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Methods for assessing level of agreement

Sometimes in Co-ops, it is easy to assume that everyone is on the same page when this is not necessarily the case. It can also be easy to try to push through a decision or agreement due to time or ambition concerns, though this inevitably sacrifices the democratic capacity of the co-op. Below are some potential methods to asses true levels of agreements in a group and on a specific topic.

Replace Repetition with an Agreed Signal

Institute a discussion guideline that says, “Don’t repeat.” Instead, put in place some other mechanism for group members to signal when they resonate with a comment as it’s made—preferably a mechanism that doesn’t take any airtime from the group. Common examples include:

  • Saying “ditto”
  • Twinkling (this is the ASL sign for applause and consists of holding up both hands over one’s head, palms facing forward, and wiggling your fingers)
  • Holding up a white card
  • Snapping one’s fingers

Take a Straw Poll

The facilitator can say to the group, “Please wave if you feel alignment with X idea” (note that this should be done based on the idea itself, not “do you feel alignment with Maria”), or ask for a show of hands for and against. In a consensus-based group, this must be done in a way that avoids falling into a voting atmosphere; you can use it to quickly evaluate process suggestions (e.g., “Should we take a break now?”) or occasionally in some stages of proposal development if done carefully.

Gradients of Agreement

You can use a scale to assess the level of support for a proposal. Here is an example modified from the organization Community at Work:

  1. Endorsement: “I like it.”
  2. Endorsement with a Minor Point of Contention: “Basically I like it.”
  3. Agreement with Reservations: “I can live with it.”
  4. Neutral: “I have no opinion.”
  5. Abstain: “I am not currently informed enough to decide,” or “I have a conflict of interest.”
  6. Significant Concerns: “I am pretty worried about this direction.”
  7. Stand Aside: “I don’t like this, but i don’t want to hold up the group. Please don’t expect me to take a lead on its implementation.”
  8. Block: “I strongly believe that this proposal does not serve the well-being of the group.”

Formats for doing this include:

Shelter Scale

Pass out small sticky notes to everyone. Each person writes the # of their choice and passes the note back in. The collected notes are immediately posted onto a bar graph at the front.

Blind Voting

Everyone in the group closes their eyes except for the facilitator, who calls out each number and tallies the number of hands.

Level Check

Facilitator asks everyone to hold out their hand in front of them simultaneously, at a high level (for strong support), middling, or down low, to provide a visual read of the room.

Hand Check

Facilitator asks everyone to hold out their hand using the scale below. This is similar to the 8-point scale above but can be used to get a fast read of the room with a little more detail than "yer" or "no."

  • Thumbs Up - Complete agreement
  • Palm Up - Mostly Agree
  • Hand vertical (on-the-fence) - Not sure
  • Palm down - Major reservations
  • Thumbs down - Very Serious concerns

Private Ballots

If you are choosing from among multiple possibilities, you can have everyone rank them from most to least favorite and then tally up the point totals to see what has the most support.

Kinetic Mapping

For issues that have a natural continuum of opinion. Ask everyone to stand up. Lay out a spectrum in the room, e.g. “Everyone who thinks our work requirement should be 1 hour stand at this end, 10 hours stand at the other end, and arrange yourselves accordingly in the middle.” Everyone places themselves along the line.