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Agreement and Dissent


A central question of group decision-making, and thus of community planning and politics, is how to balance democracy and efficiency. The status quo struggles with this balance, but so may consensus processes. While negotiating toward unanimity protects the right of minority views that would otherwise be consistently overruled, it also potentially allows anyone to stymie a decision being finalized. This project seeks to understand the applicability of consensus to various institutional settings. I ask, what institutions might benefit from its adoption and which would it generally worsen? What best practices would help it be most successful? To answer these questions, I researched the dynamics and contexts where consensus decision-making has been or still is practiced, to determine what makes it succeed or fail. I also interviewed peers and the public about their views on and expectations for consensus practice, and finally formed proposals for its expanded use, as well as some recommendations for how to make it work and where and when to avoid it. My recommendations are illustrated with case studies s taken from juries and event planning and consider to various levels the applicability of consensus to redistricting, land-use zoning, and the workplace.