Reach Consensus

For a group to reach consensus, all members of the group must agree to accept a decision and to take responsibility for implementing it. Those who do not wholeheartedly support the decision must be willing to experiment with it for a certain period of time.

Here are examples of a learning process for developing consensus.


This "Carousel Brainstorming" activity was created for the purpose of examining both individual and group beliefs about mathematics and science teaching and learning. It provides a background for creating a collaborative "vision" related to systemic reform.


Facilitation Process Notes:

Ask individual group members to think about their personal beliefs by reflecting and responding in writing to four questions as their first thinking log entry (4-5 min.)

Describe for group members that they will be sharing their beliefs with a small group (3-5 people, depending on the size of the larger group) and then will be asked to record their individual ideas on the easel paper by either piggy-backing on an idea that is already listed or adding a new idea. Explain that effective brainstorming requires that all ideas are accepted without judgment.

Ask group members to "count-off" by fours and explain the steps in using the "carousel" brainstorming technique: Small groups will begin by responding to one of the four questions and then will rotate clockwise every few minutes to the next question, similar to a real carousel. Develop a signal (preferably a silent one) to let groups know when it is time to move to the next question.


The Card-Storming Technique is a five-step, team-facilitation method for problem solving and consensus building that will:

This technique can be used in many phases of strategic planning, including visioning, exploring underlying contradictions, creating strategic directions, and mapping out more specific action plans. It is a popular procedure for a planning session because it uses cards for collecting and displaying the data generated by the group.

The strengths of the process are as follows:

Room Setup:

Round tables and chairs for group of 4-6 participants to be seated at each table.

Center and front facilitator area (for easel and overhead projector, etc.) that is easily visible by all participants.

Facilitator resource table.

A wall--large, bare, and of a texture to which tape will adhere.


Cards--plenty of large index cards, custom-made cards, or Post-it notes, ideally at least 4" x 6" size.

"Fat" markers/pens--one for each triad with tips wide enough that printing can be seen by everyone on the room.

Masking tape--general short lengths rolled into small loops for adhering cards to the wall or a chalkboard.

Facilitation Process Notes:

Begin by briefly reviewing critical components of the beliefs posted on the easel paper (from the carousel brainstorming).

Ask group members to individually imagine 3 to 5 years into the future and write their responses to the following questions in their thinking logs:

Create circumstances for group members to visualize their "organization" in the future by asking them to imagine that they are standing 3 to 5 years into the future and describing what they see.

Ask each individual group member to brainstorm a list of their own images as their reply to the visualization circumstance that you provided. (3-5 minutes)

While the individuals are thinking and recording, take down the posted easel papers (or move them to the side) and post the 10 "generic" green title cards.

Ask each group member to "star" or select the three they consider to be the most significant.

Forming a small group of 3 or 4 (can be those seated in close proximity), ask small groups to share their individual visions and to come to consensus on five or six images (from among those contributed by each member) and write them on index cards.

Have a recorder record each image (idea) on a separate index card.

Ask each group to frame their responses in concise, three- to five-word, adjective-noun phrases.

Note: This method permits everyone to have input, treats all data as equal, and allows a decision to be made based on data rather than on personalities, opinions, position, or power.

Ask groups to pass forward their cards, one at a time, in response to your request. You might ask:

Place the cards, one at a time, under the columns with "generic" symbols. Ask for clarification if the message on the card is not understandable. Group members are active participants in ordering the cards into categories of similar images. They may suggest adding new columns, collapsing two or more columns into one, and/or moving index cards representing various ideas around from one column to another.

Ask the groups to pass forward another card. Again, place the cards, one at a time, under the columns, clustering them as appropriate. For the third "round," ask each group to have one person go to the wall and place the cards under columns they believe are most appropriate, or hand them to you if they need a new column.

Avoid naming the categories or groups during the ordering process. Refer to the categories as "the stars" and "the circles" rather than by the content of the categories at this stage.

If an item doesn't easily fit into any group, don't force it. Categories are redefined each time an item is added. This often expands the definition of a category, allowing some of the "difficulty to place" items to be included.

Ask the group to check for the comprehensiveness of the images of their vision, noting whether there are any gaping holes in the vision.

Ask the group to name each column, defining a key component of the vision. The titles should be visually descriptive, noun-adjective phrases that generally portray the theme from the overall column. This is not an easy process. It takes time to convey the meaning of the broad ideas. The title may come from one of the cards in the column, or it may be a summary. For the shorter columns, ask the group to imagine what other cards added to the column might say in order to come up with a good general title.

Summarize, or read the columns and ask the group to reflect on the entire picture of the vision with a general phrase or statement of consensus.

Tell the group that a chart of each group's practical vision will be drawn up and become part of the monograph distributed to each participant. The wall-sized chart also is left up, as a reference point for the afternoon activity.
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