group focuses its
attention on identifying concerns, still not resolving them. This requires
discipline. Reactive comments, even funny ones, and resolutions, even good ones,
can suppress the creative ideas of others. Not until the third level does the
structure allow for exploring resolutions.
level has a different scope and focus. At the first level, the scope is broad,
allowing the discussion to consider the philosophical and political implications
as well as the general merits and drawbacks and other relevant information.
only focus is on the proposal as a whole. Some decisions can be reached after
discussion at the first level. At the second level, the scope of the discussion
is limited to the concerns. They are identified and publicly listed, which
enables everyone to get an overall picture of the concerns. The focus of
attention is on identifying the body of concerns and grouping similar ones. At
the third level, the scope is very narrow. The focus of discussion is limited to
a single unresolved concern until it is resolved.
Flow of the Formal Consensus Process
ideal situation, every proposal would be submitted in writing and briefly
introduced the first time it appears on the agenda. At the next meeting, after
everyone has had enough time to read it and carefully consider any concerns, the
discussion would begin in earnest. Often, it would not be until the third
meeting that a decision is made. Of course, this depends upon how many proposals
are on the table and the urgency of the decision.
Clarify the Process
facilitator introduces the person presenting the proposal and gives a short
update on any previous action on it. It is very important for the facilitator to
explain the process which brought this proposal to the meeting, and to describe
the process that will be followed to move the group through the proposal to
consensus. It is the facilitator's job to make sure that every participant
clearly understands the structure and the discussion techniques being employed
while the meeting is in progress.
Present Proposal or Issue
possible and appropriate, proposals ought to be prepared in writing and
distributed well in advance of the meeting in which a decision is required. This
encourages prior discussion and consideration, helps the presenter anticipate
concerns, minimizes surprises, and involves everyone in creating the proposal.
(If the necessary groundwork has not been done, the wisest choice might be to
send the proposal to committee. Proposal writing is difficult to accomplish in a
large group. The committee would develop the proposal for consideration at a
later time.) The presenter reads the written proposal aloud, provides background
information, and states clearly its benefits and reasons for adoption, including
addressing any existing concerns.
Questions Which Clarify the Presentation
Questions are strictly limited by the facilitator to those which seek greater
comprehension of the proposal as presented.
Everyone deserves the opportunity to fully understand what is being asked of the
group before discussion begins. This is not a time for comments or concerns. If
there are only a few questions, they can be answered one at a time by the person
presenting the proposal. If there are many, a useful technique is hearing all
the questions first, then answering them together. After answering all
clarifying questions, the group begins discussion.
One: Broad Open Discussion
Discussion at this level ought to be the broadest in scope. Try to encourage
comments which take the whole proposal into
account; i.e., why it is a good idea, or general problems which need to be
addressed. Discussion at this level often has a
philosophical or principled tone, purposely addressing how this proposal might
affect the group in the long run or
what kind of precedent it might create, etc. It helps every proposal to be
discussed in this way, before the group
engages in resolving particular concerns. Do not allow one concern to become the
focus of the discussion. When
particular concerns are raised, make note of them but encourage the discussion
to move back to the proposal as awhole.
Encourage the creative interplay of comments and ideas. Allow for the addition
of any relevant factual
information. For those who might at first feel opposed to the proposal, this
discussion is consideration of why it might be
good for the group in the broadest sense. Their initial concerns might, in fact,
be of general concern to the whole group.
And, for those who initially support the proposal, this is a time to think about
the proposal broadly and some of the
general problems. If there seems to be general approval of the proposal, the
facilitator, or someone recognized to speak,
can request a call for consensus.
facilitator asks, "Are there any unresolved concerns?" or "Are there any
concerns remaining?" After a period of
silence, if no additional concerns are raised, the facilitator declares that
consensus is reached and the proposal is read for
the record. The length of silence ought to be directly related to the degree of
difficulty in reaching consensus; an easy
decision requires a short silence, a difficult decision requires a longer
silence. This encourages everyone to be at peace in
accepting the consensus before moving on to other business. At this point, the
facilitator assigns task responsibilities or
sends the decision to a committee for implementation. It is important to note
that the question is not "Is there
consensus?" or "Does everyone agree?". These questions do not encourage an
environment in which all concerns can be
expressed. If some people have a concern, but are shy or intimidated by a strong
showing of support for a proposal, the
question "Are there any unresolved concerns?" speaks directly to them and
provides an opportunity for them to speak.
concerns for which someone stands aside are listed with the proposal and become
a part of it.
Two: Identify Concerns
beginning of the next level, a discussion technique called brainstorming (see
page 55) is used so that concerns can be
identified and written down publicly by the scribe and for the record by the
note taker. Be sure the scribe is as
accurate as possible by checking with the person who voiced the concern before
moving on. This is not a time to
attempt to resolve concerns or determine their validity. That would stifle free
expression of concerns. At this point, only
concerns are to be expressed, reasonable or unreasonable, well thought out or
vague feelings. The facilitator wants to
interrupt any comments which attempt to defend the proposal, resolve the
concerns, judge the value of the concerns, or in any
way deny or dismiss another's feelings of doubt or concern. Sometimes simply
allowing a concern to be
expressed and written down helps resolve it. After all concerns have been
listed, allow the group a moment to reflect on them
as a whole.
this point, the focus is on identifying patterns and relationships between
concerns. This short exercise must not be
allowed to focus upon or resolve any particular concern.
Three: Resolve Concerns
Resolve Groups of Related Concerns
related concerns can be resolved as a group.
most of the concerns seem to have been resolved, call for consensus in the
manner described earlier. If some concerns have
not been resolved at this time, then a more focused discussion is needed.
Restate Remaining Concerns (One at a Time)
to the list. The facilitator checks each one with the group and removes ones
which have been resolved or are, for any
reason, no longer of concern. Each remaining concern is restated clearly and
concisely and addressed one at a time.
Sometimes new concerns are raised which need to be added to the list. However,
every individual is responsible for
honestly expressing concerns as they think of them. It is not appropriate to
hold back a concern and spring it upon the group
late in the process. This undermines trust and limits the group's ability to
adequately discuss the concern in its
relation to other concerns.
