At a glance

Policy stage: 
Level of involvement: 
Cost: 
Low
Length of process: 
1/2 - 1 day
Number of participants: 
Varied
Participant selection: 
Self-selecting (usually)
Online / Offline: 
Offline

Consensus Voting is a method used to identify the consensus opinion through a balanced voting system.

Description

Consensus Voting can be done with an organisation or community and at a local or national level. The process involves: 

  • Everyone (or a group) is allowed to put forward a proposal.
  • A list of options regarding the issue is drawn up.
  • Everyone votes on the options based on their preference. The most preferred option of a participant will receive the most points and decrease by one on all lesser options.
  • Votes are counted and the option with the most overall points is the winner.

Participants

  • Anyone

Costs

Low:

  • This depends on the number of participants and the choice of venue to hold the vote.

Approximate time expense

Low:

  • This can depend on the number of voters and the number of options to go through, but events usually last half a day or a day.
  • Given that each person's viewpoint has to be canvassed and taken into consideration, time requirements can be lengthy in terms of the initial process.

Strengths

  • Encourages deliberation
  • Every person's vote counts
  • A clear and legitimate decision can be reached
  • Can gather a wide range of opinions
  • Can help resolve deeply entrenched issues

Weaknesses

  • Can preserve the status quo if there is a lack of willingness to engage with new ideas. 
  • Given that all group members' preferences have to be accounted for, it can give an advantage to minorities interested in maintaining the status quo despite majority opinion to the contrary.
  • Can cause the Abilene paradox: the group collectively decides on a course of action that is counter to the preferences of any of the individuals in the group because no one individual is willing to go against the perceived will of the decision-making body.

Origin

During 18th Century France the Academie des Sciences discussed alternatives to the monarchic government of the time. Two voting alternatives were proposed from Le Maquis de Condorcet and Jean-Charles de Borda.In both procedures voters cast their preferences on a range of options. 

Consensus Voting then re-appeared in the 1950s with Social Choice Theory and the work of Duncan Black which, in turn, has helped lead to the varying options available today.

Photo by Mat Brown from Pexels CC0