Consensus Decision-Making


At the Emerson Lily Free School, we use Consensus decision-making, instead Robert’s Rules of Order (majority rules) or the bureaucratic succession of many schools.  Consensus is a process of collaborative discussion which protects the needs of both the group and the individual.  In Consensus, the whole group makes decisions, instead of a majority or minority. Through Consensus, each individual’s concerns and ideas are listened to and considered.   Every participant must have equal access to the process for it to be true Consensus decision-making. The group works with and adjusts a proposal until all can consent to its final form. This process gives more voice to individuals with minority viewpoints.  One member can block a decision, if he or she feels it is against the vision, mission and/or principles of the school.  Consensus is not unanimity. With Consensus there may not be a complete agreement in every decision, but there is always complete consent.

Consensus is not a process of finding the sum of individual viewpoints. When a person views a proposal, the concept is to discern what is for the good of the group, or in spiritual communities, what spirit is guiding. That is a very different starting point than each individual deciding if they like the proposal for themselves.

Consensus decision-making has roots in a multitude of indigenous traditions the world over. The term may not always be "Consensus decision-making", but the process is the same. Bushmen have a value of Ubuntu, which includes Consensus decision-making. The Iroquois Nation uses Consensus decision-making. It was their participatory system that inspired Benjamin Franklin to propose both a democratic model and a federation as a union of states. His Albany Plan borrowed heavily from Iroquois Nation. Later, in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, the Albany Plan of Union served as an inspirational primer for the writings of the Articles of Confederation. Early Christians used Consensus decision-making, more often referred to as a process of "discernment". Jesuits have a recent history of this process of discernment. Quakers have a long history of using a participatory process. In the period before it was taken up by Quakers, consensus was commonly used among European parliaments.  Quakers may not always use the term Consensus. The term "sense of the meeting" is used more often to describe what is come to through the process of discernment. It is this process that the Quakers use that most influences the Consensus decision-making used by organizations, businesses, and communities today.

To read more about The Emerson Lily Free School’s Consensus process, read our Consensus Process Handbook and Meeting Guidelines.  We recommed C.T. Butler's On Conflict and Consensus.  Also, there are some great resources from the UK-based organization, Seeds For Change, and from Consensus and effective meetings trainer, Tree Bressen. Here also is a description of the Consensus process of the Iroquois Nation.
With consensus decision-making, the Emerson Lily Free School fosters independent thinking, cooperation, logical thought, emotional intelligence, creativity, collaboration, and empathy.