Questions Which Clarify the Concern
facilitator asks for any questions or comments which would further clarify the
concern so everyone clearly
understands it before discussion starts.
Discussion Limited to Resolving One Concern
many creative group discussion techniques as needed to facilitate a resolution
for each concern. Keep the
discussion focused upon the particular concern until every suggestion has been
offered. If no new ideas are coming
forward and the concern cannot be resolved, or if the time allotted for this
item has been entirely used, move to one of the
closing options described below.
this process until all concerns have been resolved. At this point, the group
should be at consensus, but it would be
appropriate to call for consensus anyway just to be sure no concern has been
decision on the proposal can wait until the whole group meets again, then send
the proposal to a committee which can
clarify the concerns and bring new, creative resolutions for consideration by
the group. It is a good idea to include on the
committee representatives of all the major concerns, as well as those most
supportive of the proposal so they can work
out solutions in a less formal setting. Sometimes, if the decision is needed
before the next meeting, a smaller group
can be empowered to make the decision for the larger group, but again, this
committee should include all points of
view. Choose this option only if it is absolutely necessary and the whole group
Aside (Decision Adopted with Unresolved Concerns Listed)
concern has been fully discussed and cannot be resolved, it is appropriate for
the facilitator to ask those persons with
this concern if they are willing to stand aside; that is, acknowledge that the
concern still exists, but allow the
proposal to be adopted. It is very important for the whole group to understand
that this unresolved concern is then
written down with the proposal in the record and, in essence, becomes a part of
the decision. This concern can be raised again
and deserves more discussion time as it has not yet been resolved. In contrast,
a concern which has been resolved in
past discussion does not deserve additional discussion, unless something new has
developed. Filibustering is not
appropriate in Formal Consensus.
having spent the allotted agenda time moving through the three levels of
discussion trying to achieve consensus and
concerns remain which are unresolved, the facilitator is obligated to declare
that consensus cannot be reached at this
meeting, that the proposal is blocked, and move on to the next agenda item. The
Rules of Formal Consensus The
guidelines and techniques in this book are flexible and meant to be modified.
Some of the guidelines, however, seem almost
always to be true. These are the Rules of Formal Consensus: 1. Once a decision
has been adopted by consensus, it
cannot be changed without reaching a new consensus. If a new consensus cannot be
reached, the old decision stands.
general, only one person has permission to speak at any moment. The person with
permission to speak is
determined by the group discussion technique in use and/or the facilitator. (The
role of Peacekeeper is exempt from this
rule.) 3. All structural decisions (i.e., which roles to use, who fills each
role, and which facilitation technique and/or group
discussion technique to use) are adopted by consensus without debate. Any
objection automatically causes a new
selection to be made. If a role cannot be filled without objection, the group
proceeds without that role being filled. If
much time is spent trying to fill roles or find acceptable techniques, then the
group needs a discussion about the unity of
purpose of this group and why it is having this problem, a discussion which must
be put on the agenda for the next
meeting, if not held immediately.4. All content decisions (i.e., the agenda
contract, committee reports, proposals, etc.) are
adopted by consensus after discussion. Every content decision must be openly
discussed before it can be tested for
consensus. 5. A concern must be based upon the principles of the group to
justify a block to consensus. 6. Every
meeting which uses Formal Consensus must have an evaluation.
Conflict and Consensus
Conflict is usually viewed as an impediment to reaching agreements and
disruptive to peaceful relationships.
However, it is the underlying thesis of Formal Consensus that nonviolent
conflict is necessary and desirable. It provides the
motivations for improvement. The challenge is the creation of an
understanding in all who participate that conflict, or
differing opinions about proposals, is to be expected and acceptable. Do not
avoid or repress conflict. Create an
environment in which disagreement can be expressed without fear. Objections and
criticisms can be heard not as
attacks, not as attempts to defeat a proposal, but as a concern which, when
resolved, will make the proposal stronger.
understanding of conflict may not be easily accepted by the members of a group.
Our training by society
undermines this concept. Therefore, it will not be easy to create the kind of
environment where differences can be
expressed without fear or resentment. But it can be done. It will require
tolerance and a willingness to experiment.
Additionally, the values and principles which form the basis of commitment to
work together to resolve conflict need to be
clearly defined, and accepted by all involved.
group desires to adopt Formal Consensus as its decision making process, the first
step is the creation of a Statement of
Constitution. This document would describe not only the common purpose, but
would also include the
definition of the group's principles and values. If the group discusses and
writes down its foundation of principles at the
start, it is much easier to determine group versus individual concerns later on.
following are principles which form the foundation of Formal Consensus. A
commitment to these principles and/or
a willingness to develop them is necessary. In addition to the ones listed
herein, the group might add principles and
values which are specific to its purpose.
Foundation Upon Which Consensus Is Built
consensus to work well, the process must be conducted in an environment which
promotes trust, respect, and skill
sharing. The following are principles which, when valued and respected,
encourage and build consensus.
Foremost is the need for trust. Without some amount of trust, there will be no
cooperation or nonviolent resolution to
conflict. For trust to flourish, it is desirable for individuals to be willing
to examine their attitudes and be open to new ideas.
Acknowledgement and appreciation of personal and cultural differences promote
trust. Neither approval nor
friendship are necessary for a good working relationship. By developing trust,
the process of consensus encourages the
intellectual and emotional development of the individuals within a group.
everyone's responsibility to show respect to one another. People feel respected
when everyone listens, when they are
not interrupted, when their ideas are taken seriously. Respect for emotional as
well as logical concerns promotes the kind
of environment necessary for developing consensus. To promote respect, it is
important to distinguish between an
which causes a problem and the person who did the action, between the deed and
the doer. We must criticize the act,
not the person. Even if you think the person is the problem, responding
that way never resolves anything. (See pages
of purpose is a basic understanding about the goals and purpose of the group. Of
course, there will be varying
opinions on the best way to accomplish these goals. However, there must be a
unifying base, a common starting point, which
is recognized and accepted by all.
Nonviolent decision makers use their power to achieve goals while respecting
differences and cooperating with others.
this environment, it is considered violent to use power to dominate or control
the group process. It is understood that the
power of revealing your truth is the maximum force allowed to persuade others to
your point of view.
easy for people to unquestioningly rely on authorities and experts to do their
thinking and decision making for them.
