Prepared by Andrew Josey, VP, Standards & Certification
Copyright © 2012-2018, The Open Group
This document is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike 3.0 United States License; see http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0. You are free to copy, modify, adapt, and distribute the contents of this document provided you prominently display the attribution “Provided under a Creative Commons license by The Open Group www.opengroup.org”.
The views expressed in this Guide are not necessarily those of any particular member of The Open Group.
A Handbook for
The Consensus Decision-Making Process
Document No.: I121
Published by The Open Group, January 2012.
Minor editorial updates applied November 2012.
Refreshed July 2018.
Any comments relating to the material contained in this document may be submitted to:
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Some sections of this text are based in part on the Wikipedia Article on Consensus Decision-Making, which is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.
This document provides a Handbook for individuals who are participating in Forums or Work Groups within The Open Group. It includes guidance on the consensus decision-making process.
The work of The Open Group relies on cooperation among a broad cultural diversity of organizations, peoples, ideas, and communication styles.
This document provides guidance for individuals participating in The Open Group Forums and Work Groups as we work together to develop multiple, interoperable technologies for Boundaryless Information Flow™.
This document supplements and defers to The Open Group standard governance procedures contained in The Open Group Standards Process. Information on The Open Group Standards Process is available at: www.opengroup.org/standardsprocess.
Principle #1: The Primacy of Principles
All the Forum/Work Group decisions, and decision-making processes, will be based on principles that are agreed by, and openly accessible to, members of the Forum/Work Group.
Principle #2: We Inherit the Principles of The Open Group
We are committed to the achievement of The Open Group vision, mission, and to adhere to its principles: Openness, Consensus, Public Availability of Published Standards, No Legal Impediment to Implementation or Adoption, Confidentiality, and Executable Standards.
Principle #3: Collaboration
Everything we do is done through goodwill, trust, and collaboration:
— The Forum/Work Group must be inviting, open to hearing everyone’s voice
— We need to express rationale, not just positions
— Decision-making is collaborative and informed
Principle #4: Shared Purpose
Our shared purpose is to advance a common standard:
— Everyone has a business rationale for participation
— Everyone has come here to make the industry better
— Everyone shares the credit and the benefit
Principle #5: Formal Process
We follow formal processes for planning, operations, decision-making, and reaching consensus.
Principle #6: Obligations of Leadership
The higher up you are, the more you serve the Forum/Work Group and its members:
— The obligation of the Chair and Vice-Chair(s) is to facilitate the Forum/Work Group to pursue its agreed objectives, and to enable it to make its decisions balanced by consensus, fairness, and the voluntary nature of the organization
Principle #7: Openness and Assumption of Good Intent
Seek to collaborate and understand:
— By validating assumptions and inferences
— By clarifying the meaning of special words used
The objective is to reach stable decisions:
— In general, that means supported by a consensus of members of the Forum/Work Group
— It also means not strongly opposed by a sufficient subset of the members to cause decisions to be revisited
— Do not interpret silence as agreement, and do not permit others to do so either
The consensus decision-making process is a decision-making process that not only seeks the agreement of most participants, but also resolves or mitigates the objections of the minority in order to achieve the most agreeable decision.
“Consensus” is usually defined as meaning both general agreement, and the process of getting to such agreement. The consensus decision-making process is thus concerned primarily with that process.
— Inclusive – as many stakeholders as possible should be involved in the consensus decision-making process
— Participatory – the consensus process should actively solicit the input and participation of all decision-makers
— Cooperative – participants in an effective consensus process should strive to reach the best possible decision for the group and all of its members, rather than opt to pursue a majority opinion, potentially to the detriment of a minority
— Egalitarian – all members of a consensus decision-making body should be afforded, as much as possible, equal input into the process
— Solution-oriented – an effective consensus decision-making body strives to emphasize common agreement over differences and reach effective decisions using compromise and other techniques to avoid or resolve mutually-exclusive positions within the Forum/Work Group
Voting is competitive, rather than cooperative, framing decision-making in a win/lose dichotomy that ignores the possibility of compromise or other potential solutions.
A majority decision reduces the commitment of each individual decision-maker to the decision.
