OTPIC Officially Retired

As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.

The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.

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International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Consensus Rule Processes

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Groups governed by consensus rule processes cannot make formal decisions or take action unless all participants agree. Such processes provide a basis for interest-based negotiations and are a primary mechanism through which win-win agreements are negotiated. These processes can be used to address procedural questions as well as the underlying dispute or core conflict. Consensus building efforts depend upon a willingness of the parties to compromise and give up some of what they want so that others can have some of what they want. If one party insists upon complete victory or the absolute defeat of their opponent, then consensus approaches are likely to fail.

Successful consensus requires that the parties implement workable strategies for dealing with many of the problems outlined in this training program. Here the first step involves the determination of the parties to be involved in the process and their interests. (This requires successful efforts to address scoping problems).

Once interested parties and their concerns have been identified, the next challenge is to frame the consensus building effort in a way which allows everyone to pursue their interests. This may require the establishment of a number of different objectives for the process. For example, efforts to build a consensus over a new mining project might focus upon efforts to 1) protect the region's agricultural and forest industries, 2) control human health risks associated with air and water pollution, 3) protect the region's tourism industry, 4) find new homes for people who will have to be moved to make room for the mine, 5) expand the school system to serve mine worker families, and 6) relocate highways and rail lines--as well as establishing the mine.

Consensus processes require that everyone at the table agree on all decisions that are made.  There is no majority rule voting or decision making by one person in authority.   Rather, the whole group examines the problem, brainstorms about possible solutions and then works together to develop a solution which everyone can support.  This kind of process is being used more and more often in the United States to deal with difficult public policy issues--environmental conflicts, for example.  Although consensus cannot always be found, it can be developed more often than might be expected. 

The advantage of consensus processes is that the resulting decision is one that meets the interests of all the parties and that everyone can support.  The disadvantage is that developing such a decision can be a very slow process, involving many people over a long period of time.  There is also a relatively high probability of failure. If a quick decision is needed, the consensus approach may not work.  Consensus rule processes also tend to favor those that oppose change and want to preserve the status quo. All these people have to do is refuse to support any consensus compromises and they will win (at least as long as they can delay change).

Successful consensus building also requires successful efforts to control escalation so that people will focus upon the issues and not inter-personal animosities. Consensus building also benefits from strong fact-finding capabilities and an ability to deal with a variety of procedural problems  including: persuading people to participate in the process, developing a workable process structure, ground rules, and representation.

Consensus building can also benefit from the services of a mediator or facilitator who may follow either problem-solving model like principled negotiation or a transformative model. These individuals can help the parties get to know and value each other as individuals. This is essential to the breaking down of purely selfish approaches to a problem (which is a precondition for effective consensus building).

While consensus resolution of the core dispute is desirable, it is often not realistic. Less ambitious but still very useful alternatives focus upon the pursuit of consensus agreements on as many sub-issues as possible, with the understanding that the parties are still free to pursue the remaining issues through alternative (often force-based) strategies..

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Links to Examples of Consensus-Building Processes

Susan Shearouse -- A Vote For Consensus
This article compares consensus processes with majority rule processes.
Krag Unsoeld -- Hawaii's Water Wars: A Pacific paradise settles a hellish dispute over a scarce resource
This article describes a consensus process that resolved a long-lasting dispute over water use in Hawaii.
Building Trust in an Environmental Conflict
This is a short summary of a successful consensus building effort on a conflict over the aerial spraying of herbicides.

Links to Outside Sources of Information

Graphic Facilitation Focuses a Group's Thoughts
This describes one innovative way to move a group toward consensus.

Building Consensus for a Sustainable Future:  Guiding Principles from the Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution

Consensus--A Mini-Guide by Mark Shepard


Links to Related Approaches:


Analytical Problem Solving


Principled Negotiation


Links to Related Problems:

Procedural Problems

Escalation Problems


Copyright 1998 Conflict Research Consortium  -- Contact: crc@colorado.edu