Consent Versus Consensus

The consent versus consensus discussion is largely one of emphasis. Sociocracy uses “consent” decision-making for all  policy decisions. Consent is defined as “no objections.” Objections must be reasoned and paramount. Consent does not mean you fully agree, only that you will be able to work toward the aims of the decision, that you can “live with it.”

Consent is used to emphasize the difference between the traditional full-group consensus model and the delegated consensus model. In full-group consensus decision-making, all members of a group make all policy decisions. The origins of consensus decision-making are in the Quaker peace tradition and the civil rights movement where equality and non-oppression were prime values.

In Sociocracy, only those who are affected by a policy decision must consent to it being implemented, sometimes through an elected representative. It establishes a governance structure that allows delegation of decisions while preserving equivalence—something that was not understood previously.

Consent and reasoned and paramount objections are more acceptable in corporate and government agencies where the idea of consensus decision-making for business decisions is foreign. There are, however, more and more consultants advising that even in business contexts consensus decision-making produces superior results. One such book is Larry Dressler‘s Consensus Through Conversation. Dressler works in some of the world’s largest corporations. The forward for his book is by the former CEO of Mitsubishi Motors.


Gerard Endenburg discusses solidarity to further explain what consent is not.  Consent does not imply the commitment that solidarity implies. Some groups using the full-group consensus model define it in a way that is closer to solidarity because they expect that the individual will should be suppressed for “the good of the group.” (The good being not always well defined.) In some situations, solidarity is more appropriate than consent, for example, in making decisions that put group members at risk. If a war-resistance group is planning an illegal or dangerous action, they need unwavering commitment or they may all die or be imprisoned.

A Reasoned No

Consent means that one has an opportunity to present a “reasoned no.” It does not require “a yes,” an affirmation, nor does it imply unanimity or full agreement. It is also not a veto; it must be explained.

Sociocracy provides a clearer definition of the basis on which consent should be given than many consensus models do not. But authorities on consensus decision-making also make the distinction between consent, agreement, and unanimity. Even in the full-group consensus model, consent only means you accept the proposed action and can support it while moving forward. It doesn’t mean you fully agree or that it is your preferred direction.

The importance of the argument, the reasoning, is the basis for decision-making. Objections are welcomed because resolving them improves the proposal. Consent is not assumed to be the best response when someone sees deficiencies or possible problems.

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