Consensus Process

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Consensus 101: Introduction

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

What is Consensus

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. 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.

Consensus vs Voting

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?

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.

What is Required of Us

  • 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.

Consensus at Noisebridge

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.

Use Cases

The Short Version

  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

  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 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.


  • The process is decision-centric, and should be able to re-configure itself around the decision that needs to be made.
  • Typically a week is given to an item from Discussion to Consensus in the Tuesday meetings to give people who didn't attend the first meeting time to review the meeting notes and start discussion over other mediums if they wish to participate in the consensus process.
  • Generally by not coming to a meeting, and in turn not participating in the process, as a member you're stating that you are ok with the direction the rest of the membership participating go with, but might not necessarily agree with the subjects or topics that pass through consensus.
  • Members are allowed to not block but state that they're not in support or agree with the subjects or topics that pass through consensus.
  • Anyone, members or guests of Noisebridge, can bring up items for consensus.
  • Only members are able to participate in the act of coming to consensus, I.E. blocking the process.
  • In order to participate in consensus (block the process), a member must be physically in the space during the meeting.
  • A member who isn't able to physically make it to a meeting is allowed to have another member act on their behalf as proxy if they can find one who's willing to do so (as in agrees to their point of view on the subject).
  • A guest who wants to block the process is allowed to have a member act on their behalf as proxy if they can find one who's willing to do so (as in agrees to their point of view on the subject).
  • There is also the notion of a Do-ocracy. If you want something done, do it, but remember to be excellent to each other when doing so.

Related Pages

Current Consensus Items

Consensus Items History