If members of a group delegate their authority, intentionally or not, they fail
to accept responsibility for the
group's decisions. Consensus promotes and depends upon self empowerment. Anyone
can express concerns. Everyone seeks
creative solutions and is responsible for every decision. When all are
encouraged to participate, the democratic nature
of the process increases.
Unfortunately, Western society is saturated in competition. When winning
arguments becomes more important than
achieving the group's goals, cooperation is difficult, if not impossible.
Adversarial attitudes toward proposals or people focus
attention on weakness rather than strength. An attitude of helpfulness and
support builds cooperation.
Cooperation is a shared responsibility in finding solutions to all concerns.
Ideas offered in the spirit of cooperation help
resolve conflict. The best decisions arise through an open and creative
interplay of ideas.
free flow of ideas, even among friends, inevitably leads to conflict. In this
context, conflict is simply the expression of
disagreement. Disagreement itself is neither good nor bad. Diverse viewpoints
bring into focus and explore the
strengths and weaknesses of attitudes, assumptions, and plans. Without conflict,
one is less likely to think about and
evaluate one's views and prejudices. There is no right decision, only the
best one for the whole group. The task is to work
together to discover which choice is most acceptable to all members.
blaming anyone for conflict. Blame is inherently violent. It attacks dignity and
empowerment. It encourages people
to feel guilty, defensive, and alienated. The group will lose its ability to
resolve conflict. People will hide their true
feelings to avoid being blamed for the conflict.
Avoidance of conflicting ideas impedes resolution for failure to explore and
develop the feelings that gave rise to the
conflict. The presence of conflict can create an occasion for growth. Learn to
use it as a catalyst for discovering creative
resolutions and for developing a better understanding of each other. With
patience, anyone can learn to resolve conflict
creatively, without defensiveness or guilt. Groups can learn to nurture and
support their members in this effort by
allowing creativity and experimentation. This process necessitates that the
group continually evaluate and improve these
Commitment to the Group
joining a group, one accepts a personal responsibility to behave with respect,
good will, and honesty. Each one is
expected to recognize that the group's needs have a certain priority over the
desires of the individual. Many people
participate in group work in a very egocentric way. It is important to accept
the shared responsibility for helping to find
solutions to other's concerns.
have an inalienable right to express our own best thoughts. We decide for
ourselves what is right and wrong.
consensus is a process of synthesis, not competition, all sincere comments are
important and valuable. If ideas are put
forth as the speaker's property and individuals are strongly attached to their
opinions, consensus will be extremely
difficult. Stubbornness, closed mindedness, and possessiveness lead to defensive
and argumentative behavior that
disrupts the process. For active participation to occur, it is necessary to
promote trust by creating an atmosphere in which
every contribution is considered valuable. With encouragement, each person can
develop knowledge and
experience, a sense of responsibility and competency, and the ability to
Access to Power
Because of personal differences (experience, assertiveness, social conditioning,
access to information, etc.) and political
disparities, some people inevitably have more effective power than others. To
balance this inequity, everyone needs to
consciously attempt to creatively share power, skills, and information. Avoid
hierarchical structures that allow some
individuals to assume undemocratic power over others. Egalitarian and
accountable structures promote universal access
Consensus cannot be rushed. Often, it functions smoothly, producing effective,
stable results. Sometimes, when difficult
situations arise, consensus requires more time to allow for the creative
interplay of ideas. During these times, patience is
more advantageous than tense, urgent, or aggressive behavior. Consensus is
possible as long as each individual acts
patiently and respectfully.
Impediments To Consensus Lack of Training
necessary to train people in the theory and practice of consensus. Until
consensus is a common form of
decision making in our society, new members will need some way of learning about
the process. It is important to offer
regular opportunities for training. If learning about Formal Consensus is not
made easily accessible, it will limit full
participation and create inequities which undermine this process. Also, training
provides opportunities for people to
improve their skills, particularly facilitation skills, in a setting where
experimentation and role-plays can occur.
External Hierarchical Structures
be difficult for a group to reach consensus internally when it is part of a
larger group which does not recognize or
participate in the consensus process. It can be extremely frustrating if those
external to the group can disrupt the
decision making by interfering with the process by pulling rank. Therefore, it is
desirable for individuals and groups to recognize that they can be autonomous in relation to external power if they are
willing to take responsibility for their
Everyone has been exposed to biases, assumptions, and prejudices which interfere
with the spirit of cooperation and equal
participation. All people are influenced by these attitudes, even though they
may deplore them. People are not
generally encouraged to confront these prejudices in themselves or others.
Members of a group often reflect social biases
without realizing or attempting to confront and change them. If the group views
a prejudicial attitude as just one
individual's problem, then the group will not address the underlying social
attitudes which create such problems. It is
appropriate to expose, confront, acknowledge, and attempt to resolve socially
prejudicial attitudes, but only in the spirit
of mutual respect and trust. Members are responsible for acknowledging when
their attitudes are influenced by
disruptive social training and for changing them. When a supportive atmosphere
for recognizing and changing undesirable attitudes exists, the group as a whole benefits.
Degrees of Conflict
Consensus is a process of nonviolent conflict resolution. The expression of
concerns and conflicting ideas is considered
desirable and important. When a group creates an atmosphere which nurtures and
supports disagreement without
hostility and fear, it builds a foundation for stronger, more creative
individual is responsible for expressing one's own concerns. It is best if each
concern is expressed as if it will be
resolved. The group then responds by trying to resolve the concern through group
discussion. If the concern remains
unresolved after a full and open discussion, then the facilitator asks how the
concern is based upon the foundation of the
group. If it is, then the group accepts that the proposal is blocked. From
this perspective, it is not decided by the individual alone if a particular
concern is blocking consensus; it is
determined in cooperation with the whole group. The group determines a concern's
legitimacy. A concern is legitimate if it
is based upon the principles of the group and therefore relevant to the group as
a whole. If the concern is
determined to be unprincipled or not of consequence, the group can decide the
concern is inappropriate and drop it from
discussion. If a reasonable solution offered is not accepted by the individual,
the group may decide the concern has
been resolved and the individual is out of order for failure to recognize it.
lies a subtle pitfall. For consensus to work well, it is helpful for individuals
to recognize the group's
involvement in determining which concerns are able to be resolved, which need
more attention, and, ultimately, which are
blocking consensus. The pitfall is failure to accept the limit on an
individual's power to determine which concerns are
principled or based upon the foundation of the group and which ones are
resolved. After discussion, if the concern is
valid and unresolved, it again falls upon the individual to choose whether to
stand aside or block consensus.
individual is responsible for expressing concerns; the group is responsible for
resolving them. The group decides
whether a concern is legitimate; the individual decides whether to block or
stand aside. All
concerns are important and need to be resolved. It is not appropriate for a
person to come to a meeting planning to block
a proposal or, during discussion, to express their concerns as major objections
or blocking concerns. Often, during discussion, the person learns additional information which resolves the concern.
