Flow Chart of Formal Consensus
The Advantages of Formal Consensus
On Decision-Making
On Conflict and Consensus
The Art of Evaluation
A role is a function of process, not content. Roles are used during a meetingaccording to the needs of the situation. Not all roles are useful at everymeeting, nor does each role have to be filled by a separate person. FormalConsensus functions more smoothly if the person filling a role has someexperience, therefore is desirable to rotate roles. Furthermore, one whohas experienced a role is more likely to be supportive of whomever currentlyhas that role. Experience in each role also encourages confidence and participation.It is best, therefore, for the group to encourage everyone to experienceeach role.

Agenda Planners

A well planned agenda is an important tool for a smooth meeting, althoughit does not guarantee it. Experience has shown that there is a definiteimprovement in the flow and pace of a meeting if several people get togetherprior to the start of the meeting and propose an agenda. In smaller groups,the facilitator often proposes an agenda. The agenda planning committeehas six tasks:
  • collect agenda items
  • arrange them
  • assign presenters
  • brainstorm discussion techniques
  • assign time limits
  • write up the proposed agenda
There are at least four sources of agenda items:
  • suggestions from members
  • reports or proposals from committees
  • business from the last meeting
  • standard agenda items, including:
    • introduction
    • agenda review
    • review notes
    • break
    • announcements
    • decision review
    • evaluation
Once all the agenda items have been collected, they are listed in an orderwhich seems efficient and appropriate. Planners need to be cautious thatitems at the top of the agenda tend to use more than their share of time,thereby limiting the time available for the rest. Each group has differentneeds. Some groups work best taking care of business first, then addressingthe difficult items. Other groups might find it useful to take on the mostdifficult work first and strictly limit the time or let it take all itneeds. The following are recommendations for keeping the focus of attentionon the agenda:
  • alternate long and short, heavy and light items
  • place reports before their related proposals
  • take care of old business before addressing new items
  • consider placing items which might generate a sense of accomplishment earlyin the meeting
  • alternate presenters
  • be flexible
Usually, each item already has a presenter. If not, assign one. Generally,it is not wise for facilitators to present reports or proposals. However,it is convenient for facilitators to present some of the standard agendaitems.

For complex or especially controversial items, the agenda planners couldsuggest various options for group discussion techniques. This may be helpfulto the facilitator.

Next, assign time limits for each item. It is important to be realistic,being careful to give each item enough time to be fully addressed withoutbeing unfair to other items. Generally, it is not desirable to proposean agenda which exceeds the desired overall meeting time limit.

The last task is the writing of the proposed agenda so all can see itand refer to it during the meeting. Each item is listed in order, alongwith its presenter and time limit.

The following agenda is an example of how an agenda is structured andwhat information is included in it. It shows the standard agenda items,the presenters, the time limits and the order in which they will be considered.It also shows one way in which reports and proposals can be presented,but each group can structure this part of the meeting in whatever way suitsits needs. This model does not show the choices of techniques for groupdiscussion which the agenda planners might have considered.

Standard Agenda

Agenda Item Presenter Time
INTRODUCTION Facilitator 5 min
AGENDA REVIEW Facilitator 5 min
REVIEW NOTES Notetaker 5 min
  • Previous activities
  • Standing committees
  20 min
  • Old business
  15 min
BREAK   5 min
  • Information
  20 min
  • New business
  30 min
  • Pass hat
  • Next meeting
5 min
REVIEW DECISIONS Notetaker 5 min
CLOSING Facilitator 5 min
TOTAL2 hours


The word facilitate means to make easy. A facilitator conducts group businessand guides the Formal Consensus process so that it flows smoothly. Rotatingfacilitation from meeting to meeting shares important skills among themembers. If everyone has firsthand knowledge about facilitation, it willhelp the flow of all meetings. Co-facilitation, or having two (or more)people facilitate a meeting, is recommended. Having a woman and a man sharethe responsibilities encourages a more balanced meeting. Also, an inexperiencedfacilitator may apprentice with a more experienced one. Try to use a varietyof techniques throughout the meeting. And remember, a little bit of humorcan go a long way in easing tension during a long, difficult meeting.

