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Consensus Decision Making

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practical ideas to practice a basic democratic decision making - CONSENSUS

Description of the tool

How do you make decisions in the group, where there are as many opinions as there are people? The more diverse the group, the more it is probable that decision making would be difficult and complex.

The easiest way is to identify the majority view and take that decision. But what about those few who do not agree? What about the minority? In a smaller group this kind of decision making can split the group completely, and no one would be really happy.

Fortunately it is not the only way of decision making. The other way is to develop the solution until it fits everyone; this is called consensus making. It can take time and be complicated, but if you have in the end a solution which pleases everyone it is worth the effort. The main rule is that everyone is willing to find one solution and is ready to make slight compromises. The group develops the solution in a few rounds until everyone feels happy with it.

“What makes consensus so good is that it allows everyone in a group to contribute to and own a decision, without it being dominated by those who shout the loudest. It is a better system than majority voting, as it tries to avoid the alienation of minorities that majority rule can create. It values everyone's opinion equally and works towards conclusions acceptable to all. With consensus everyone in the group must agree to a decision for it to become effective!” from 25.01.2006

But how do you do it?

Here is an excerpt from the guide of People and the Planet:

“You first need to come to a common understanding about what decision is being made. If this isn’t clear (in any system) the group will founder early. Use facilitated discussion to reach clarity on this point.

1.Next is a period of debate and discussion, as opinions are shared and information is sought to help the group move towards making a decision. This period may last a very short, or a long time, but should always have a clear goal of leading to a clear proposal for action. It can be useful to write the proposal down to make sure it doesn't get lost anywhere in the process. If several proposals emerge, you could discuss each in turn, taking it through to the testing for consensus stage. Alternatively, you could brainstorm as many proposals as possible, then have a general discussion until one emerges as the strongest.

2.Once a proposal is made the group concentrates on that, and that alone, discussion of the proposal may lead to some friendly amendments - ways in which it can be enhanced. Throughout this discussion, the facilitator should be looking out for obvious signs of group agreement and disagreement. As and when these seem to be emerging, or after a long period of discussion when the group needs to move on, the facilitator tests for consensus.

3.At first, testing for consensus may mean a tentative show of hands to see if more discussion is needed, but should eventually lead to a formal test, which works as follows:
Restate the proposal so that everyone is clear about what they are being asked to decide.
Ask if there are any blocks to the proposal. A block is a veto - a right everyone in a consensus based group has. Blocks are to be used only when a decision is regarded as morally dubious, or would threaten the safety or integrity of the group. Some groups insist that the reasons for a block must be explained, others trust that there are good reasons and simply move on. It is implicit to blocking that it isn’t done for 'political' reasons (such as getting revenge on someone who once blocked one of your proposals), or for minor reasons such preferring another proposal. If the proposal is blocked the group moves back to stage 2 and looks for another proposal. If not….
Ask if anyone stands aside. Standing aside is not a serious as blocking, and is used more commonly. It's a way of saying that you have no problem with the group moving forward with the proposal, but that you personally cannot/do not want to be involved (for whatever reason). It doesn't threaten the integrity of the group, and it doesn't leave you feeling apart from the group. If a lot of people stand aside, it may indicate that there is no real support for the proposal.

4.Finally, if the group has got this far, the facilitator asks for signs of agreement. Given that everyone is actively participating, this should be everyone who has not stood aside. There is still room for friendly amendments to be made, but essentially the group have a decision if it gets this far. A word of caution - if consensus is reached too easily, it may be a sign of a bad decision, for example: people agreeing quickly because the meeting is running late and they want to go home.”


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Tool overview

This tool is for


and addresses

Social Inclusion, Group Dynamics, Project Management, Conflict Management, Organisational Management, Peer education

Materials needed:



depends on the group

Behind the tool

The tool was created by


(If you can claim authorship of this tool, please contact !)

The tool was published to the Toolbox by

Evelina Taunyte (on 2 March 2006)

and last modified

17 December 2008

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