Consensus decision-making differs from the majority vote method of group decision-making with which most north americans and europeans are probably familiar, in that it seeks to include all voices as part of the process of reaching agreement between voluntary participants.
Whereas voting by definition requires losers and winners, consensus allows all to participate in the crafting of resolution to problems, challenges, issues.
As it is used in Occupy Gainesville, the process often follows this general outline:
Proposal: a participant will raise a concern, issue, or proposal to be addressed by the group.
Ask: the facilitator asks if there are clarifying questions or concerns.
Reframe: the facilitator or participant who raised the issue reframes the proposal, given input from the group.
Discuss: participants discuss the proposal or issue.
Needs: if there are concerns with the proposal, the group identifies what needs to be addressed to achieve agreement.
Everyone: facilitator may take temperature of group, or if they sense there is enough agreement, asks if there is consensus.
Return: Proposal that didn't meet group consensus may be returned to a smaller group for further work (now that needs have been identified), and the meeting returns to the agenda.
In Occupy Gainesville, we employ several roles in the course of a big meeting like the General Assembly. This helps to ensure that everyone's voice can be heard. (We also employ the people's mic to help everyone hear.)
The core decision-making structure of Occupy Gainesville (OG) is the General Assembly (GA) which meets daily at the Bo Diddley Plaza, except when scheduled events make that area too loud. Then we meet at City Hall Plaza. We meet at 6:30 pm
Participants in the GA are encouraged to keep comments concise, that is, under 2 minutes (please watch the time-keeper as described below). Everyone is also encouraged to attend a Process workshop on consensus and active listening.
These roles are used in Occupy Gainesville:
Facilitator - has 2 main responsibilities: to reflect the sense of the assembly, helping the group to reach agreement on topics, issues, and proposals, and to keep the meeting moving along the agenda in a timely manner. All roles should refrain as much as possible from passionately participating in discussion, but this is especially important for the facilitator. If they feel their feelings on an issue cloud their ability to continue facilitating, they may pass on their duties to someone else, clearly letting the assembly know that this is what they are doing.
Stack-taker - keeps a running record of who would like to speak. Participants raise their hands and wait to be called on. The stack-taker often keeps several stacks, for more info on this see someone in the Process Group, or attend a workshop.
Time-keeper - each agenda item has a time limit, to help keep us focused. Also, the time-keeper raises a finger as each minute passes, and kindly lets the speaker know if they have exceeded time (usually 2 or 3 minutes)
Guide (Greeter) - this is someone familiar enough with our process, that can answer questions from new participants. For example, if someone would like to speak to the GA, but is not sure what agenda item provides the appropriate opportunity the greeter may be able to orient them.
Vibe-checker - between agenda items the vibe-checker asks, "how are the vibes?"
Note-taker - a member of the Secretarial Working Group, this participant takes notes that will be posted online, so that anyone who misses the GA can learn what was discussed, and what proposals reached consensus. Working Groups are encouraged to email their reports to secretarial [at] occupygainesville.net, so that they may be included in their entirety in the minutes.
Priority in the selection for the roles is given to those who have attended the Process group workshop on consensus, except for the Note-taker, who is a member of the Secretarial Working Group.
The GA generally follows this basic agenda:
1. A temporary facilitator (last night's facilitator if present) introduces/asks for volunteers/asks approval for meeting roles. 5 min.
2. Facilitator reminds everyone of respect check (smoking, language). Donation hat is put in center. Agenda approved with any last minute amendments. 5 min
3. Consensus Review - a quick review of how our process works. 5 min. For more info come to a Process Working Group meeting (contact info below). Ususally, the Process Group meets an hour before the GA, same location. If you have a specific question during a GA, find the Greeter. 5 min
4. Reports from other occupations, and other news. 5 min
5. Reports on Gainesville Occupation, may include a report from Watchers. 5 min
6. Deep Breath - 1 min
7. Working Group Reports and Proposals. 15 min
With each report, the Working Group presenter is encouraged to give a brief explanation of what the group does. Participants may have questions. Stack-taker will keep list of people who want to ask questions about the report or proposals.
8. 5 min Dance Break.
9. Affinity Groups Reports 10 min
An affinity group is a gathering of like-minded people who meet to brainstorm, plan and carry out actions on issues that inspire them. The affinity groups are
10. Break-out groups or open discussion on some topic. 15 min. This is often suggested to the process working group.
11. General Proposals 10 min. Anyone may make a general proposal, as long as they let the stack-keeper know in the first 15 minutes of the meeting. If this stack is empty, the meeting moves on to the next agenda item. If someone forgets to let the stack-keeper know in time, they can do so at the next decision-making GA.
12. Open Floor. Participants may share on whatever topic, 3 min each. 24 min total. It is suggested that no one speaks twice, and that speakers refrain from directly addressing anyone, but speak from the heart.
13. Announcements and Appreciation. We praise one another. 5 min
14. Facilitator thanks everyone. Reminds folks to help with whatever needs to be put away for the night. Total time: 1 hr 50 min
Occupy Gainesville Hand Signs