Chapter 2

Decision making in groups

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When it’s time to move your campaign from discussion to action means making decisions. 

This can be challenging but don’t shy away from it. Implement an open decision-making process that balances making decisions by consensus along with smaller decisions being made by individuals leading specific aspects of your campaign.

Consensus decision-making happens when a decision is taken only when all people in the group accept it. It helps groups to share power, build a strong community and make better decisions by taking everyone’s opinions into account. 

When everyone has agreed on a decision and a planned outcome, people are more likely to stay involved with the group. 

However, there can be downsides to consensus decision making. It is time consuming and, because everyone has to find a position they can agree on, it can result in a more moderate position being taken than what would be optimal for your campaign. If this happens, it can be worth re-opening the debate to make sure your decisions are as strong as they can be.

Majority decision-making is when a decision is taken if the majority of the group agrees with it. 

This can be helpful when certain issues are very polarising and controversial. While it is important to try to find a common ground, if a few people with strong opinions are blocking the group from proceeding in their action then deciding by majority can be the right thing to do.

The consensus decision making process

Diagram showing how a group start discussing an issue, opening it out to different perspectives and exploring it before coming back together to make a decision
Credit: Seeds for Change

How to reach consensus on a decision

  • Appoint someone to facilitate the meeting
  • Be clear at the start about the issue under discussion and the decision being made
  • Create space for people to raise questions, share needs and opinions before trying to solve the problem 
  • Give everyone a chance to speak
  • Explore the pros and cons of different ways you could solve the problem
  • Make a proposal about an outcome that appears to meet everyone’s needs – amend it if other things are suggested to make it stronger
  • Test for agreement – people can vote by putting their hands in the air if they agree, in front of them if they don’t agree but don’t mind it, down if they disagree and want to block it

It is important for the facilitator to actively listen to what everyone says, and try to make sure their points of view are reflected in what is decided. 

Remember: sometimes it will be easy to come to an agreement. Other times you may need to go back to explore the issue again and come up with new proposals before you can agree.

To help you make decisions together, you will need trust. The good news is, if you have already done the work building strong relationships, developing a positive group culture and getting everyone invested in a strong, shared vision, you will have that trust in place ready for when it’s time to make decisions.

Questions for reflection
  • How do different groups you are part of make decisions? Do you ever make decisions by consensus? 
  • What other ways are there to make decisions in groups you are part of? What are their advantages and disadvantages?
  • What sorts of decisions do you think your campaign group might need to make as consensus? What decisions could be made by individuals?

Further resources: 

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Here are some useful links