Consensus Democracy is a community building process tool that satisfies the needs of all stakeholders involved.
Responsibility of own actions
Consensus Democracy realizes the impact and the responsibility of own actions on other people. It is born out of the idea of Uwe Lübbermann who started the Premium Collective and it is the result of not wanting to make decisions over other people’s lives. Instead it gives the people involved the opportunity to state their needs and take part in the mutual solution finding process. In this way it has the potential to satisfy all stakeholders.
Discussing everybody’s needs and perspectives on how things should be handled can be a lengthy process in the beginning. After some time it is however possibly to make decisions within two to three weeks, which is quite fast compared to conventional decision making in organizations. Consensus Democracy keeps the discussion alive until everyone agrees. However, asking others for their expertise and experience allows tapping into the collective intelligence of other people. Especially in our increasingly complex times and facing that we all have blind spots, this can be a useful tool.
Fair and social solutions
The result of taking into account the perspective of everyone who is affected from an action is a more stable solution. In addition, the solution is backed up by everyone, because they had the opportunity to take part in the development of it. If everyone’s perspective and needs are considered in the end result, the solutions developed are fair and social.
The organization and its members work to their best knowledge. When external circumstances change or new discoveries are made every member has the opportunity to renegotiate decisions of the past. Consensus Democracy makes the whole system highly agile.
Three kinds of decisions
Before we look at how Consensus Democracy works, we need to look at the underlying foundation, so to say, to get a better understanding. There are three kinds of decisions we can face in an organization.
- Single decision
The single decision is only affecting one person. These are the decisions we have to make for ourselves. Examples are: How long do we want to work? When do we want to work?
- Group decision
This decision is affecting a group of people. For example the delivery of products is a matter that can be discussed between the supplier and the receiver. The aim is to find the best solution for both parties.
- Company decision
The decision that affects the whole company is for example the cost structure. Since everybody working in and outside an organization is affected by it, all stakeholders are allowed to have a say in the negotiations.
Every person has the opportunity to move a decision to a higher level, but the general interest is to avoid this, obviously. So for example if I only want to work three hours at night and others are dependent on my input, I need to find a way that I can make sure they have the right information and can communicate with me. Depending on the circumstances, me working at night might not work out for the others. Since I do not want to involve others in my single decision, I might consider adjusting my working hours in a way that I am able to satisfy my own needs and the needs of others.
How to make consensus decisions?
The process is quite straightforward. First of all we agree on a goal. What is the result we want to achieve at the end? Then everybody who is involved in reaching that goal has the opportunity to state their needs . What is important to the individual stakeholders? The third step is where the discussion takes place. How could a potential solution look like that satisfies our needs as well as the needs of others? A consensus will evolve with a proactive mindset, where we come up with own potential solutions instead of simply denying offers of others. Thinking win-win, where both parties are better off in the end, helps. If we feel that we are close to a solution that everybody would agree on, anybody can make a suggestion. If the suggestion is accepted by all stakeholders, we have a consensus solution.
Every participant has the right to veto the made suggestion. The use of veto often happens in zero-sum game solutions, where one has to loose for the other to win. The motivation is to avoid a veto at all. This is ensured by understanding the needs of others and find a way to satisfy them without compromising on own needs in the previous steps.
In times of crisis there is a need for quick decisions. In these times a lengthy discussion to find consensus could result in stagnation, analysis-paralysis or additional costs and might not be the best alternative. That is why there are precautions. In the case of the Premium Collective there are two. First, it always needs to be ensured that production and delivery are on time. Second, when somebody deliberately tries to do damage to the company through for example discrimination or theft, that member loses the right to veto. These two precautions could be summarized as the core activity to continue business and as preventing the biggest threat to the trust of the network in which everybody is equal. Thus, it is reasonable to have these two precautions, which allow Uwe Lübbermann to take quick counter-measures to keep the system running. Theoretically it would be possible to act without even consulting with the involved persons, but in order to not lose the trust of other members it makes sense to hear their perspective first.
In times of crisis, which demand quick decisions, it is necessary to trust the decisions of leaders or management teams. Building that trust is, however, the primary duty of leaders in prior calmer times. That could for example be achieved by showing long-term commitment, the willingness to only use that power when it is absolutely necessary and to prevent a crisis in the first place. This can in turn be achieved by creating a stable system based on Consensus Democracy.
Further information for participative decision-making can be found at the website on participation and sustainable development of the Austrian Ministry of Environment and of course on the Premium Cola website (which is in German, since they only operate in German speaking countries).
Do you take other people’s perspective into consideration when making decisions?