Sometimes, after expressing the
concern, someone is able to creatively resolve it by thinking of something new.
It often happens that a concern which seems
to be extremely problematic when it is frst mentioned turns out to be easily
resolved. Sometimes the reverse
happens and a seemingly minor concern brings forth much larger concerns.
following is a description of different types of concerns and how they affect
individuals and the group.
Concerns which can be addressed and resolved by making small changes in the
proposal can be called minor concerns. The
person supports the proposal, but has an idea for improvement..
person disagrees with the proposal in part, but consents to the overall idea,
the person has a reservation. The person
is not completely satisfied with the proposal, but is generally supportive. This
kind of concern can usually be
resolved through discussion. Sometimes, it is enough for the person to express
the concern and feel that it was heard,
without any actual resolution.
person does not agree with the proposal, the group allows that person to try and
persuade it to see the wisdom of the
disagreement. If the group is not persuaded or the disagreement cannot be
resolved, the person might choose to stand
aside and allow the group to go forward. The person and the group are agreeing
to disagree, regarding each point of
view with mutual respect. Occasionally, it is a concern which has no resolution;
the person does not feel the need to block
the decision, but wants to express the concern and lack of support for the
blocking concern must be based on a generally recognized principle, not personal
preference, or it must be essential to the
entire group's well-being. Before a concern is considered to be blocking, the
group must have already accepted the
validity of the concern and a reasonable attempt must have been made to resolve
it. If legitimate concerns remain
unresolved and the person has not agreed to stand aside, consensus is blocked.
Art of Evaluation
Meetings can often be a time when some people experience feelings of frustration
or confusion. There is always room
improvement in the structure of the process and/or in the dynamics of the group.
Often, there is no time to talk
directly about group interaction during the meeting. Reserve time at the end of
the meeting to allow some of these
and feelings to be expressed.
Evaluation is very useful when using consensus. It is worth the time.
Evaluations need not take long, five to ten minutes is
often enough. It is not a discussion, nor is it an opportunity to comment on
each other's statements. Do not reopen
discussion on an agenda item. Evaluation is a special time to listen to each
other and learn about each other. Think about
how the group interacts and how to improve the process.
sure to include the evaluation comments in the notes of the meeting. This is
important for two reasons. Over time, if the
same evaluation comments are made again and again, this is an indication that
the issue behind the comments needs to be
addressed. This can be accomplished by placing this issue on the agenda for the
next meeting. Also, when looking back
at notes from meetings long ago, evaluation comments can often reveal a great
deal about what actually happened, beyond
what decisions were made and reports given. They give a glimpse into complex
Purpose of Evaluation
Evaluation provides a forum to address procedural flaws, inappropriate behavior,
facilitation problems, logistical
difficulties, overall tone, etc. Evaluation is not a time to reopen discussion,
make decisions or attempt to resolve
problems, but rather, to make statements, express feelings, highlight problems,
and suggest solutions in a spirit of
cooperation and trust. To help foster communication, it is better if each
criticism is coupled with a specific suggestion for
improvement. Also, always speak for oneself. Do not attempt to represent anyone
Encourage everyone who participated in the meeting to take part in the
evaluation. Make comments on what worked and
what did not. Expect differing opinions. It is generally not useful to repeat
other's comments. Evaluations prepare the
group for better future meetings. When the process works well, the group
responds supportively in a difficult
situation, or the facilitator does an especially good job, note it, and
appreciate work well done.
attempt to force evaluation. This will cause superficial or irrelevant comments.
On the other hand, do not allow
evaluations to run on. Be sure to take each comment seriously and make an
attempt, at a later time, to resolve or
implement them. Individuals who feel their suggestions are ignored or
disrespected will lose trust and interest in the group.
gatherings, conferences, conventions or large meetings, the group might consider
having short evaluations after each
section, in addition to the one at the end of the event. Distinct aspects on
which the group might focus include: the
process itself, a specific role, a particular technique, fears and feelings,
group dynamics, etc.
large meetings, written evaluations provide a means for everyone to respond and
record comments and suggestions which
might otherwise be lost. Some people feel more comfortable writing their
evaluations rather than saying them.
the questions well, stressing what was learned, what was valuable, and what
could have been better and how. An
evaluation committee allows an opportunity for the presenters, facilitators,
and/or coordinators to get together after the
meeting to review evaluation comments, consider suggestions for improvement, and
possibly prepare an evaluation
and evaluation bring a sense of completion to the meeting. A good evaluation
will pull the experience together, remind
everyone of the group's unity of purpose, and provide an opportunity for closing
are at least ten ways in which evaluation helps improve meetings. Evaluations:
Improve the process by analysis of what happened, why it happened, and how it
might be improved
Examine how certain attitudes and statements might have caused various problems
and encourage special care to
prevent them from recurring
a greater understanding of group dynamics and encourage a method of group
learning or learning from each
the free expression of feelings
unconscious behavior or attitudes which interfere with the process
Encourage the sharing of observations and acknowledge associations with society
the usefulness and effectiveness of techniques and procedures
Acknowledge good work and give appreciation to each other
Reflect on the goals set for the meeting and whether they were attained
Examine various roles, suggest ways to improve them, and create new ones as
Provide an overall sense of completion and closure to the meeting
of Evaluation Questions
necessary to be aware of the way in which questions are asked during
evaluation. The specific wording can control the
scope and focus of consideration and affect the level of participation. It can
cause responses which focus on what was
good and bad, or right and wrong, rather than on what worked and what needed
improvement. Focus on learning and
growing. Avoid blaming. Encourage diverse opinions.
