Large Group Consensus-Building Methods
March 20, 2009 4:01 PM   Subscribe

What types of large group (+50 members) consensus-building methods can prioritize information quickly?

I'm working as a contractor to a US Government Agency. It is at a department level in one of the smaller Gov't agencies, so increasing profit is not a motive. Increasing departmental trust and collaboration is one of the primary drivers.

They conducted a culture assessment Q3 2008 indicating the leadership team needed to set a departmental vision and mission. That work is done. Their strategy was to have 8 teams of volunteers work for appox. one month on strategic approaches to implement the vision and mission.

The department is having a one-day outbrief meeting on from the teams who should be recommending 3-5 approaches to implement the four themes in their vision and mission. So, there could be anywhere from 24-40 items for consideration.

I'd like to have a consensus from the approx 50-80 members of the teams on which of the items should be taken up. They will have about 90 minutes for prioritizing by consensus.

Sticky dots methods are not receiving much traction, so far.

I would welcome some discussion here. And, I suspect that there are links to blogs you've stored away ready to throw out should a need arise. Pull them out and toss them in the soup for all to benefit.
posted by choragus to Work & Money (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have seen this work among a couple hundred opinionated high schoolers. Your mileage may vary.

1. Small arbitrary groups, like by month of birth.
2. Each group reasons about the items and sketches a (partial) order of importance.
3. Each group picks a delegate or two (possibly at random) to send to a higher-order arbitrary group or two.
4. Higher-order arbitrary groups combine the insights of the lower-order groups and sketches a more firm order of importance.
5. Higher group's reasoning is described to everyone, en masse or by delegates to their groups.
6. Higher group's proposal is submitted to some kind of debate and approval. Point-by-point if possible and helpful, or in toto if not. If there seems to be high consensus already, taking amendments from the floor may be an option. (Make it clear that there needs to be a clear, obvious agreement to change the proposal, none of this rule-by-50.5% majorities.) If consensus is not so forthcoming, you may need to go a second round of small-group discussion, possibly with different delegates. Play it by ear.

Large groups have huge problems: Groupthink, an inability to collaboratively rework objections to discover and address the underlying cause, and massively parallel time-wasting opportunities for blowhards and imbeciles. Small groups may not know all the facts, but they give much higher interactivity/ownership and avoid those problems. Tying them together with delegation gets the facts through the system.

See also unconference facilitation for further inspiration.
posted by eritain at 5:31 PM on March 20, 2009

Some colleagues and i have developed the collaborative democracy workshop over the last year and a half, which actually is a pretty engaging way to get a roomful of people of the size you're describing to start really talking about what matters to them.

it takes advantage of some of the small-group/big-group dynamics that eritain is talking about above, while keeping everyone active and thinking at multiple levels.

It usually runs for about an hour or two, and we've run it in multiple concurrent languages and locations, even. (it also works well in one language with everyone in a big room). Requires some technical setup, though, and that a decent number of folks (one sixth or so) is comfortable driving a relatively-simple webapp.
posted by dkg at 9:54 PM on March 20, 2009

an organization I worked with used the World Cafe approach to accomplish something like this. I was sick the day it happened, but people seemed to be pretty satisfied with it.
posted by nangua at 10:02 PM on March 20, 2009

whoops, that link should have gone here
posted by nangua at 10:04 PM on March 20, 2009

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