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Building Your Campus Group for the
Intragroup dynamics and process are key. In the heat
of a campaign never, ever forget to take time for your
group, and its sustainability. Decision making structures
and skill sharing may seem unimportant when the only
thing your group's thinking is "BUT WE NEED THIS
WAGE REPORT OUT TOMORROW! PRESS IS COMING IN 12 HOURS!"
But at these moments, above all, maintain a democratic
process, and employ your politics into action. Prioritize
voices that are otherwise silenced in our society and
involve newer members in everything you do. Campus campaigns
routinely fall apart due to shitty process and graduating
If you graduate and your campaign dwindles, that
doesn't mean you were the rock-star activst who held
everything together; it means you have failed to pass
on information and develop skills in younger activists!
The campaign has to survive after a victory. Because,
whatever concessions you win from administrators, somebody
needs to be aound to hold them accountable to the promises
» Consensus Decision Making from
ACT UP NY
» Consensus advice from Georgetown
U Living Wage Coalition
Dynamics: Questions to ask yourself and your group (click to download this LWAC hand-out)
Leadership without Leaders!:
» Leadership Development
Consensus Decision Making
(the following is taken directly from ACT
UP NY’s civil disobedience training- found
» What is consensus?
Consensus is a process for group decision-making. It
is a method by which an entire group of people can come
to an agreement. The input and ideas of all participants
are gathered and synthesized to arrive at a final decision
acceptable to all. Through consensus, we are not only
working to achieve better solutions, but also to promote
the growth of community and trust.
» Consensus vs. voting
Voting is a means by which we choose one alternative
from several. Consensus, on the other hand, is a process
of synthesizing many diverse elements together.
Voting is a win or lose model, in which people are
more often concerned with the numbers it takes to "win"
than with the issue itself. Voting does not take into
account individual feelings or needs. In essence, it
is a quantitative, rather than qualitative, method of
With consensus people can and should work through differences
and reach a mutually satisfactory position. It is possible
for one person's insights or strongly held beliefs to
sway the whole group. No ideas are lost, each member's
input is valued as part of the solution.
A group committed to consensus may utilize other forms
of decision making (individual, compromise, majority
rules) when appropriate; however, a group that has adopted
a consensus model will use that process for any item
that brings up a lot of emotions, is something that
concerns people's ethics, politics, morals or other
areas where there is much investment.
» What does consensus mean?
Consensus does not mean that everyone thinks that the
decision made is necessarily the best one possible,
or even that they are sure it will work. What it does
mean is that in coming to that decision, no one felt
that her/his position on the matter was misunderstood
or that it wasn't given a proper hearing. Hopefully,
everyone will think it is the best decision; this often
happens because, when it works, collective intelligence
does come up with better solutions than could individuals.
Consensus takes more time and member skill, but uses
lots of resources before a decision is made, creates
commitment to the decision and often facilitates creative
decision. It gives everyone some experience with new
processes of interaction and conflict resolution, which
is basic but important skill-building. For consensus
to be a positive experience, it is best if the group
has 1) common values, 2) some skill in group process
and conflict resolution, or a commitment to let these
be facilitated, 3) commitment and responsibility to
the group by its members and 4) sufficient time for
everyone to participate in the process.
» Forming the consensus proposals
During discussion a proposal for resolution is put
forward. It is amended and modified through more discussion,
or withdrawn if it seems to be a dead end. During this
discussion period it is important to articulate differences
clearly. It is the responsibility of those who are having
trouble with a proposal to put forth alternative suggestions.
Folks, especially the facilitator(s) should constantly
work towards proposals. Conversation should revolve
around the issue or proposal on the table. Otherwise
conversations will easily spin in circles and the group
won’t make decisions or move ahead. Discussion
and due group consideration of a point or issue is important,
of course, and be wary of cutting important discussion
short for the sake of making a decision. Be conscious
of the topic at hand and tangents.