sample questions for an evaluation:
members uninterested or bored with the agenda, reports, or discussion?
members withdraw or feel isolated?
attendance low? If so, why?
people arriving late or leaving early? If so, why?
was the overall tone or atmosphere?
there an appropriate use of resources?
the logistics (such as date, time, or location) acceptable?
was the most important experience of the event?
was the least important experience of the event?
was the high point? What was the low point?
did you learn?
expectations did you have at the beginning and to what degree were they met? How
did they change?
goals did you have and to what degree were they accomplished?
worked well? Why?
did not work so well? How could it have been improved?
else would you suggest be changed or improved, and how?
was overlooked or left out?
is a function of process, not content. Roles are used during a meeting according
to the needs of the situation. Not all
roles are useful at every meeting, nor does each role have to be filled by a
separate person. Formal Consensus
functions more smoothly if the person filling a role has some experience,
therefore is desirable to rotate roles.
Furthermore, one who has experienced a role is more likely to be supportive of
whomever currently has that role.
Experience in each role also encourages confidence and participation. It is
best, therefore, for the group to encourage
everyone to experience each role.
planned agenda is an important tool for a smooth meeting, although it does not
guarantee it. Experience has shown
that there is a definite improvement in the flow and pace of a meeting if
several people get together prior to the start
of the meeting and propose an agenda. In smaller groups, the facilitator often
proposes an agenda. The agenda
planning committee has six tasks:
are at least four sources of agenda items:
suggestions from members
reports or proposals from committees
business from the last meeting
standard agenda items, including:
all the agenda items have been collected, they are listed in an order which
seems efficient and appropriate.
Planners need to be cautious that items at the top of the agenda tend to use
more than their share of time, thereby
limiting the time available for the rest. Each group has different needs. Some
groups work best taking care of business first,
then addressing the difficult items. Other groups might find it useful to take
on the most difficult work first and
strictly limit the time or let it take all it needs. The following are recommendations for keeping the focus of attention on the
alternate long and short, heavy and light items
reports before their related proposals
care of old business before addressing new items
consider placing items which might generate a sense of accomplishment early in
Usually, each item already has a presenter. If not, assign one. Generally, it is
not wise for facilitators to present reports or
proposals. However, it is convenient for facilitators to present some of the
standard agenda items.
complex or especially controversial items, the agenda planners could suggest
various options for group discussion
techniques. This may be helpful to the facilitator.
assign time limits for each item. It is important to be realistic, being careful
to give each item enough time to be fully
addressed without being unfair to other items. Generally, it is not desirable to
propose an agenda which exceeds the
desired overall meeting time limit.
last task is the writing of the proposed agenda so all can see it and refer to
it during the meeting. Each item is listed in
order, along with its presenter and time limit.
following agenda is an example of how an agenda is structured and what
information is included in it. It shows the
standard agenda items, the presenters, the time limits and the order in which
they will be considered. It also shows one way in
which reports and proposals can be presented, but each group can structure this
part of the meeting in whatever way
suits its needs. This model does not show the choices of techniques for group
discussion which the agenda
planners might have considered.
Agenda Item Presenter Time
INTRODUCTION Facilitator 5 min
AGENDA REVIEW Facilitator 5 min
REVIEW NOTES Notetaker 5 min
REPORTS 20 min
PROPOSALS 15 min
BREAK 5 min
REPORTS 10 min
PROPOSALS 30 min
TOTAL 2 hours
word facilitate means to make easy. A facilitator conducts group business and
guides the Formal Consensus
process so that it flows smoothly. Rotating facilitation from meeting to meeting
shares important skills among the
members. If everyone has firsthand knowledge about facilitation, it will help
the flow of all meetings. Co-facilitation, or having
two (or more) people facilitate a meeting, is recommended. Having a woman and a
man share the
responsibilities encourages a more balanced meeting. Also, an inexperienced
facilitator may apprentice with a more
experienced one. Try to use a variety of techniques throughout the meeting. And
remember, a little bit of humor can go a long
way in easing tension during a long, difficult meeting.
facilitation is based upon the following principles:
Facilitators accept responsibility for moving through the agenda in the allotted
time, guiding the process, and
suggesting alternate or additional techniques. In this sense, they do lead the
group. However, they do not give their
personal opinions nor do they attempt to direct the content of the discussion.
If they want to participate, they must clearly
relinquish the role
speak as an individual. During a meeting, individuals are responsible for
expressing their own
concerns and thoughts. Facilitators, on the other hand, are responsible for
addressing the needs of the group. They need to be
aware of the group dynamics and constantly evaluate whether the discussion is
flowing well. There may be a need for a
change in the discussion technique. They need to be diligent about the fair
distribution of attention, being sure to limit
those who are speaking often and offering opportunities to those who are not
speaking much or at all. It follows that
one person cannot simultaneously give attention to the needs of the group and
think about a personal response to a given
situation. Also, it is not appropriate for the facilitator to give a particular
point of view or dominate the
discussion. This does not build trust, especially in those who do not agree with
Clarity of Process
facilitator is responsible for leading the meeting openly so that everyone
present is aware of the process and how to
participate. This means it is important to constantly review what just happened,
what is about to happen, and how it will
happen. Every time a new discussion technique is introduced, explain how it will
work and what is to be
accomplished. This is both educational and helps new members participate more
facilitator is responsible for honoring the agenda contract. The facilitator
keeps the questions and discussion
focused on the agenda item. Be gentle, but firm, because fairness dictates that
each agenda item gets only the time
allotted. The agenda contract is made when the agenda is reviewed and accepted.
This agreement includes the items on the
agenda, the order in which they are considered, and the time allotted to each.
