Consensus is a deliberative process where collective decisions are arrived at by a group of individuals working together for the good of the organization and its mission. Conditions under which consensus is formed include open communication in a supportive climate that gives the participants a sense that they have had a fair chance to influence the decision and that all group members understand and support the decision. Consensus building means that all participants listen carefully and communicate effectively. Consensus has been reached when all parties can at least live with the decision and will agree to support the decision of the body.

Consensus as spelled out in the Appendix of the Evergreen Baptist Association By-laws:

“A group reaches consensus on a decision when every member can agree to support that decision.” From How to Make Collaboration Work: Powerful Ways to Build Consensus, Solve Problems, and Make Decisions by David Straus, published by Berret-Koehler, San Francisco, 2002, page 58.

David Straus’ Phases of Consensus (p. 61):

  • Phase 1. Perception: Is there a problem? How do you feel about it? Is it legitimate to discuss the problem openly?
  • Phase 2. Definition: What is the problem? What are its limits or boundaries?
  • Phase 3. Analysis: Why does the problem exist? What are its causes?
  • Phase 4. Generation of Alternatives: What are some possible solutions to the problem?
  • Phase 5. Evaluation: What criteria must a good solution meet? Which alternatives are better or more acceptable than others?
  • Phase 6. Decision Making: Which solution can we agree on? Which alternative can we commit to implementing?

Another Model of Consensus Building

  1. The proposal is read to the group.
  2. A few minutes (like 15) are allowed for discussion, clarification and incorporation of concerns.
  3. A straw poll is taken as a test for consensus.
  4. If the straw poll indicates unanimous agreement, the proposal is passed.
  5. If the straw poll is lopsided (2/3 in favor of the proposal):
    1. Proposer and others work on alternative proposals (15 minutes).
    2. Proposal is reconsidered by the group.
    3. A straw poll is taken.
      1. If a consensus is reached, the revised proposal is passed.
      2. If no consensus is reached, start over on this step or table the matter for later consideration
  6. If the straw poll is close, determine if the matter is important by a simple hand vote.
    1. If there is no clear majority on the importance of the matter, table it.
    2. If there is a clear majority (2/3) on the importance of the matter, return to #5 above.

Levels of consensus

When people talk of consensus it does not necessarily mean that everyone agrees to the proposal at the same level.

  1. Some may whole-heartedly agree.
  2. Others may agree in principle.
  3. While others may agree but have some reservations but are willing to live with the decision of the group. If everyone is in agreement at least to this level you may have consensus. If a majority of people only agrees at #3, more work may be recommended to have a greater number at #1.
  4. While others may agree with serious questions but will not block the group moving forward. These questions in most circumstances are best addressed in such a way that people can be more comfortable with the decision.
  5. When just one or two are unwilling to live with the decision the Quaker approach may be used: the convener discerns “that the one not uniting with the decision is acting without concern for the group or in selfish interest.” And therefore the decision goes forward.