When a proposal seems to be well understood by everyone,
and there are no new changes asked for, the facilitator(s)
can ask if there are any objections or reservations
to it. If there are no objections, there can be a call
for consensus. Folks can communicate with “sparkle
fingers” or any hand signal your group has decided
on. If there are still no objections, then after a moment
of silence you have your decision. Once everyone in
the group has actively signaled consensus, it really
helps to have someone repeat the decision to the group
so everyone is clear on what has been decided. It’s
important for every individual to actively signal agreement,
as reticent or unsure folks may refrain from expressing
anything at all, and let the process steamroll them
» Difficulties in reaching consensus
If a decision has been reached, or is on the verge
of being reached that you cannot support, there are
several ways to express your objections:
Non-support - "I don't see the need for
this, but I'll go along."
Reservations - "I think this may be a
mistake but I can live with it."
Standing aside - "I personally can't
do this, but I won't stop others from doing it."
Blocking - "I cannot support this or
allow the group to support this. It is immoral."
(If a final decision violates someone's fundamental
moral values they are obligated to block consensus)
Withdrawing from the group - Obviously, if
many people express non-support or reservations or stand
aside or leave the group, it may not be a viable decision
even if no one directly blocks it. This is what is known
as a "lukewarm" consensus and it is just as
desirable as a lukewarm beer or a lukewarm bath.
If consensus is blocked and no new consensus can be
reached, the group stays with whatever the previous
decision was on the subject, or does nothing if that
is applicable. Major philosophical or moral questions
that will come up with each affinity group will have
to be worked through as soon as the group forms.
» Roles in a consensus meeting
There are several roles which, if filled, can help
consensus decision making run smoothly. The facilitator(s)
aids the group in defining decisions that need to be
made, helps them through the stages of reaching an agreement,
keeps the meeting moving, focuses discussion to the
point-at hand; makes sure everyone has the opportunity
to participate, and formulates and tests to see if consensus
has been reached. Facilitators help to direct the process
of the meeting, not its content. They never make decisions
for the group. If a facilitator feels too emotionally
involved in an issue or discussion and cannot remain
neutral in behavior, if not in attitude, then s/he should
ask someone to take over the task of facilitation for
that agenda item.
A vibes-watcher is someone besides the facilitator
who watches and comments on individual and group feelings
and patterns of participation. Vibes-watchers need to
be especially tuned in to the sexism of group dynamics.
Note takers shouldn't always be folks who identify as
women, and proposals shouldn't always be made by dudes.
A recorder can take notes on the meeting, especially
of decisions made and means of implementation and a
time-keeper keeps things going on schedule so that each
agenda item can be covered in the time allotted for
it (if discussion runs over the time for an item, the
group may or may not decide to contract for more time
to finish up).
Even though individuals take on these roles, all participants
in a meeting should be aware of and involved in the
issues, process, and feelings of the group, and should
share their individual expertise in helping the group
run smoothly and reach a decision. This is especially
true when it comes to finding compromise agreements
to seemingly contradictory positions.
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Consensus advice from
In the Georgetown living wage campaign’s experience,
several minor communication tools went a long way for
a smooth process.
» "Sparkle fingers" - can be used to
signal silent agreement or support for comment or proposal
without interrupting a meeting or situation.
» keeping a "stack", or list, of folks
who have raised their hands, and in which order, is
helpful for folks to keep concentrated on the issue
» often, for the sake of a productive conversation,
someone will need to directly respond to a comment or
question. In this case, signal for a “direct response”
with whatever hand signal your group may decide is appropriate
(we use ‘bull horns’, index finger and thumb,
other groups have their own. Be creative!)
Be wary of using ‘direct response’ in order
to avoid stack. It happens that folks socialized to
dominate conversations will signal direct response at
many or most points they wish to talk, thus consciously
or unconsciously maintaining dominance of the conversation.
Use it only if the discussion is headed in a direction
different than your comment on the present subject.
