Masala Facilitation Manual

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Consensus is a decision-making process that identifies solutions that are acceptable to all participants. It is not necessarily unanimity, but it is a non-hierarchical and fair decision-making process. Consensus aims to be:

  • Inclusive and participatory: The process should actively solicit the input and participation of all stakeholders and decision-makers.
  • Cooperative: Participants should strive to reach the best possible decision, for the group and all of its members.
  • Egalitarian: Everyone should be afforded, as much as possible, equal input into the process. All members have the opportunity to table, amend, or block proposals.
  • Solution-oriented: The process emphasizes common agreement over differences & uses compromise & other techniques to avoid or resolve mutually exclusive positions.

Consensus allows people to collectively explore solutions until the best one for the group emerges. In a simple voting method, dialogue tends to end when participants realize or expect that there is a majority (more than half of the people in a group) in favor of a proposal.

Consensus assures that everyone has a voice in the decision-making process, synthesizing all ideas into one plan that all participants agree to implement, & they can get behind & fully support. Since all participants agree to the decision, people are more invested in carrying out what has been decided.

Consensus is important in allowing minority opinions and concerns to be heard and considered, and encourages cooperation among people with divergent views. It attempts to minimize domination and empowers the community in the process of making a decision.

Consensus decision-making assumes that each issue or decision has a “best answer” and that each member of the group holds a piece of that answer. A good consensus process is one where members feel safe and encouraged to contribute their ideas, to share ideas freely without attachment or ownership, to openly and fairly evaluate all ideas, and to mix and match ideas to innovate a workable solution.

Consensus works by hearing all participants’ voices and by all participants coming to an agreement collectively about what is best for the group. The decisions made must be those that everyone in the group can live with – as nice as it would be, it’s impossible for all individuals in communities to be perfectly happy with all decisions at all times.

Tips for successful consensus decision making

Group Responsibilities

Facilitator Responsibilities

Consensus Process Flow Chart

Dealing with Consensus Blocks

Sometimes people block consensus because they personally don’t like the proposed decision, because they don’t like the person who came up with the proposal, or as a way to exert power over the group. These are inappropriate uses of blocking and are a signal that the group is not mature or unified enough to use consensus, or that significant interpersonal issues exist that will impede the use of consensus. This could also mean that the blocking individual is not a good fit for this group. Mediation is recommended in these situations.

Ideally, blocking should only be used to communicate that a proposal may endanger the organization or its participants, or violate the organization’s mission or core values. In this case, it is important that the blocking person be emotionally supported and not be subjected to personal attacks, scorn, or other emotional abuse. It may be useful to suspend the issue. The facilitator should stop the process and announce that consensus on the issue is not possible at this time. The group should decide whether to postpone the issue until a later meeting or to try to resolve the problem in a small group outside the meeting.

Whether resolution is attempted in a meeting or in a small group, the key is to understand the feelings and issues of the blocking individual. This needs to be done in an open, non-threatening way.

Some questions to ask to help clarify blocks:

  • Can you tell me more about what you think/how you feel.
  • How does this issue affect you personally? Is there some personal loss involved?
  • Is this issue connected to something else in your life?
  • Explain what you think is best for the community.
  • Is there a trial solution we could implement, perhaps limiting the scope of the proposal in some way?
  • Is there an element that could be modified to make this work for you?
  • What would you like to see instead of this proposal?