Wesley College Melbourne Australia
Wesley College Melbourne

Orange is the new purple

Posted 27 August 2018

Consensus decision making at Wesley College

Wesley College is known for its distinctive purple uniforms, but orange, blue and yellow have recently been seen all over the school’s Elsternwick Campus.

As part of their Religious Education and Ethics classes, Year 6 students have been undertaking a unit of inquiry on governance, investigating the Uniting Church’s consensus decision-making model.

Consensus decision-making

The consensus decision-making process has been adopted worldwide by organisations that seek to make decisions through consultation, engagement and representation rather than the potentially partisan approach of a simple majority vote, which often encourages the defence of a proposal, rather than deliberation and insight.

In the consensus process, members of a decision-making meeting use orange, blue and yellow cards to visually indicate their agreement or disagreement with a proposal or point of view. Showing an orange card indicates agreement; blue indicates disagreement; yellow indicates that a person wishes to contribute to the discussion. A moderator steers the process through three steps: a background information session; a proposals session to encourage discussion, refinement and deliberation; and a decision session. The use of cards and the structured deliberation enables action while still holding on to a strong sense of community.

In 1994, the Uniting Church in Australia pioneered the consensus process as an alternative to the binary, even adversarial, aspect of traditional voting for or against particular positions, and a way to give those involved in meetings a greater sense of agency. In Uniting Church meetings at all levels, the consensus process is now used to elicit the views of all, particularly those who are typically quiet or silent, in order to come to a consensus.

Seeing the heart and mind of all

The card system is enabling the Elsternwick students to see the heart and mind of everyone in the classroom as a proposal is shared, refined, deliberated and decided.

As Elsternwick Chaplain Kaylea Fearn explained, the Year 6 students were first taught how to use their coloured cards, then how to moderate a meeting and how to craft proposals to bring to their peers for decision.

‘I was surprised at how enthusiastically the students adopted the process, and how instinctively they understood the consensus model as one way to have kinder conversations about significant issues,’ Ms Fearn said.

Pros and cons

The students have also compared the model to Australia’s democratic parliament to consider the pros and cons of each.

According to one Year 6 student, ‘I think this way of making decisions must lead to most people being content with the outcomes because they can feel that their opinion has been heard and there is less opportunity for conflict.’

While generally positive, another student had mixed feelings about the process. ‘My only worries would be that some problems may never be solved or too many compromises would have to be made to make a change that works,’ the student said. ‘Also, each decision took so long, but it was worth it in the end.’

‘The consensus decision-making process developed by the Uniting Church in Australia is something I was very proud to be able to share with my students,’ Ms Fearn said. ‘It’s just one of the many ways we as a church try to demonstrate fairness and honouring different voices.’

Image: Year 6 students at Wesley’s Elsternwick Campus during the consensus decision-making process: the orange cards indicates agreement, while one student wishes to contribute to the discussion, indicated by the yellow card.

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