CPSP History & Tradition
CPSP has maintained a tradition of consensus decision-making since its inception. In making decisions at the Governing Council we do not vote. When conflicts arise they are resolved through discussion, debate and collaboration.
Voting is Divisive
In the main, when groups vote using the majority rule principle or Parliamentary Procedure, a competitive dynamic evolves within the group because it is being asked to select between two or more possibilities. In this dynamic it is as acceptable to attack and diminish an opposing viewpoint as it is to promote and endorse one’s own position on a given issue. The goal and object of voting is to defeat the opposing viewpoints by a majority and means acting on a 51-49 decision. Even an 80-20 division can be divisive in a community, especially if those who carry the vote want above all else to carry the day.
This is especially problematic when there are complex or multiple issues involved. Establishing consensus requires expressing an opinion in terms other than a choice (a vote ) between stated options . It requires one to expand on the reasoning behind the belief, addressing the points that others have left, until all may come to a mutually agreeable solution.
Consensus Decision Making
In contrast to the Parliamentary Procedure consensus decision making has a completely different agenda and feel. In the process of reaching a consensus the goal is to hear the dissenting voice in an atmosphere in which conflict is encouraged, supported and resolved with respect for differing opinions. Consensus decision making proposes to hear the objections as fully as possible. It seeks to hear every negative opinion with the goal to bring the whole community to support any proposal that is to be implemented.
C.T. Butler and Amy Rothstein (1) offer the following take on seeking consensus:
“In the consensus process, only proposals which intend to accomplish the common purpose are considered. During discussion of a proposal, everyone works to improve the proposal to make it the best decision for the group. All proposals are adopted unless the group decides it is contrary to the best interests of the group.”
Consensus is not Unanimity
The Parliamentary Procedure ensures that the majority opinion carries the day in a manner that supersedes the concerns and desires of the minority. In contrast, in seeking consensus a community may decide that it does not have a consensus even though it has a slim majority. Or, it may decide that it has enough of a consensus to proceed with a decision in spite of strong negative opinions by a minority. C.T. Butler and Amy Rothstein comment (2) “A valid objection is one in keeping with all previous decisions of the group and based upon the commonly-held principles or foundation adopted by the group. The objection must not only address the concerns of the individual, but it must also be in the best interest of the group as a whole. If the objection is not based upon the foundation, or is in contradiction with prior decisions, it is not valid for the group and therefore, out of order.”
While a vote “feels” better for people who see the issue as either “black” or “white,” in most cases voting serves to undermine discussion and discourse. In the worst case, it may cause participants not to civilly engage with the other voters, but merely instead to choose camps. By polarizing discussion and raising the stakes, serving an issue up for a vote may contribute to a breakdown in civility, making a discussion of controversial issues extremely acrimonious. Consensus decision making is neither an air-tight process, nor a guarantee of success. It is simply the best known approach for hearing out what is often the most difficult thing to hear, contrary opinions
(1) C.T. Butler and Amy Rothstein page 4. “On Conflict and Consensus a handbook on Formal Decision Making”
(2) Ibid page 4.