Members of a minority position may have a sense of reduced responsibility for the ultimate decision.
Since the consensus decision-making process is not as formalized as others, such as Roberts Rules of Order, the practical details of its implementation vary from group to group. However, there is a core set of procedures which is common to most implementations of the consensus decision-making process.
Once an agenda for discussion has been set and, optionally, the ground rules for the meeting have been agreed upon, each item of the agenda is addressed in turn. Typically, each decision arising from an agenda item follows through a simple structure, as shown in the following diagram:
The item is discussed with the goal of identifying opinions and information on the topic at hand. The general direction of the Forum/Work Group and potential proposals for action are often identified during the discussion.
Based on the discussion, a formal decision proposal on the issue is presented to the Forum/Work Group.
The facilitator of the decision-making body calls for consensus on the proposal. Each member of the Forum/Work Group usually must actively state their agreement with the proposal to avoid the Forum/Work Group from interpreting silence or inaction as agreement.
If consensus is not achieved, each dissenter presents his or her concerns on the proposal, potentially starting another round of discussion to address or clarify the concern.
The proposal is amended, re-phrased, or a rider is added, in an attempt to address the concerns of the decision-makers. The process then returns to the call for consensus and the cycle is repeated until a satisfactory decision is made.
As the name implies, the role of the facilitator is to help make the process of reaching a consensus decision easier. Facilitators accept responsibility for moving through the agenda on time; ensuring that the Forum/Work Group adheres to the mutually-agreed mechanics of the consensus process; and, if necessary, suggesting alternate or additional discussion or decision-making techniques, such as go-arounds, break-out groups, or role-playing.
The facilitator is often the Forum Director/The Open Group Staff Liaison.
The purpose of the timekeeper is to ensure that the decision-making body keeps to the schedule set in the agenda.
The timekeeper is often the Chair.
Empathy or “Vibe” Watch
The empathy watch – or “vibe watch” as the position is sometimes called – is charged with monitoring the “emotional climate” of the meeting, taking note of the body language and other non-verbal cues of the participants. Defusing potential emotional conflicts, maintaining a climate free of intimidation, and being aware of potentially destructive power dynamics, such as sexism or racism within the decision-making body, are the primary responsibilities of the empathy watch.
The notes-taker is identified at the start of the meeting.
The role of the notes-taker or secretary is to document the decisions, discussion, and action points of the decision-making body in a set of minutes. Unlike other forms of decision-making, consensus minutes often make a point of documenting dissenting positions.
A healthy consensus decision-making process usually encourages and outs dissent early, maximizing the chance of accommodating the views of all minorities.
Since unanimity may be difficult to achieve, especially in large groups, or unanimity may be the result of coercion, fear, undue persuasive power or eloquence, inability to comprehend alternatives, or plain impatience with the process of debate, The Open Group may use an alternative benchmark of consensus:
— Unanimity minus two (or U-2) does not permit two individual delegates to block a decision, but tends to curtail debate with a lone dissenter more quickly
Dissenting pairs can present alternate views of what is wrong with the decision under consideration. Pairs of delegates can be empowered to find the common ground that will enable them to convince a third, decision-blocking decision-maker to join them. If the pair are unable to convince a third party to join them within a set time, their arguments are deemed to be unconvincing.
Although the consensus decision-making process should, ideally, identify and address concerns and reservations early, proposals do not always garner full consensus from the decision-making body. When a call for consensus on a motion is made, a dissenting delegate in The Open Group has one of two options:
— Declare reservations
Forum/Work Group members who are willing to let a motion pass but desire to register their concerns with the Forum/Work Group may choose to “declare reservations”. If there are significant reservations about a motion, the decision-making body may choose to modify or re-word the proposal.
— Stand aside
A “stand aside” may be registered by a group member who has a “serious personal disagreement” with a proposal, but is willing to let the motion pass. Although stand asides do not halt a motion, it is often regarded as a strong “nay vote” and the concerns of group members standing aside are usually addressed by modifications to the proposal. Stand asides may also be registered by users who feel they are incapable of adequately understanding or participating in the proposal.
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