» Note learned the hard way: proposals save the
day! It’s the task of the facilitator to move
conversations along to decisions through proposals,
though others can make proposals as well. Otherwise
conversations may needlessly spiral in circles without
Proposals can include major decisions, like “proposal
is workers’ breakfast should be moved back to
A proposal can also be about the process of the group.
Example “ I propose we table this discussion for
next week and move on the next agenda item..”,
or “we should set up a working group for this
subject because fewer people are interested and it needs
intense working time..”
[back to top]
As a student organizer, you’re dealing with turnover
and time. In order for you to build a solid foundation
to a successful campaign and post-campaign follow-up
(where often the dirty work of making things happen
really matters) you have to maintain strong continuity
in your student group. If seniors graduate and the campaign
dies, you’ve failed. Here are some successfusl
tips to build a sustainable, inclusive and powerful
group. Several of these tips are taken from the fabulously
Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) Organizing Guide
and the Student-Worker
Solidarity Organizing Kit.
Build real coalitions and partnerships
with other student groups, especially people of color,
queer, and women groups. Endorsing, supporting, and
taking part in actions organized by other groups is
the key to having their support when you need it and
building a lasting partnership. Don't bsexpect other
groups to support your work if you are not willing to
take time out to support theirs.
Maintain a continuity of information.
New folks and those who can’t make it to every
meeting will not be on top of the history and current
state of your campaign. It’s crucial to make everyone
feel included and up-to-date on what’s happened
before them and where the campaign is going. Folks who
have been around longer have skills and experience and
should take both seriously! Pass it along!
» Give new folks an “orientation packet”
filled with your group’s history, mission, articles
about you and relevant to the campaign, “how-to”
documents for getting stuff done on campus like making
copies, talking to campus press and administrators,
make a press release, how to reserve a room and equipment,
asking for money from the university or departments,
etc. Giving folks binders with their names on them already
tells them they’re already appreciated and included.
» Maintain a good archive of the group and its
activities so that the people next year will be able
to read about what you did. This could be a newsletter,
a scrapbook, folder, annual report or website. Include
all your past posters, newspaper clippings, pictures,
and meeting minutes. This will cultivate a powerful
feeling of accomplishment.
» Keep up a current list of faculty and administrative
contacts and make sure others have access to these people
and relationships. If you have good relationships with
faculty members, be sure to introduce younger members
of your groups so that the connection doesn’t
end when you graduate.
» Don’t keep things in your head! Keep
notes of what you do in the community, for the group
and on campus to let folks pick up where you leave off
when you’re gone.
Help empower newer folks to take on active
» Give newer folks opportunities to build their
confidence. Include them in meetings with the press,
or encourage them to run part of an event or help organize
an action. Positions on committees and representation
in community groups should be staggered so more experienced
folks can show newer members the ropes and maintain
continuity in an ongoing process.
» Newer folks should start facilitating meetings
as soon as (or before!) they’re ready!!! Engage
in constructive praise and criticism after meetings
for new and experienced facilitators so the group can
appreciate aspects effective facilitation.
» Designate successors a semester in advance
and train them. Have them attend key meetings with you
so they can get to know people they’ll be working
with. Having overlap between old and new people help
makes the transition smoother and keeps skills and information
from getting lost. For instance, if there are two co-chairs,
elect one in November and the other one in April.
» Establish a “buddy system”. Hook
older folks up with newer folks to make them feel included
and to teach them how you’ve been doing things.
Hang out outside meetings. Get coffee. Chill. Time spent
outside of a meeting or campaign setting is incredibly
helpful in developing a strong group of folks who trust
» Make sure events and non-work activities are
free or low cost so that they are accessible to all.
Be conscious of others’ work schedules when planning
» Don’t make alienating, absolute statements.
Saying things like “we did that”, or “community
picnics don’t work on this campus” shuts
the person down and squelches ideas from newer folks.
Ideas from folks not yet embroiled in the campaign may
» Tell stories! Maintain the pride and excitement
of previous actions and campaigns!!