Time to argue about consensus

3 responses to “Time to argue about consensus

  1. Good and thought provoking article – thanks Nick. We know that conflict is an important part of good decision-making. When we do team development training we focus on diversity of teams on the basis that different backgrounds and different ideas help strengthen and test key decisions. So I think you’re absolutely right that healthy conflict, debate and disagreement are all really import for good decision-making and therefore good governance and democracy.

    I think part of the problem that people are often trying to solve when they talk about consensus decision-making is that far too often conflict and decision-making aren’t ‘done well’. We see politicians (UK and global) point scoring, focusing on personality not issues and emphasising points of difference to create win-lose situations. Some of this isn’t new but it does feel as though there’s been a decline in collaborative (not consensus) decision-making over the past few years where people try to create win-win situations.

    If you take the brilliant bipartisan work that Stella Creasy did on free abortions for women in Northern Ireland. Part of the reason this stood out is because she engaged politicians from both sides of the floor around an important issue to create change – and that seems to practically hardly ever happen. Politicians (and I include student politicians / leaders in this) need to re-learn / remember how to talk to people that hold different opinions, identify points of commonality and compromise to create change. I agree that we shouldn’t be obsessed with consensus decisions, and perhaps need to focus more on collaborative approaches, whilst accepting that healthy conflict still creates more robust outcomes?

  2. Thanks for this thought-provoking article Nick. I absolutely agree with the view that conflict is a really important part of effective decision-making. In team development training we talk about the need for diverse teams (Belbin etc) – on the basis that people from different backgrounds, and with different ideas, make better, more robust decisions.

    I think part of the problem that people are trying to solve when they talk about consensus decision-making is that far too often conflict isn’t ‘done well’. We watch our elected leaders (global and UK) focus on points of difference in order to point score and create win-lose outcomes. Of course this has always happened, but it feels like over recent years politicians (and I include student politicians / leaders in this) have lost the ability to build bridges, engage people with different political viewpoints and create win-win outcomes through collaboration and compromise.

    If you take Stella Creasy’s brilliant work around free abortions for women from Northern Ireland, one of the things that made this stand out was that you just don’t see many public examples of our leaders collaborating across the political aisle to create change. I think students’ unions have a role in helping student leaders develop and apply those skills – and perhaps we should be focusing on collaborative, not consensus, decision-making?

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