Year Published: 2010 First Published:
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX10171
Article about the group decision making process known as consensus decision-making.
Consensus decision-making is a group decision making process that seeks the agreement of most participants, and also the resolution or mitigation of minority objections.
The word consensus itself is commonly used to refer to two different concepts, which sometimes leads to confusion about what is actually meant by consensus. The one meaning of consensus signifies general agreement, regardless of the process by which such agreement is determined. It refers simply to fact of such agreement, not to any particular procedure or set of rules. Consensus decision-making, the topic of this article, refers to a particular process for arriving at decisions.
While not as common as other decision-making procedures, such as democracy, consensus decision-making has been used by a wide variety of groups, from religious such as the Quakers, to economic such as the Dutch Polder Model (a process that brings corporations, government, and labour leaders together), and the Hanseatic League (an alliance of cities run by merchant guilds), to political such as Food Not Bombs, some non-governmental organizations, as well as the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) nation.
Because consensus decision-making allows a minority to block the will of the majority, it has been adopted by a number of international bodies where there is a danger that a majority of small countries could out-vote the major powers. The European Union's Treaty of Lisbon provides in art. 15 (4) that the European Council shall take decision by consensus. Critics charge that this is designed to block any attempts to change the capitalist goals and structures of the European Council. The NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) military council also operates on the basis of consensus. In both cases, since consensus decision-making requires unanimity to make any changes, it can be employed to prevent change desired by the majority, and to thwart democratic input into decisions.