Good facilitation is based upon the following principles:
Non-Directive Leadership

Facilitators accept responsibility for moving through the agenda in theallotted time, guiding the process, and suggesting alternate or additionaltechniques. In this sense, they do lead the group. However, they do notgive their personal opinions nor do they attempt to direct the contentof the discussion. If they want to participate, they must clearly relinquishthe role and speak as an individual. During a meeting, individualsare responsible for expressing their own concerns and thoughts. Facilitators,on the other hand, are responsible for addressing the needs of the group.They need to be aware of the group dynamics and constantly evaluate whetherthe discussion is flowing well. There may be a need for a change in thediscussion technique. They need to be diligent about the fair distributionof attention, being sure to limit those who are speaking often and offeringopportunities to those who are not speaking much or at all. It followsthat one person cannot simultaneously give attention to the needs of thegroup and think about a personal response to a given situation. Also, itis not appropriate for the facilitator to give a particular point of viewor dominate the discussion. This does not build trust, especially in thosewho do not agree with the facilitator.

Clarity of Process

The facilitator is responsible for leading the meeting openly so that everyonepresent is aware of the process and how to participate. This means it isimportant to constantly review what just happened, what is about to happen,and how it will happen. Every time a new discussion technique is introduced,explain how it will work and what is to be accomplished. This is both educationaland helps new members participate more fully.

Agenda Contract

The facilitator is responsible for honoring the agenda contract. The facilitatorkeeps the questions and discussion focused on the agenda item. Be gentle,but firm, because fairness dictates that each agenda item gets only thetime allotted. The agenda contract is made when the agenda is reviewedand accepted. This agreement includes the items on the agenda, the orderin which they are considered, and the time allotted to each. Unless thewhole group agrees to change the agenda, the facilitator is obligated tokeep the contract. The decision to change the agenda must be a consensus,with little or no discussion.

At the beginning of the meeting, the agenda is presented to the wholegroup and reviewed, item by item. Any member can add an item if it hasbeen omitted. While every agenda suggestion must be included in the agenda,it does not necessarily get as much time as the presenter wants. Time oughtto be divided fairly, with individuals recognizing the fairness of olditems generally getting more time than new items and urgent items gettingmore time than items which can wait until the next meeting, etc. Also,review the suggested presenters and time limits. If anything seems inappropriateor unreasonable, adjustments may be made. Once the whole agenda has beenreviewed and consented to, the agenda becomes a contract. The facilitatoris obligated to follow the order and time limits. This encourages membersto be on time to meetings.

Good Will

Always try to assume good will. Assume every statement and action is sincerelyintended to benefit the group. Assume that each member understands thegroup's purpose and accepts the agenda as a contract.

Often, when we project our feelings and expectations onto others, weinfluence their actions. If we treat others as though they are trying toget attention, disrupt meetings, or pick fights, they will often fulfillour expectations. A resolution to conflict is more likely to occur if weact as though there will be one. This is especially true if someone isintentionally trying to cause trouble or who is emotionally unhealthy.Do not attack the person, but rather, assume good will and ask the personto explain to the group how that person's statements or actions are inthe best interest of the group. It is also helpful to remember to separatethe actor from the action. While the behavior may be unacceptable, theperson is not bad. Avoid accusing the person of being theway they behave. Remember, no one has the answer. The group's workis the search for the best and most creative process, one which fostersa mutually satisfying resolution to any concern which may arise.


The role of peacekeeper is most useful in large groups or when very touchy,controversial topics are being discussed. A person who is willing to remainsomewhat aloof and is not personally invested in the content of the discussionwould be a good candidate for peacekeeper. This person is selected withoutdiscussion by all present at the beginning of the meeting. If no one wantsthis role, or if no one can be selected without objection, proceed withoutone, recognizing that the facilitator's job will most likely be more difficult.

This task entails paying attention to the overall mood or tone of themeeting. When tensions increase dramatically and angers flare out of control,the peacekeeper interrupts briefly to remind the group of its common goalsand commitment to cooperation. The most common way to accomplish this isa call for a few moments of silence.