Unless the whole group agrees to change
the agenda, the facilitator is obligated to keep the contract. The decision to
change the agenda must be a
consensus, with little or no discussion.
beginning of the meeting, the agenda is presented to the whole group and
reviewed, item by item. Any member can
add an item if it has been omitted. While every agenda suggestion must be
included in the agenda, it does not
necessarily get as much time as the presenter wants. Time ought to be divided
fairly, with individuals recognizing the
fairness of old items generally getting more time than new items and urgent
items getting more time than items which can
wait until the next meeting, etc. Also, review the suggested presenters and time
limits. If anything seems
inappropriate or unreasonable, adjustments may be made. Once the whole agenda
has been reviewed and consented to,
agenda becomes a contract. The facilitator is obligated to follow the order and
time limits. This encourages members to be on time to meetings.
try to assume good will. Assume every statement and action is sincerely intended
to benefit the group. Assume that
each member understands the group's purpose and accepts the agenda as a
when we project our feelings and expectations onto others, we influence their
actions. If we treat others as though they
are trying to get attention, disrupt meetings, or pick fights, they will often
fulfill our expectations. A resolution to
conflict is more likely to occur if we act as though there will be one. This is
especially true if someone is intentionally trying
to cause trouble or who is emotionally unhealthy. Do not attack the person, but
rather, assume good will and ask the
person to explain to the group how that person's statements or actions are in
the best interest of the group. It is also
helpful to remember to separate the actor from the action. While the behavior
may be unacceptable, the person is not bad.
Avoid accusing the person of being the way they behave. Remember, no one
has the answer. The group's work is the search
for the best and most creative process, one which fosters a mutually satisfying
resolution to any concern which may
role of peacekeeper is most useful in large groups or when very touchy,
controversial topics are being discussed. A person
who is willing to remain somewhat aloof and is not personally invested in the
content of the discussion would be a
good candidate for peacekeeper. This person is selected without discussion by
all present at the beginning of the
meeting. If no one wants this role, or if no one can be selected without
objection, proceed without one, recognizing that the
facilitator's job will most likely be more difficult.
task entails paying attention to the overall mood or tone of the meeting. When
tensions increase dramatically and angers
flare out of control, the peacekeeper interrupts briefly to remind the group of
its common goals and commitment to
cooperation. The most common way to accomplish this is a call for a few moments
peacekeeper is the only person with prior permission to interrupt a speaker or
speak without first being recognized by the
facilitator. Also, it is important to note that the peacekeeper's comments are
always directed at the whole group, never
at one individual or small group within the larger group. Keep comments short
and to the point.
peacekeeper may always, of course, point out when the group did something well.
People always like to be
acknowledged for positive behavior.
the peacekeeper, advocates are selected without discussion at the beginning of
the meeting. If, because of strong
emotions, someone is unable to be understood, the advocate is called upon to
help. The advocate would interrupt the
meeting, and invite the individual to literally step outside the meeting for
some one-on-one discussion. An upset person
can talk to someone with whom they feel comfortable. This often helps them make
clear what the concern is and how it
relates to the best interest of the group. Assume the individual is acting in
good faith. Assume the concern is in the
best interest of the group. While they are doing this, everyone else might take
a short break, or continue with other agenda
items. When they return, the meeting (after completing the current agenda item)
hears from the advocate. The intent
here is the presentation of the concern by the advocate rather than the upset
person so the other group members might
hear it without the emotional charge. This procedure is a last resort, to be
used only when emotions are out of
control and the person feels unable to successfully express an idea.
role of timekeeper is very useful in almost all meetings. One is selected at the
beginning of the meeting to assist the
facilitator in keeping within the time limits set in the agenda contract. The
skill in keeping time is the prevention of an
unnecessary time pressure which might interfere with the process. This can be
accomplished by keeping everyone aware
of the status of time remaining during the discussion. Be sure to give ample
warning towards the end of the time limit
so the group can start to bring the discussion to a close or decide to rearrange
the agenda to allow more time for the
current topic. There is nothing inherently wrong with going over time as long as
role of public scribe is simply the writing, on paper or blackboard, of
information for the whole group to see. This person
primarily assists the facilitator by taking a task which might otherwise
distract the facilitator and interfere with the
overall flow of the meeting. This role is particularly useful during
brainstorms, report backs from small groups, or
whenever it would help the group for all to see written information.
importance of a written record of the meetings cannot be overstated. The written
record, sometimes called notes or
minutes, can help settle disputes of memory or verify past decisions. Accessible
notes allow absent members to
participate in ongoing work. Useful items to include in the notes are:
notes (highlights, statistics...)
proposals (with revisions)
decisions (with concerns listed)
meeting time and place
each decision is made, it is useful to have the note taker read the notes aloud
to ensure accuracy. At the end of the
meeting, it is also helpful to have the note taker present to the group a review
of all decisions. In larger groups, it is often
useful to have two note takers simultaneously, because everyone, no matter how
skilled, hears information and
expresses it differently. Note takers are responsible for making sure the notes
are recorded accurately, and are
reproduced and distributed according to the desires of the group (e.g., mailed
to everyone, handed out at the next
meeting, filed, etc.).
Doorkeepers are selected in advance of the meeting and need to arrive early
enough to familiarize themselves with the
physical layout of the space and to receive any last minute instructions from
the facilitator. They need to be prepared to miss
the first half hour of the meeting. Prior to the start of the meeting, the
doorkeeper welcomes people, distributes any
literature connected to the business of the meeting, and informs them of any
pertinent information (the meeting will start
fifteen minutes late, the bathrooms are not wheelchair accessible, etc.).
doorkeeper is useful, especially if people tend to be late. When the meeting
begins, they continue to be available for
latecomers. They might briefly explain what has happened so far and where the
meeting is currently on the agenda. The
doorkeeper might suggest to the latecomers that they refrain from participating
in the current agenda item and wait until
the next item before participating. This avoids wasting time, repeating
discussion, or addressing already resolved
concerns. Of course, this is not a rigid rule. Use discretion and be respectful
of the group's time.
Experience has shown this role to be far more useful than it might at first
appear, so experiment with it and discover if
meetings can become more pleasant and productive because of the friendship and
care which is expressed through the simple
act of greeting people as they arrive at the meeting.
are a great many techniques to assist the facilitator in managing the agenda and
group dynamics. The following are
just a few of the more common and frequently used techniques available to the
facilitator. Be creative and adaptive.
