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Consensus Based Decision Making. Dr. John Robert Dew. What is consensus?. A situation where a group can agree on a course of action wherein: Everyone’s voice was heard. Everyone buys in at least 70%. No one has serious heartburn. No vote was taken, so no one won and no one lost.

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Consensus based decision making l.jpg

Consensus BasedDecision Making

Dr. John Robert Dew

What is consensus l.jpg
What is consensus?

  • A situation where a group can agree on a course of action wherein:

  • Everyone’s voice was heard.

  • Everyone buys in at least 70%.

  • No one has serious heartburn.

  • No vote was taken, so no one won and no one lost.

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Decision Making Styles

Manager lets group decide


Manager & group




Manager consults with group

Manager consults with individuals

Autocratic: Manager




Low High

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Discussion Process




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Process and Content

  • Must have consensus on process before you can have consensus on content.

  • Agree on how to proceed.

  • Agree to use rational process.

  • Agree to generate many options.

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Rational Decision Making

  • Identify objectives.

  • What are we trying to achieve?

  • What conditions must be met?

  • What must the best choice be able to do for us and what conditions must it meet?

  • What else would we want?

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Clarify Musts and Wants

  • Be clear about criteria that must be met and agree on these.

  • Discuss what you would like to see happen and understand what everyone wants.

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Group Exercise

  • Suppose your organization had funds in the budget to purchase a new vehicle.

  • What objectives should this new vehicle meet?

  • Which objectives would be “musts” and which would be “wants”?

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Generate a lot of options

  • Benchmark others

  • Seek an expert opinion

  • Refer to publications

  • Brainstorm Ideas

  • Go shopping

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Sometimes beneficial to discuss whether or not the options meet the musts.

Seek verbal agreement – ask if anyone has heartburn.

Some topics are too sensitive or complex to discuss.

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Ground rules for discussion:

  • Ensure that everyone has an opportunity to speak, if they want.

  • It may be beneficial to limit the amount of time each person can speak.

  • Ask if there is a consensus.

  • Ask if anyone has heartburn.

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Nominal Group Technique

  • Count number of options and divide by 3 to determine how many choices each person will have.

  • Each person selects X number of options they prefer.

  • Options with the greatest overall support represent the consensus.

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Brain writing: Combining creative thinking and NGT

  • Work in groups of 4 to 6.

  • Round One: Each participant writes down 3 ideas.

  • Round Two: Pass work sheet to the next person who adds three more.

  • Round Three: Pass work sheet to next person who adds three more ideas.

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Brain Writing


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It may take two worksheets for groups up to six people.

After the sheets have gone the full circle, circulate them again so everyone can read all of the ideas.

Each person will put a plus mark by the three ideas they like best on each page.

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The Affinity Process

  • Used to build consensus while organizing a wide range of information.

  • Requires active participants, lots of “post-it” notes.

  • A large wall or board.

  • Each individual works alone and remains silent.

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Creating an affinity diagram

  • State the objective of the exercise.

  • Each individual writes their ideas on “post-it” notes.

  • Everyone works together to organize the notes into groupings on the wall, silently reading and moving the notes.

  • Continue to everyone is satisfied with the organization of the notes.

  • Record the results.

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Watch out for “group think”

  • Illusion of unanimity.

  • People are pressured to agree.

  • Insiders vs. outsiders – we insiders all agree & have to stick together.

  • Self-censorship.

  • Illusion of invulnerability.