Decision-making: refining the conclusion

Here we explore the relationship in decision-making between voting and consensus and how they can be combined, with a story from our facilitation work

For those of us for whom a debate is the best-known type of discussion, a vote is what happens when the discussion is over. Actually, decision‑making usually works best if the discussion continues after the vote. I’d like to illustrate that, using a day I helped at in Manchester in June 2017.

This day was part of a project called Jam and Justice, which aims to seize the opportunity provided by devolution to try out new ways of governing cities. 17 proposals had been complied – ten of them were selected on the day. There was a vote, with everyone present choosing the ten projects they preferred. What happened after the vote, through discussion, was an evolving set of proposals:

  • Proposal 1: Let’s take the ten projects that did best in the vote
  • Proposal 2: proposal 1. plus have in reserve two projects that would have done as well as the top ten if you add in the votes of people not present (who could not take account of the way in which some of the projects evolved during the day)
  • Proposal 3: proposal 2., plus applying various ‘portfolio’ tests of how the ten projects worked as a set. This might lead to replacing one or two projects by the reserves if this led to a better set.
  • Proposal 4.: proposal 3. plus the continuing inclusion of one of the ten, dependent on its meeting various conditions specified by people who voted for it.
  • Proposal 5: proposal 3. with one of the reserve projects replacing the one with the conditions referred to above
  • Proposal 6: proposal 3. with the choice between (1) the project in the original ten subject to conditions and (2) the reserve project referred to in proposal 5. given to the core team to decide. Noting also the decided preference of one of the participants for the reserve project.

Note what happened.

After various presentations and discussions of the 17 proposals, there was a vote. This identified the ten top projects. After that came a consensus process, which produced successively more complex proposals, and which only ended when we identified a proposal that everyone was prepared to sign up to.