Inclusive decisions with Convergent Facilitation

A challenge and opportunity that rises to the surface as we look for ways to create change together is how we can make decisions that work for all. In the effort to hear and value different perspectives and share power, there can be slow and painful processes to reach consensus that can feel frustrating and unworkable.

I feel really fortunate to have trained with Miki Kashtan on the process she has developed based on nonviolence principles called ‘Convergent Facilitation’, and have since used it with groups including GM Homelessness Action Network, and Extinction Rebellion UK.

The key difference with this way of coming to agreement is the hearing all of the needs, what matters to each person, and from there finding solutions that meet all these needs. A decision is made once all in the group have genuine willingness to go forwards (rather than seeking their ideal preferred option, or giving up on their needs to reach consensus).

(I learned an analogy for this process from Paul at Navigate that i like – making a list of ingredients and checking for allergies; coming up with recipes using all the ingredients; and then agreeing together on a recipe that really works for everyone – explained here.)

Phase 1: Finding criteria (listing ingredients and identifying allergies)

The first part of the process involves hearing from different perspectives what is important, what matters about this for different people, and finding a set of criteria that they all agree to. In this process, the criteria are called ‘noncontroversial essence‘ – detailed enough to contain the essence of what matters, broad enough that all in the group are willing to adopt the criteria. This alone builds trust and a sense of working together towards a common goal.

Phase 2: Creating proposals (developing possible recipes)

The next phase is a common mission for the group, to creatively explore ideas for meeting these criteria. Objections are invited in, seen as a gift to the group, a way to see another valuable perspective that was missing, the gold that makes what is agreed more likely to work.

Phase 3: Making a decision (choosing a recipe)

In this phase, we look for willingness from everyone in the group to adopt or adapt a proposal that works for all. We rate and analyse the proposals as a group, to find a good place to start, and then seek objections to see if there are criteria that are not met, and get suggestions from the group to improve it. This process continues until there is genuine willingness, or an alternative decision is reached.

In addition to building trust, and enabling groups to find a way forward through complexity, what i love about this process is how it gives people an experience of a different way of being together, to know that it is possible to find solutions that work for all, that it can be win-win. It also surprises me when i see that setting specific criteria actually invites more creativity and togetherness rather than constraining anything. Wrapped into all this is awareness of power and privilege, making sure everyone is empowered, that their needs and concerns are heard and valued.

Find out more

I would love to see more structures and organisations opening up to making decisions together, beyond consultation, to deeper collaboration, and I am curious to understand what the blockers are. Here’s one example from the GM homelessness network. If you are facing challenges around making decisions that work for all, feel free to get in touch.

A previous version of this article was posted on reconnect.works – our initiative to support collaboration, based in Hebden Bridge.