We’re trying to use consent in all our decision making at the Panya Project. When a proposal is made by the facilitator we make a round to find out people’s feelings and concerns. For the proposal to be accepted a maximum of two group members can stand aside (this is the case in our usual group size of 6 to 10 people; if there are less, 2 seems one to many). Standing aside means that you don’t agree with the decision but you won’t block it either as it seems as if the majority agrees and you want what is best for the community. People who stand aside express their concerns to the group and those who agree with the decision get a chance to express themselves as well – this might change the picture, more people agreeing or standing aside, in a second round. If more than two people stand aside, the decision can’t be made and the proposal has to be reformulated to match the groups needs.
If one person is strongly opposing a decision, he or she can block it. Not in every group that uses the consensus decision making process blocking is an option. Blocking needs to be properly understood and in many amateur groups it isn’t: we’ll block a decision ‘once or twice’ in a lifetime, when we truly believe it will harm the group/community. If we’re the only person blocking we might ask ourselves a second time what is best for the group as everyone is of different opinion and, if a solution can’t be found, we might even consider leaving the group. However, a block as well as standing aside are options that have to be respected as valid choices; reasonable concerns must be addressed.
Why do we use consent decision making rather than vote?
We want to create win-win situations. Even this little insight is capable of changing the group’s attitude. In a vote decision we’re not trying to find an optimal solution or an optimal formulation of the proposal, we just let the majority chose ‘yes’ or ‘no’, create two sides, separation. In consensus we’re listening to concerns and reservations and try to adjust the proposal to fit everyone’s, and even more important, the group’s needs. A concern is coming up for a reason and a decision taken is strongest and most powerful when concerns are eliminated. The result we mostly go for is however rarely ‘ this is the optimal choice for everyone’, but more often ‘everyone can live with this’ or ‘this is the best for the group’.
Here is a short step-by-step guide for the process:
1. The facilitator gives a proposal to the group and announces a first round show of hands;
2. Handsigns are used to show people’s position:
- a. two hands up shaking means ‘I fully agree’;
- b. one hand up shaking means ‘ I agree but have reservations’;
- c. two hands up with palms facing to the group means ‘i stand aside’, or ‘don’t agree but I can live with it’;
- d. showing an X with the arms indicates a very severe disagreement and ‘blocks’ the decision from being made.
3a. Everybody agrees, so the proposal is accepted;
3b. Space is created for reservations to be expressed and addressed if necessary and possible. The proposal is either accepted as it is or with adjustments;
3c. Everyone has the right to express his or her concerns, reservations, toughest and feelings. If there is a maximum of two people standing aside the proposal is either accepted as it is or with adjustments. If there are more than two people standing aside, the proposal is not accepted, the group can however adjust the proposal addressing the concerns of the group and start the decision making process again;
3d. A block is stopping the decision from being made. The concerns of that person must be addressed is one way or another.
In this regard, consensus or consent IS NOT unanimity, which leaves groups often in frustration and endless discussions. Consent is building solidarity to take out collective strength and the best of the group.