Lesson Plan for Teaching the Consensus Process

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This is an example outline for a quick introduction to Consensus decision-making. The training should take about 1.5 hours.


5 minutes

  • Names

Overview and Ground Rules

5 minutes

  • Purpose of meeting
  • Review agenda
  • Get a scribe
  • Ground rules:
    • Hold on to your questions until the end -- you may get your answer later on in the presentation
    • Take turns
    • If you've already spoken, generally wait for everyone else to weigh in before speaking again.
    • Don't repeat what others have said when all you want to do is express your support. (It's OK to clarify when needed.)

What is Consensus (and why bother)?

5 minutes

  • Decision-making process whereby everyone in the group either agrees with or is neutral on a decision. It is more than a 100% vote -- it is a decision that everyone in the group can live with, and the majority of the group feels good about and invested in.
  • For it to happen right, we follow a certain structure of proposing ideas, running meetings, discussing proposals and deciding on proposals that helps make sure the decisions we make are solid, smart, and reflective of the group’s will.
  • A group using consensus requires a culture of cooperation, openness and involvement.

maybe some comparisons with majority rule (with brief reasons for the differences)

  • Decisions are made that everyone feels invested in.
  • Sometimes everybody is wrong on something, but one person has a key insight or feeling that leads to the right decision; that lone voice is usually silent in Majority-Rules decisions. Quaker saying “Everyone has a piece of the truth”. Everyone can be wrong; everyone can be the watchdog.
  • It’s great for groups that have to work together often and in an intense way because it forces us to work better together, respect everyone’s needs, and keep everyone involved.

Open for clarifying questions

10 minutes

How do we make decisions by consensus?

25 minutes

Before the meeting

  • Facilitator and scribe chosen
  • Agenda emailed out for additions a week before meeting

Meeting Elements

  1. Agenda
  2. Check in
  3. Review Previous Commitments
  4. Reports from committees
  5. Old business and new business
  6. Next meeting
  7. Meeting Evaluation

Decision Structure

  1. Presentation
  2. Clarifying Questions
  3. Open discussion
  4. Summarization and ask for a readback
  5. Call for consensus
  6. Implementation
  7. Verify that implimentation got into the minutes


  • Basis for decisions:
    • Membership structure and quorum
    • small issues & big issues
  • Formal Consensus options ("voting")
    • Assents
    • Stand-Asides
    • Blocks
  • Some tools
    • Strawpolls and ‘testing for consensus’
    • Formal Discussion and Guided Discussion
    • Freeform; Quick Discussion
    • Queue (or stack)
    • Brainstorm; creative stuff
    • Weighted voting
  • Know what the scope of your group (meeting) is and when to send thing to other committees (ad hoc or standing)
    • decision-making authority should be defined by whole group

Facilitation and Interaction

  • Role of the Facilitator, Scribe, Presenter, Participant, etc.
  • Hand signals


  • Scribe posts minutes asap
  • Corrections to minutes: reply to the group with corrections

Open for clarifying questions

5 minutes

How does this really work in practice?

10 minutes

Impediments to Consensus

The following suggestions are inclusive of those on the Meeting Tips page. If you're leading this training and you have time, you might want to ask the group for impediments they've seen and what they did about it.

People are holding back
Call on people who haven't spoken, even if they havne't put their hands up
Dissatisfaction with the process / poor facilitation
Speak up! Everyone in group can play a role in helping facilitate and move things along
Individuals not willing to compromise
Require good reasons for witholding support: it shouldn't be personal
Several people are talking at the same time.
Make people raise hands and call them in turn. Keep a list on the board if there are too many people to keep track of.
Someone is dominating the conversation.
Ask that people who have spoken not speak until everyone else has. If that doesn't help, use a go around instead of keeping a list. Sometimes just asking the person to hold back makes the most sense.
People are repeating each other's points.
Often all the facilitator needs to do is point out the obvious here. Remind people that they don't need to repeat each other's points.
People are going off topic.
The facilitator can remind people what the topic is. New items can be added to the end of the agenda.
People aren't listening to each other.
Ask people to summarize each other's points. This forces them to listen.
The meeting is too chaotic.
This ususally means that several of the above problems are happening at the same time, and usually means the faciliator isn't doing their job. Remind the facilitator that it's their job to keep the conversation on topic and productive.
People are unprepared.
There's not a lot that can be done at the meeting, but a good facilitator can be chosen for the next meeting and take extra time ahead of it to make certain that presenters are chosen, and then reminded (or nagged) into being ready next time.

Practice Consensus Decision

10 minutes

Open for final questions/discussion

10 minutes

Total: 85 minutes