From Confrontation to Consensus

Then begins the process of working through the issues one at a time. For each issue, a process for information-gathering is determined. Documents and experts are identified. All members of the Round Table should be able to put any information before the group and should be able to suggest experts who might shed light on the issue. This often requires a budget for bringing people to the table. In addition, it is often beneficial to go on field trips to see the location(s) that are involved in the dispute or discussion. For each issue or concern, all members should be satisfied that the information-gathering phase has been sufficiently exhaustive and that all relevant information is now before them.

The next stage involves the facilitator’s attempt to help find common ground on as many issues and concerns as possible. It is quite usual for the Round Table to reach unanimous agreement around many issues. In the case of a uranium mine, for example, it is likely that the statement “Occupational exposure to radiation must be strictly monitored and controlled” would be unanimously adopted. But other statements, such as “Uranium mining should be banned in this country”, will likely not find unanimous support.

At this point the facilitator’s most important task is at hand. The facilitator must draft a document, outlining the nature of the proposal/dispute/land use issue and for each issue and concern, find wording that can be accepted unanimously by the Round Table members. This means producing a document that expresses clearly where there is unanimous agreement, and where there is disagreement, a description of the nature of that disagreement in words that are unanimously accepted by the members.

Thus, a consensus document can be produced even though there is disagreement on some points. The great benefit of this process is that it then provides the actual policy-makers, government, with a very clear expression of public opinion. Compared to the war of headlines in the media that often characterizes land use and other resource issues, the Round Table approach brings clarity and coherence to the forefront of the debate.

The Consensus Document should then be distributed widely in the community, and formally presented, in person, to the level(s) of government that are involved in decision-making.

Conclusion

Every Round Table process is unique. But it is important to remember that there are some common elements that are necessary to all Round Tables. Some of these are:

  • A willingness on the part of the various interests in the community to voluntarily come to the table.
  • Support from the elected Government for the process, in terms of authorizing the Round Table and appointing members to it.
  • Professional facilitation by a neutral facilitator with experience in consensus process.
  • “Good will” on the part of the participants. Consensus process will not work if there are hidden agendas, unholy alliances or ill will.
  • A willingness on the part of Government to “follow through” and to act on the recommendations of the Round Table.

Patrick Moore, Ph.D.
April, 1998

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