Consensus decision-making is a group decision making process that not only seeks the agreement of most participants, but also the resolution or mitigation of minority objections. Consensus is usually defined as meaning both general agreement and the process of getting to such agreement.
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:
- Discussion of the item: The item is discussed with the goal of identifying opinions and information on the topic at hand. The general direction of the group and potential proposals for action are often identified during the discussion.
- Formation of a proposal: Based on the discussion a formal decision proposal on the issue is presented to the group.
- Call for consensus: The facilitator of the decision-making body calls for consensus on the proposal. Each member of the group usually must actively state their agreement with the proposal, often by using a hand gesture, to avoid the group interpreting silence or inaction as agreement.
- Identification and addressing of concerns: 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.
- Modification of the proposal: The proposal is amended or re-phrased 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.