A Consensus model a essentially a framework for Consensus decision-making that is antithetical to Majority rule. The trend in most consensus models involves egalitarianism versus authoritarianism providing to voice to even the so-called "little guy" who is spurned and shunned in typical authoritarian models within the corporate Mainstream.
Leadership in an ideal consensus model is generally assumed rather than appointed by an established authority (oligarchy) or elected by majority rule (democracy). In volunteer organizations, compensation for leading the group may be non-existent apart from the satisfaction and benefits of the experience of Affinity. This way, values are less compromised and power structures that lead to conflict are less of a threat to the integrity of a group. A person who assumes a leading role in the maintenance of a consensus-driven process is called a facilitator.
A mythological paradigm for consensus-driven interplay is exemplified by the Knights of the Round Table typical in Western Civilization. The circular shape of the table gives equal stature to all participants. Groups that practice consensus often place chairs in a circle within the meeting room unlike groups that value hierarchy, relying on stages, podiums, public address systems and other devices to create a separation between an elect few and the overall body of participants. Though such practices may exist within consensus-driven groups, they are used only on occasion in plenary sessions.
Many First Nations use circles in both sacred and political gatherings. In a circle everyone speaks in turn. The use of consensus by the Haudenosaunee has been well documented. The Haudenosaunee Six Nations (Iroquois) continue to make their inter-nation decisions by consensus.
The Quakers have used consensus for over 300 years. In the 20th Century this form of consensus decision-making was adapted to secular settings. The Quaker model is the basis for decision-making in a wide-variety of settings today.
The following aspects of the Quaker model can be effectively applied in any consensus decision-making process:
- Multiple concerns and information are shared until the sense of the group is clear.
- Discussion involves active listening and sharing information.
- Norms limit number of times one asks to speak to ensure that each speaker is fully heard.
- Ideas and solutions belong to the group; no names are recorded.
- Differences are resolved by discussion. The facilitator ("clerk" or "convenor" in the Quaker model) identifies areas of agreement and names disagreements to push discussion deeper.
- The facilitator articulates the sense of the discussion, asks if there are other concerns, and proposes a "minute" of the decision.
- The group as a whole is responsible for the decision and the decision belongs to the group.
- The facilitator can discern if one who is not uniting with the decision is acting without concern for the group or in selfish interest.
- Dissenters' perspectives are embraced.
- — Adapted from Quaker Foundations of Leadership, 1999. A Comparison of Quaker-based Consensus and Robert's Rules of Order (from Wikipedia).