Different situations require different techniques. With experience will come an
understanding of how they affect group
dynamics and when is the best time to use them.
facilitator is responsible for the fair distribution of attention during
meetings. Facilitators call the attention of the
to one speaker at a time. The grammar school method is the most common technique
for choosing the next
speaker. The facilitator recognizes each person in the order in which hands are
raised. Often, inequities occur because the
attention is dominated by an individual or class of individuals. This can occur
because of socialized behavioral
problems such as racism, sexism, or the like, or internal dynamics such as
experience, seniority, fear, shyness,
disrespect, ignorance of the process, etc. Inequities can be corrected in many
creative ways. For example, if men are
speaking more often than women, the facilitator can suggest a pause after each
speaker, the women counting to five before
speaking, the men counting to ten. In controversial situations, the facilitator
can request that three speakers speak for
the proposal, and three speak against it. If the group would like to avoid
having the facilitator select who speaks next,
the group can self-select by asking the last speaker to pass an object, a
talking stick, to the next. Even more
challenging, have each speaker stand before speaking, and begin when there is
only one person standing. These are only a
handful of the many possible problems and solutions that exist. Be creative.
Invent your own.
help the discussion flow more smoothly, those who want to speak can silently
signal the facilitator, who would add the
person's name to a list of those wishing to speak, and call on them in that
many people want to speak at the same time, it is useful to ask all those who
would like to speak to raise their hands.
them count off, and then have them speak in that order. At the end of the stack,
the facilitator might call for
another stack or try another technique.
pace or flow of the meeting is the responsibility of the facilitator. If the
atmosphere starts to become tense, choose
techniques which encourage balance and cooperation. If the meeting is going
slowly and people are becoming restless,
suggest a stretch or rearrange the agenda.
Checking the Process
flow of the meeting is breaking down or if one person or small group seems to be
dominating, anyone can call into
question the technique being used and suggest an alternative.
pace is too fast, if energies and tensions are high, if people are speaking out
of turn or interrupting one another, it is
appropriate for anyone to suggest a moment of silence to calm and refocus
heat of discussion, people are usually resistant to interrupting the flow to
take a break, but a wise facilitator knows,
more often than not, that a five minute break will save a frustrating half hour
or more of circular discussion and
facilitator, or any member recognized to speak by the facilitator, can call for
a test for consensus. To do this, the facilitator asks if there are any
unresolved concerns which remain unaddressed.
facilitator might choose to focus what has been said by summarizing. The summary
might be made by the
facilitator, the note taker, or anyone else appropriate. This preempts a common
problem, in which the discussion
becomes circular, and one after another, speakers repeat each other.
Reformulating the Proposal
a long discussion, it sometimes happens that the proposal becomes modified
without any formal decision. The
facilitator needs to recognize this and take time to reformulate the proposal
with the new information, modifications, or
deletions. Then the proposal is presented to the group so that everyone can be
clear about what is being considered.
this might be done by the facilitator, the notetaker, or anyone else.
Stepping out of Role
facilitator wants to become involved in the discussion or has strong feelings
about a particular agenda item, the
facilitator can step out of the role and participate in the discussion, allowing
another member to facilitate during that time.
Passing the Clipboard
Sometimes information needs to be collected during the meeting. To save time,
circulate a clipboard to collect this
information. Once collected, it can be entered into the written record and/or
presented to the group by the facilitator.
Polling (Straw Polls)
usefulness of polling within consensus is primarily clarification of the
relative importance of several issues. It is an
especially useful technique when the facilitator is confused or uncertain about
the status of a proposal and wants some
clarity to be able to suggest what might be the next process technique. Polls
are not decisions, they are non-binding
referenda. All too often, straw polls are used when the issues are completely
clear and the majority wants to intimidate the
minority into submission by showing overwhelming support rather than to discuss
the issues and resolve the
concerns. Clear and simple questions are best. Polls that involve three or more
choices can be especially manipulative.
technique and the next are somewhat different from the others. They may not be
appropriate for some groups.) If
someone speaks out of turn consistently, the facilitator warns the individual at
least twice that if the interruptions do not
stop, the facilitator will declare that person censored. This means the person
will not be permitted to speak for the rest
of this agenda item. If the interrupting behavior has been exhibited over
several agenda items, then the censoring could
be for a longer period of time. This technique is meant to be used at the
discretion of the facilitator. If the
facilitator censors someone and others in the meeting voice disapproval, it is
better for the facilitator to step down from the
role and let someone else facilitate, rather than get into a discussion about
the ability and judgment of the
facilitator. The rationale is the disruptive behavior makes facilitation very
difficult, is disrespectful and, since it is assumed that everyone observed the
behavior, the voicing of disapproval about a censoring indicates lack of
confidence in the
facilitation rather than support for the disruptive behavior.
individual still acts very disruptively, the facilitator may confront the
behavior. Ask the person to explain the
reasons for this behavior, how it is in the best interest of the group, how it
relates to the group's purpose, and how it is in
keeping with the goals and principles. If the person is unable to answer these
questions or if the answers indicate
disagreement with the common purpose, then the facilitator can ask the
individual to withdraw from the meeting.
often assumed that the best form of group discussion is that which has one
person at a time speak to the whole group.
This is true for some discussions. But, sometimes, other techniques of group
discussion can be more productive and
efficient than whole group discussion. The following are some of the more common
and frequently used
techniques. These could be suggested by anyone at the meeting. Therefore, it is
a good idea if everyone is familiar with these
techniques. Again, be creative and adaptive. Different situations require
different techniques. Only experience
reveals how each one affects group dynamics or the best time to use it.
good to address each other by name. One way to learn names is to draw a seating
plan, and as people go around and
introduce themselves, write their names on it. Later, refer to the plan and
address people by their names. In large
groups, name tags can be helpful. Also, when people speak, it is useful for them
to identify themselves so all can
gradually learn each others' names.
value of whole group discussion is the evolution of a group idea. A group idea
is not simply the sum of individual ideas,
but the result of the interaction of ideas during discussion. Whole group
discussion can be unstructured and
productive. It can also be very structured, using various facilitation
techniques to focus it. Often, whole group
discussion does not produce maximum participation or a diversity of ideas.
