CyberTech Rambler

August 14, 2008

That dirty word “Consensus”

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:44 pm

Arnaud has an interesting discussion about what “Consensus” really mean? I think everyone can in general agree with what “Consensus” really mean. However, we must bear in mind that organizations can and often have specific definition of what “Consensus” really mean for them. The definition can be loosely based on what you and I think it is, but in the worst case, can be actually contorted to mean something totally different, i.e., giving the definition where most people will not agree what “Consensus” is.

For me, “Consensus” means much more than simple majority (50% threshold). In fact, I do not think a majority (66% threshold) is good enough, since we normally associate “Consensus” with major agreement among the people who matters, with only minor opposition. Having one-third of the people object does not sounds like major agreement to me. One thing that Arnaud point out which I normally miss is the fact that everyone in the decision making process must go out of the way to put in a favourable vote, i.e., if you can live with it, then you have the duty to cast the favourable vote.

Of course, in the context of ISO, we need to see what ISO define it to be. According to Arnaud, it says

“consensus: General agreement, characterized by the absence of sustained opposition to
substantial issues by any important part of the concerned interests and by a process that
involves seeking to take into account the views of all parties concerned and to reconcile
any conflicting arguments.
NOTE Consensus need not imply unanimity.”

My first impression? Oh dear, there is no technical definition, i.e., the voting crowd must be representative of the view of all the stakeholders (Otherwise, like the accusation in Denmark, we can simply keep on subdividing the stakeholders to get what we want). I will say it is safe to say 90% agreement is a good threshold for “Consensus”, with discretion for the chair if one cannot achieve 90% but there is at least 80% agreement.

I might be nitpicking now but looking at the last sentence, ISO clearly thinks that “Consensus” must at the minimum, have 66% (majority) vote. The specific mention of “unanimity” suggests that it must be close to it, but need not hit it.

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