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|2. Definitions of consensus|
is no one widely accepted definition. Aiming for 'the maximum agreement
among people while drawing on as much of everyone's ideas as possible' is
one possible definition of the aim of any collective decision making
process, not necessarily of consensus itself, and this does not indicate
when you have 'arrived' at consensus.
Your collective definition of consensus as a group is what is important. If it is a small, informal group where there is not usually controversy then a fairly loose but explicit definition may be sufficient, with "Consensus is to be arrived at simply by a process of informal discussion allowing everyone to make an input, and everyone being 'reasonably happy' with the decision." But even in an informal, small group you may still be wise to have a 'worst case scenario' policy in place; what will you do if agreement and trust break down? Enter a protracted period of discussion? Go ahead with the 'majority' policy? Drop the proposal entirely? Call in a mediator? Or what? When a crisis is reached is the worst possible time to try to evolve a strategy for dealing with a crisis.
In a more formal small group ('small group' defined as say 6 - 20 members) which requires decisions to be minuted then a more formal definition is needed. This could be something like the following:
Where the strength of feeling of a minority is great and there is intense objection within a small group, it becomes difficult to label any decision as any kind of consensus - and unwise to proceed with a policy without further work on it. Consensus is not only about the level of support but the strength of feeling involved. One of the tools following may help to define how strongly people feel on an issue.
One useful definition (in 'Building united judgement', by the Center for Conflict Resolution) is;
It is therefore clear that a consensus process does involve compromise. But, and it a big 'but', 'your' compromise this time may entail 'my' compromise the next time, not in the sense of some mathematical formula but as a rule of thumb over time. As with any group process it requires good will and trust that over time the hills that some people want, and the valleys which others support on an issue, will even out.
Other definitions include;
"Consensus exists within a group when each member can say:
The de Borda Institute or preferendum concept of consensus is generally taken to refer to larger scale decision making by voting which people may or may not find helpful in the 'small group' context (though, as referred to elsewhere, it can be used for any number of voters from 2 upwards and any number of options from 3 upwards). However Peter Emerson has this to say (in 'Defining Democracy',):
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