During whole group discussion, fewer people
get to speak, and, at times, the attitude of the group can be dominated by an
idea, a mood, or a handful of
Breaking into smaller groups can be very useful. These small groups can be diads
or triads or even larger. They can be
selected randomly or self-selected. If used well, in a relatively short amount
of time all participants have the
opportunity to share their own point of view. Be sure to set clear time limits
and select a note taker for each group.
the larger group reconvenes, the note takers relate the major points and concerns
of their group. Sometimes,
note takers can be requested to add only new ideas or concerns and not repeat
something already covered in another
report. It is also helpful for the scribe to write these reports so all can see
the cumulative result and be sure every idea and
concern gets on the list.
is a very useful technique when ideas need to be solicited from the whole group.
The normal rule of waiting to speak
until the facilitator recognizes you is suspended and everyone is encouraged to
call out ideas to be written by the scribe
for all to see. It is helpful if the atmosphere created is one in which all
ideas, no matter how unusual or
incomplete, are appropriate and welcomed. This is a situation in which
suggestions can be used as catalysts, with ideas
building one upon the next, generating very creative possibilities. Avoid
evaluating each other's ideas during this time.
is a simple technique that encourages participation. The facilitator states a
question and then goes around the room
inviting everyone to answer briefly. This is not an open discussion. This is an
opportunity to individually respond to
specific questions, not to comment on each other's responses or make unrelated
fishbowl is a special form of small group discussion. Several members
representing differing points of view meet in an
inner circle to discuss the issue while everyone else forms an outer circle and
listens. At the end of a
predetermined time, the whole group reconvenes and evaluates the fishbowl
discussion. An interesting variation: first, put
all the men in the fishbowl, then all the women, and they discuss the same
group is having a hard time understanding a point of view, someone might help by
active listening. Listen to the
speaker, then repeat back what was heard and ask the speaker if this accurately
reflects what was meant.
caucus might be useful to help a multifaceted conflict become clearer by
unifying similar perspectives or defining
specific points of departure without the focus of the whole group. It might be
that only some people attend a caucus, or it
might be that all are expected to participate in a caucus. The difference
between caucuses and small groups is that
caucuses are composed of people with similar viewpoints, whereas small group
discussions are more useful if they are made
up of people with diverse viewpoints or even a random selection of people.
agenda contract is made when the agenda is reviewed and accepted. This agreement
includes the items on the
agenda, the order in which they are considered, and the time allotted to each.
Unless the whole group agrees to change the
agenda, the facilitator is obligated to keep to the contract. The decision to
change the agenda must be a consensus, with
little or no discussion.
Complete agreement, with no unresolved concerns.
allotted agenda time has been spent trying to achieve consensus, and unresolved
legitimate concerns remain, the
proposal may be considered blocked, or not able to be adopted at this meeting.
point of departure or disagreement with a proposal.
expression of disagreement, which brings into focus diverse viewpoints, and
provides the opportunity to explore their
strengths and weaknesses.
decision making process whereby decisions are reached when all members present
consent to a proposal. This
process does not assume everyone must be in complete agreement. When differences
remain after discussion,
individuals can agree to disagree, that is, give their consent by standing
aside, and allow the proposal to be accepted by the
consent-Acceptance of the proposal, not necessarily agreement. Individuals are
responsible for expressing their ideas, concerns and
objections. Silence, in response to a call for consensus, signifies consent.
Silence is not complete agreement; it is
acceptance of the proposal.
end product of an idea that started as a proposal and evolved to become a plan
of action accepted by the whole group.
group analysis at the end of a meeting about interpersonal dynamics during
decision making. This is a time to allow
feelings to be expressed, with the goal of improving the functioning of future
meetings. It is not a discussion or debate, nor
should anyone comment on another's evaluation.
occasion in which people come together and, in an orderly way, make decisions.
Methods of decision making
person makes the decisions for everyone
people make the decisions for everyone
representative democracy- a few
people are elected to make the decisions for everyone majority rule democracy
the majority makes the decisions for
everyone makes the decisions for everyone
written plan that some members of a group present to the whole group for
discussion and acceptance.
agree to disagree, to be willing to let a proposal be adopted despite unresolved
manual for group facilitators
Auvine, Betsy Densmore, Mary Extrom, Scott
Poole, Michel Shanklin
Center for Confict Resolution: 1977
State Street, Madison, WI 53703
Manual on Nonviolence and Children
Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends
Society Publishers: 1977
Baltimore Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19143
Michael J. Sheeran
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the
Religious Society of Friends: 1983
Cherry Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102
Building United Judgment A
Handbook for Consensus Decision Making
Auvine, Michel Avery,
Barbara Streibel, Lonnie Weiss
Center for Confict Resolution: 1981
State Street, Madison, WI 53703
Disobedience: Theory and Practice
Clearness: Processes for Supporting Individuals & Groups
Society Publishers: 1977, 1984
Baltimore Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19143
Place of War
American Friends Service Committee
Grossman, NY: 1967Meeting Facilitation: The No Magic Method
Baltimore Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19143
Power Than We Know The
People's Movement Toward Democracy
Bosses Here! a
manual on working
collectively and cooperatively (2nd ed.)
Brandow, Jim McDonnell, and
Vocations for Social Change
Box 2783 Boston, MA 02208
Vocations for Social Change
211, Essex Station, Boston, MA 02112
Nonviolence In America A
Staughton Lynd, ed.
Bobbs-Merrill, NY: 1966
Nonviolent Direct Action
Paul Hare and Herbert H. Blumberg
Corpus, Washington: 1968
Charlene Eldridge Wheeler, Peggy L. Chinn
Buffalo, NY, 1984
With People A
Compendium of Group Process Theories
D. Swanson, ed.
196, Jamestown, RI 02835
Resource Manual for a Living Revolution - A
Handbook of Skills and Tools for Social Change Activists
Virginia Coover, Ellen Deacon,
Charles Esser, Christopher Moore
Society Publishers: 1985
Baltimore Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19143
Politics of Nonviolent Action
Resisters League Organizer's Manual
by Ed Hedemann
Resisters League: 1981
Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012
Cannot Live Without Our Lives
internet version is free. You may copy it to other computers, and you may print