What is Consensus?

Consensus is a decision-making process that works creatively to include all persons making the decision. Instead of simply voting for an item, and having the majority of the group getting their way, the group is committed to finding solutions that everyone can live with. This ensures that everyone’s opinions, ideas, and reservations are taken into account. There is an agreement not to move forward in a direction or take action unless all parties agree.

“I grew up figuring that consensus meant that you chew on something long enough until everyone can swallow it easily and safely.”

Sophie Pierre, Chief, Ktunaxa-Kinbasket Tribal Council

But consensus is more than just a compromise. It is a process that can result in surprising and creative solutions – often better than the original suggestions. Another term for consensus decision-making is collaborative decision-making.

Some definitions of consensus are:

  • Consensus means public unanimity. All participants support the group’s resolution of the package of issues and will work towards its acceptance and its implementation. This is a very useful definition for instances when solid and universal commitment is required for implementation. It gives every participant an effective veto.
  • Consensus means a common solution, acceptable to everyone, reached with full and equal participation of all members. If there is strong opposition to a decision, discussion will continue or the issue will be tabled. An opposing individual may choose to “stand aside” rather than block the process; however, all consensus decisions will be honoured by each person.
  • Consensus means no significant dissent. All participants support the resolution of the package of issues with some concerns in certain areas. On balance, the solution can be supported. Differences are not show- stoppers but are important enough that they would be described in any report from the group. This is a useful definition for situations in which the topic is highly difficult and complex. Groups may be most comfortable with this definition when they know that someone else is likely to “massage” their results anyway.

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