Practical Guide to Consensus

A Practical Guide to Consensus

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This 75-page step-by-step handbook walks readers through the stages of sponsoring, organizing, and participating in a public policy consensus process. Designed primarily for government agencies or departments, the guide also is useful for any other sponsor of-or participant in-a consensus building process.

The Practical Guide was developed and co-authored by Chris Carlson, co-director of PCI and a leading authority on consensus building in the public sector, and by Jim Arthur, a long-time facilitator and consultant in the use of dispute resolution to address policy conflicts.

The Practical Guide to Consensus will help officials and agencies design the most appropriate, and effective, uses of consensus processes, with "Before, During, and After" instructions on how to:

  • Assess whether a situation is appropriate for a consensus process
  • Select a facilitator or mediator to manage the process
  • Plan and organize the process
  • Write ground rules
  • Negotiate issues and reach agreements
  • Formalize and implement agreements


What Dispute Resolution Professionals are Saying About the Practical Guide to Consensus

"I was very impressed by the practical value in the Guide. Every stage in the consensus process has been clearly articulated with checklists, options, questions to ask, and the steps to follow. It even describes what will happen if you don't follow the plan. The guide pays great attention to the work you must do before the negotiation and consistently helps you focus on key questions like what things do I have to consider, who has to participate, what do I need in the way of financial and technical support, and how much time will this take. It is a clear and straightforward explanation of the consensus process, but even more important, it is a tool that government officials and employees should use again and again to make sure they are "on track" each time they build consensus."

Bruce Feustel
National Conference of State Legislatures

"As a planner and state legislator, I have found the materials of the Policy Consensus Initiative-including the Practical Guide to Consensus-enormously beneficial. In one place, I can find clear, concise summaries of the consensus-building process that can be applied to my professional and policy-making worlds. Thank you, PCI, for providing useful, constructive information that I can use and share with others in the decision-making arena to help shape collaborative decisions."

Ralph Becker
Utah State Representative

"A Practical Guide to Consensus by the Policy Consensus Initiative takes an honored place in the world of books I keep. This one isn't for the bookshelf. It goes into both my mediation briefcase and the box of stuff I take to trainings. I've only had one other book like that. Back in the 1970s I was an instructor in a local Outward Bound School. The 24-day wilderness courses my colleagues and I ran were not unlike the public policy mediation work many of us do now. The work was physically demanding, intellectually and emotionally challenging, and very often dangerous to one or more of the people I was responsible for. Tattered, dog-eared, mildewed, and fire smudged, I still have the instructor manual we carried in our packs and I occasionally still use it. A Practical Guide to Consensus is the same kind of book. It is meant to be used and not just read."

Peter Adler, Practitioner
Past President, the Society for Professionals
in Dispute Resolution (SPIDR)

"For one with some familiarity with mediation, the Practical Guide is particularly useful in clarifying the complexity of working toward agreement in multi-party public disputes."

Ruth Craw
University of Arkansas Institute of Government

"PCI's Practical Guide to Consensus is just that: practical. It offers any prospective participant in a collaborative decision-making process straightforward, down-to-earth guidance on what to expect and demand from such processes. PCI's Guide talks straight about the pros and cons of convening and engaging in such agreement-seeking processes and provides thoughtful advice on how to make them most productive. The Guide is based on the collective wisdom of the field, as noted in its helpful references for each chapter -- a real service."

Kirk Emerson
The U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution

"In many situations, potential convenors and stakeholders are not clear on how a consensus building process is really all that different from the familiar advisory and consultative processes commonly used by government agencies. "A Practical Guide to Consensus" is just that, a clear, well-illustrated handbook which delineates the most important elements of successful consensus building efforts. I have shared the guide with stakeholders and convenors in several situations and all have found it to be very useful."

Bill Potapchuk
The Community Building Instutite

"The Practical Guide is terrific-succinct but not simplistic, filled with practicality!"

Dave Landis
Nebraska State Senator