Consensus 101

by Raven Glomus

One of my commune mates asked me to write this in preparation for work that we are doing on our decision making process. This is just the basics of achieving consensus. There are nuances you learn as you go along.

Consensus is a process of discernment, involving listening to each person that is affected, in order to reach a decision that everyone agrees with or, at minimum, can live with. Consensus doesn’t necessarily mean total agreement, but it means everyone’s concerns must be heard and everyone must feel that they can abide by the decision.

The first step in the consensus process is that someone brings a proposal to a meeting.  The proposal is discussed and concerns are heard. The proposal is usually modified to meet the concerns.

Eventually, when it feels like the proposal has reached a point where most people’s concerns have been addressed, there is a call for consensus.  There are three possible responses that can be made: agreeing, standing aside, or blocking.  

Agreement means that you are in favor of the proposal as it is by the time it has gone through the process or at least can go along with it.  

Standing aside means that you still have concerns but you are willing for the process to go forward.  Usually the concerns of those standing aside are noted. If more than one or two people feel that they need to stand aside, it is usually a sign that consensus hasn’t been reached and the proposal may need to be further modified.

Blocking is a way that any person can stop the decision from being made.  Blocking is very serious and should only be done for principled reasons. Caroline Estes (a consensus teacher) claims that if you have blocked for six times, you have used up your lifetime quota. If a person continually threatens to block decisions, that is usually a sign that the person probably shouldn’t be part of the group, since they disagree so strongly with everything.

Generally it is said that blocking can only legitimately be done for two reasons: the proposal goes against the basic principles of the group or the blocker believes that the proposal going through would destroy the group.  I will add a third reason that only occurs during a membership process: that you feel that you would not be able to live with the person applying for membership. 

Consensus has been the decision process at Acorn for many years, is usually used by the Federation of Egalitarian Communities in their meetings, and has been used or considered by many other communes.  Glomus Commune is now considering it as our method of decision making.

Two resources for more information about consensus are: On Conflict and Consensus by C. T. Lawrence Butler and Amy Rothstein and ”Consensus Basics” by Tree Bressen.

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Consensus 101

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