Consensus Process

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"We reject: kings, presidents, and voting. We believe in: rough consensus and running code." -- Dave Clark, IETF Proceedings, July 1992

Consensus 101: Introduction[edit]

What is Consensus[edit]

Consensus is a non-violent way for people to relate to each other as a group. Successful use of a consensus process depends on people understanding the idea and wanting to use it.

Consensus allows us to recognize areas of agreement and act together without coercing one another (but see below *). Under consensus, the group takes no action that is not consented to by all group members.

The fundamental right of consensus is for all persons to express themselves in their own words and of their own will; the fundamental responsibility of consensus is to assure others of their right to speak and be heard.

* We wish to avoid revealing the impression that "real live discussion with real live human beings" are simply buzzwords for Noisebridge's own de facto brand of coercively extracting approval of Consensus items (steamrolling), e.g., through Social Pressure or other manipulative Social Engineering techniques.

Consensus vs Voting[edit]

Voting is a means by which we choose one alternative from several. Consensus, on the other hand, is a process of synthesizing many diverse elements together. With consensus people can and should work through differences and reach a mutually satisfactory position. It is possible for one person's insights or strongly held beliefs to sway the whole group. No ideas are lost, each member's input is valued as part of the solution.

Consensus clearly takes more time than a simple vote. But the added time can be viewed in relation to the increased understanding each member of the group will have about the issue and the increased probability of the decision being implemented.

What does Consensus Mean?[edit]

Consensus does not mean that everyone thinks that the decision made is necessarily the best one possible, or even that they are sure it will work. What it does mean is that in coming to that decision, no one felt that her/his position on the matter was misunderstood or that it wasn't given a proper hearing. Hopefully, everyone will think this is the best decision (*and see the above note regarding steamrolling*).

What is Required of Us[edit]

  • Cooperation: Look for areas of agreement and common ground, and build on them. Avoid right/wrong thinking.
  • Respect: Respect others and trust them to make responsible input.
  • Struggle: Use disagreements to learn, grow and change.Work hard to build unity in the group.
  • Listen: Good listening is as important as good speaking. It is important not to withdraw when not speaking; good listening is active participation.
  • Responsibility: Participants are responsible for voicing their opinions, participating in the discussion, and actively implementing the agreement.

More Consensus Info from the same document.

Use Cases[edit]

Noisebridge is run by consensus with all the members. We don't do anything as a group that everyone isn't OK with (not everyone has to be wildly enthusiastic). We've evolved a way of getting to this state, which is not any kind of definitive rule, but has worked reasonably well so far. Here's what to expect in most cases, except when we get to consensus by a different method.

The Short Version[edit]

  1. Dick wants to paint the bike shed pink. He brings it up at a Tuesday meeting as a Discussion Item.
  2. Jane doesn't want the bike shed painted, Dick and Jane yell at each other for a while. People get annoyed and they ask Dick and Jane to discuss this after the meeting.
  3. Dick and Jane get together later and talk out their problems, they agree to paint the bike shed blue.
  4. Dick brings up painting the bike shed blue as a Consensus Item at the next Tuesday meeting.
  5. Everyone agrees this is a great idea. Consensus has been reached!

The Long Version[edit]

  1. Dick wants to paint the bike shed pink, others at Noisebridge say this is a great idea.
  2. Dick adds "Paint the bike shed pink" to Discussion Items for next week's Tuesday meeting.
  3. Dick shows up at the meeting and discusses his plan with everyone attending. Discussion is allowed to continue on for a week to give people time to read and respond to the meeting notes if they weren't at the meeting and want to be involved.
  4. Jane thinks this is a stupid idea, she doesn't think the bike shed should be painted at all.
  5. Jane and Dick argue for 5 minutes, everyone gets annoyed and tell them to shut up, Jane says she'll block consensus at the next meeting.
    1. Jane, being an member who is excellent to others at Noisebridge, talks to Dick after the meeting, Dick offers to be ok with painting the bike shed whatever color, Jane says blue is great, Dick agrees. Story continues.
    2. In an alternate universe Jane is totally a jerk and doesn't want to be open to anymore discussion about this, she'll block no matter what. Story ends here.
  6. The note taker of the meeting posts the meeting notes to the wiki and the mailing list.
    1. Marty sees the item, even though he wasn't around for the meeting he responds back and states that he isn't going to support this issue unless eco-bio-organic friendly paint was used. Dick agrees.
    2. Cathy emails the list and says she doesn't feel that spending Noisebridge funds on paint is a smart thing, but wont block.
    3. Yojimbo does want to block this item but wont be able to physically make it to the next meeting, since he's never actually been to the space and doesn't actually know anyone there, he's having a hard time convincing someone to act as a proxy for him.
  7. Dick puts the topic into Consensus items for next week's agenda.
  8. At the meeting, Dick discusses the item and what his new revised plans are.
    1. Bobby blocks because he feels Noisebridge shouldn't have a bike shed in the first place. Go to step number 5.
    2. The meeting moderator asks if anyone disagrees to the bike shed getting painted, everyone's silent, consensus has been reached.
  9. Dick paints the bike shed.

Consensus at Noisebridge[edit]

This section represents the consensus of Noisebridge. Do not edit it. If you wish to make changes, bring them up for discussion and consensus at a weekly meeting.

Our Version of Consensus[edit]

  • Proposals for consensus should be raised for discussion in one meeting, and then consensed upon at the following week's meeting.
    • Both members and non-members may raise items for consensus.
    • This allows people who can't attend every meeting time to read the notes and attend the following week's meeting.
    • This also allows a week for people to discuss the consensus proposals between meetings.
  • Only Noisebridge members in good standing may block consensus.
    • In order to block consensus, a member must be physically present at a meeting.
    • If a member is not physically present at the meeting, they may attempt to find another member in good standing who is willing to act as proxy on their behalf.
    • If a member wishes to, they are free to proxy for the wishes of a guest who is not able block.


  • The consensus process is decision-centric, and is re-configurable around any decision that needs to be made.
  • The wording of the consensus proposal made in the first week can be altered during the consensus process of the second meeting, although radical changes in the sense or impact of a proposal require a resubmitted proposal, and a new two week process.
  • If a member does not attend a meeting, they are asserting that they are comfortable with the decisions of those who do choose to attend, whether or not they agree.
  • Members are free to express their opposition for a consensus proposal but stand aside without blocking it.
  • Noisebridge operates a Do-ocracy. If you want something done, do it, but remember to be excellent to each other when doing so.

Related Pages[edit]

Current Consensus Items

Consensus Items History

Noisebridge Manual - The Prologue - Visitors and Guests - Getting along - Staying in touch - Day to Day operations - Infrastructure - Inner Mechanizations - Things we do - Lore - Ask to leave |Edit |Edit Sections