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Reaching Consensus in Group Problem Solving (Workshop)

This resource is for facilitating a workshop on using consensus for group problem solving. Go here to read the article on Reaching Consensus in Group Problem Solving.

People generally know how to solve problems. What they have difficulty with is the give and take involved in agreeing with a group of other people with differing opinions about the outcome of each step of the problem solving process. This workshop is meant to help individuals - from the same co-op or different co-ops - learn how to use consensus decision making when solving problems in their cooperative.

Purpose and Goal

The primary focus for this time-limited workshop is to:

  • Give people an opportunity to experience the value of respecting the opinions of others through a structured group process that can quickly generate a lot of information and then quickly sift through that information to identify those ideas which best suit the group as a whole.

Materials and Time Needed

Materials

  • Black/white board (or easel sheets could be used instead).
  • Chalk or dry erase markers
  • Paper and pens/pencils

Time

  • 80 Minutes to 2 Hours

Facilitation

Introduction: Solving Problems as Individuals Vs. As a Group

Begin by introducing yourself - who you are and why you are facilitating this workshop. If you have time, you can ask a few or all of the participants to briefly explain why they are interested in learning consensus techniques for problem in co-ops. What experiences, difficulties, or successes have they had with this issue?

Next, you will go over the steps involved in solving a problem as an individual. The number of actual steps is relatively arbitrary. However, it is a good idea is break them down into four steps. Ask the participants to name these steps, and allow for a short brainstorming and discussion process to follow. After some discussion and input from the group, outline these four steps on the board:

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Identify the cause(s) of the problem
  3. Generate and select a solution that addresses the cause
  4. Create a plan for implementing the solution

Explain to the participants that the only real difference between the problem solving process for an individual and a group is the need to reach an agreement with others about the outcome of each step. Therefore, the steps for solving a problem as a group are as follows (you may want to write these out on the board):

  1. Reach consensus on the problem
  2. Reach consensus on the cause(s)
  3. Reach consensus on the best solution for the group
  4. Reach consensus on an implementation plan

The participants should then be told that the focus of the workshop is on how to:

  1. Generate the maximum ideas available among the group through brainstorming without criticism or evaluation
  2. Quickly identify those ideas of strong enough interest to most group members to be worth investing time for discussion
  3. Clarify the group members’ understanding of the ideas of most interest
  4. Identify which idea attracts the broadest and strongest support, one with which all group members can live, even if it is not the number one choice for any particular member

It would be ideal to print out and hand-out the above 4 steps for the participants to use in the below activity.

This should take roughly twenty to twenty-five minutes

Activity

Depending on the time available for the workshop, a practice round on brainstorming can give the group an idea of the creative power of allowing everyone to contribute ideas without wasting time by stopping to evaluate any of them.

Break the participant into groups of three, four, or five. Inform them that you are going to give them a sample "problem" that they are going to have to discuss and figure out potential ways to begin solving them using the four steps previously outlined. An illustration of what is meant by consensus is also helpful, before getting started on the group’s work with a real topic. For example, here is one way you could explain "consensus" to the participants:

Consensus is an agreement on the option that has the broadest and strongest support, because all group members can live with it, even if it is not the number one choice for any particular member. If each member feels that the others have listened, each may be willing to accept an option that is not their first choice, but is not opposed by anyone in the group. No one is asked to support an option they strongly oppose.

Finally, let them know that they will be "reporting back" about their experiences once their small group activities are over. Now, present the groups with a "problem question" to discuss. You can give every group the same problem question or specific groups specific questions. (Ideally, the group can work on an issue that is relevant to everyone.)[1]

Give the groups 20 - 25 minutes to discuss and work on this problem, by following the steps provided. They should try to "reach consensus" through each stage.

Activity problem questions on worker cooperatives

  • What are ways that worker cooperatives can deal with the reality of a serious drop in demand for the product or service that their members are paid to provide?

Debrief

Reserve sufficient time, 5 - 10 minutes, at the end of the workshop to debrief with the participants what it is they learned and can take with them. You can also ask them when they think that this information and these skills may be applicable in

Notes

  1. Since these participants do not come from the same cooperative, they do not need to come up with a common solution that they will implement; however, they will all benefit by being exposed to a broader range of ideas and learning which of these ideas appear of greatest value to their peers. So participants leave the workshop, not only with some familiarity with some useful techniques, but also with some practical knowledge that those techniques allowed them to participate in generating.