nature of consensus. This is a process through which a group of people can reach a common agreement on a course of action. It is important to note that the entire group comes to an agreed course of action. Here the ideas and contribution from all participants from within the group are viewed and then combined together to come to a final decision. This decision has to be acceptable to every member of the group. This process generally achieves a better solution to the problems that the group is facing, but also makes the group a stronger community and builds trust within them. While using consensus for achieving decision making in some instances, the group can us other methods at other times for achieving decisions and these can be through individual decisions, compromises, or through a majority decision. Yet in the process of a consensus, the discussions generally concern a lot of other discussions on ethics, politics, morals or even non-related areas where members of the group have invested. (Civil Disobedience Training)
The reasons for adopting consensus as the method of reaching a group decision is based on the belief that every member of the group knows a part of the truth, and no individual knows the complete truth. The process also involves all group members and thus ensures a certain amount of respect for all the members of the group. During the process of discussions that take place before reaching a consensus, the group itself takes advantage of all ideas from members of the group. This process thus enables a decision that is often of a superior quality than the decision taken through a vote, or by any individual member. Decisions taken through consensus are easier to implement as members feel obliged to participate in implementing the decision whereas a decision reached through voting may be undermined by groups not in favor of the decision. This certainly improves implementation. (Consensus Decision Making)
At the same time, going through a consensus does not mean that the best possible decision will be reached, or even that the decision will meet the objectives it is set out for. At the same time, the process in reaching the decision ensures that no individual will feel that his position was not taken into consideration or even listened to. This is the process which will reach a decision felt to be the best by a majority, and this happens often as collective decisions are better than decisions by any individual. At the same time, reaching a consensus involves investing time and skills of members, resources of the group, involvement with the decision among the group, and generally ensures better decisions. This helps every member of the group with interaction and solving of conflicts and this develops them as individuals. For the consensus to be the best for the group it should have common values, requires skill in the group process and resolution of conflicts, or at least has some method for those to be done, a certain amount of commitment and responsibility to the group from the members and allocation of time by members to the group. (Civil Disobedience Training)
Another important requirement for getting to a consensus is the participation by a facilitator. He has to make sure that everyone is heard, all ideas thrown up are included while decisions are taken even if they reflect only part of the truth, and that the final decision is accepted by all members. In a way, the facilitator is a servant of the group and not a leader. It is the responsibility of the facilitator to get the best participation in the discussion from the members, and not impose a decision on them. Consensus is not the same as groupthink. Groupthink happens when people feel that they are obliged to go along with a decision but do not feel that they are a part of the decision. They go along to avoid conflict. This appears like a consensus, but is not a consensus as disagreements of some members have not been resolved, which those members consider to be important. In consensus all agree to the decision and all major disagreements have been resolved in the process of decision making. (Consensus Decision Making)
This does not mean that there can be no objections by a member of a group against any proposed action. The forms of mentioning non-support comes with statements like "I do not see the need for this, but I will go along." Reservations are generally mentioned in the form of "I think this is a false step, but well I will not stop others." The stronger forms can come like this "I am not in support of this action, as the decision is immoral." When the final decision is not acceptable to a member, they have all the rights to say that consensus has not been reached. This sort of behavior within a group may even lead to withdrawals from the group. If there are too many members opposing a decision, then there is no purpose in trying to insist that it be followed. Even if the decision is reached on those lines, it may be called a 'lukewarm' decision and that is not likely to yield any results. When a meeting cannot come up with an acceptable decision, then the group has to stay with the previous decision, or even not take a decision at all. It is important that major philosophical and moral questions for the group are resolved as soon as it is formed. (Consensus Decision Making: www.givingforum.org)
The utility of consensus does not depend on the size of the group and it can vary from as small as 5 to as large as 500,000 persons. Achieving consensus within small groups are easier as all members of the group can be kept informed about the position of the decisions taken by the group. Arranging coordination among the members of large groups may be done through different methods, and one may be to have sub-groups which reach consensus individually and a member represent the sub-group in a larger meeting where the decisions of the entire group will be reached. The decisions may be considered to have been reached when the feelings of the larger group are seen to accept a solution that has been thrown up. (Consensus - How to and Why)
In certain cases, this may require reconciliation committees to get to a decision, or the sub-groups to meet repeatedly before the final decision is reached. Still this is better than a decision reached through the acceptance by a majority as in the majority system; there will always be a loser and a winner. This is often the starting point for a conflict. The group with the majority tends to override the views of the minority and end up with the minority feeling that they are no longer a part of the group. In the majority system, there are no morals, and the majority may come up with decisions that are not moral. As an example, let us look at the people in the South before the Civil War. They all supported the 'right' to have slaves. On the other hand, the nation of Iroquis managed lands and people very effectively.
Even now there is application of consensus in lower Mexico like Oaxaca and Chiapas. The Zapatistas there have a public call system or 'la consulta'. Here all men and women, as also young persons over the age of 12 participate. Local meetings are held for discussions among the local groups and thus all members are involved in the decisions that are taken. This was a process that resulted in their declaring war on the Mexican government, and this decision was firm in spite of the efforts from the…