The peacekeeper is the only person with prior permission to interrupta speaker or speak without first being recognized by the facilitator. Also,it is important to note that the peacekeeper's comments are always directedat the whole group, never at one individual or small group within the largergroup. Keep comments short and to the point.

The peacekeeper may always, of course, point out when the group didsomething well. People always like to be acknowledged for positive behavior.


Like the peacekeeper, advocates are selected without discussion at thebeginning of the meeting. If, because of strong emotions, someone is unableto be understood, the advocate is called upon to help. The advocate wouldinterrupt the meeting, and invite the individual to literally step outsidethe meeting for some one-on-one discussion. An upset person can talk tosomeone with whom they feel comfortable. This often helps them make clearwhat the concern is and how it relates to the best interest of the group.Assume the individual is acting in good faith. Assume the concern is inthe best interest of the group. While they are doing this, everyone elsemight take a short break, or continue with other agenda items. When theyreturn, the meeting (after completing the current agenda item) hears fromthe advocate. The intent here is the presentation of the concern by theadvocate rather than the upset person so the other group members mighthear it without the emotional charge. This procedure is a last resort,to be used only when emotions are out of control and the person feels unableto successfully express an idea.


The role of timekeeper is very useful in almost all meetings. One is selectedat the beginning of the meeting to assist the facilitator in keeping withinthe time limits set in the agenda contract. The skill in keeping time isthe prevention of an unnecessary time pressure which might interfere withthe process. This can be accomplished by keeping everyone aware of thestatus of time remaining during the discussion. Be sure to give ample warningtowards the end of the time limit so the group can start to bring the discussionto a close or decide to rearrange the agenda to allow more time for thecurrent topic. There is nothing inherently wrong with going over time aslong as everyone consents.

Public Scribe

The role of public scribe is simply the writing, on paper or blackboard,of information for the whole group to see. This person primarily assiststhe facilitator by taking a task which might otherwise distract the facilitatorand interfere with the overall flow of the meeting. This role is particularlyuseful during brainstorms, reportbacks from small groups, or whenever itwould help the group for all to see written information.


The importance of a written record of the meetings cannot be overstated.The written record, sometimes called notes or minutes, can help settledisputes of memory or verify past decisions. Accessible notes allow absentmembers to participate in ongoing work. Useful items to include in thenotes are:
  • date and attendance
    • agenda
    • brief notes (highlights, statistics...)
    • reports
    • discussion
  • verbatim notes
    • proposals (with revisions)
    • decisions (with concerns listed)
    • announcements
    • next meeting time and place
    • evaluation comments
After each decision is made, it is useful to have the notetaker read thenotes aloud to ensure accuracy. At the end of the meeting, it is also helpfulto have the notetaker present to the group a review of all decisions. Inlarger groups, it is often useful to have two notetakers simultaneously,because everyone, no matter how skilled, hears information and expressesit differently. Notetakers are responsible for making sure the notes arerecorded accurately, and are reproduced and distributed according to thedesires of the group (e.g., mailed to everyone, handed out at the nextmeeting, filed, etc.).


Doorkeepers are selected in advance of the meeting and need to arrive earlyenough to familiarize themselves with the physical layout of the spaceand to receive any last minute instructions from the facilitator. Theyneed to be prepared to miss the first half hour of the meeting. Prior tothe start of the meeting, the doorkeeper welcomes people, distributes anyliterature connected to the business of the meeting, and informs them ofany pertinent information (the meeting will start fifteen minutes late,the bathrooms are not wheelchair accessible, etc.).

A doorkeeper is useful, especially if people tend to be late. When the meeting begins, they continue to be available for latecomers. They might briefly explain what has happened so far and where the meeting is currently on the agenda. The doorkeeper might suggest to the latecomers that they refrain from participating in the current agenda item and wait until the next item before participating. This avoids wasting time, repeating discussion,or addressing already resolved concerns. Of course, this is not a rigid rule. Use discretion and be respectful of the group's time.

Experience has shown this role to be far more useful than it might at first appear, so experiment with it and discover if meetings can become more pleasant and productive because of the friendship and care which is expressed through the simple act of greeting people as they arrive at the meeting.


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