A consensus conference is a formal public meeting, which gives the general public the chance to contribute to and be involved in the assessment of an issue or proposal.
The conference is generally about providing a forum for dialogue between experts and citizens.
The objective of a consensus conference is to provide members of the broader community the opportunity to share their views on community issues as well as increasing their awareness of and ability to participate in such a discussion.
The citizen panel plays the leading role, formulating questions to be taken up at the conference, and participating in the selection of experts to answer them. The panel has two weekends for this preparation. The expert panel is selected in a way that ensures that essential opposing views and professional conflicts can emerge and be discussed at the conference. An advisory/planning committee has the overall responsibility of making sure that all rules of a democratic, fair and transparent process have been followed. Consensus conferences have mostly been used where the topic being investigated concerns management, science or technology. They require strict adherence to the rules of implementation to be successful. Where members of the community feel their views go unheard, the consensus conference offers an exciting participatory technique for democratic participation.
At the end of a consensus conference, the outcome should be a position statement that reflects the joint decision(s) of all participants on an issue or proposal. " Department of Sustainability and Environment 2005 p.26
Advice for choosing this method
- Assists in the facilitation of public debate from a range of perspectives.
- Empowers laypeople to develop an informed understanding and make some contribution to the development of policy on a sensitive topic.
- Demonstrates a plurality of views on issues.
- Bridges the gap between experts and laypeople.
- Can develop new knowledge.
There are also high costs for set-up and recruitment of participants and staging the event that need to be considered before choosing this method and the formal nature of the tool can restrict impartiality.
Advice for using this method
- Choice of an effective facilitator is critical to the success of the conference.
- The process of panellist selection can be difficult. Stakeholders’ analysis must be undertaken to predetermine who are the relevant groups. This will ensure that representation from the relevant groups is achieved.
- Need to draw citizens for panels that are representative and from a wide range of backgrounds rather than members of the community who are usually present in participatory processes.
- Strict adherence to the rules of implementation is required for the conference to be successful.
- Rapid production of reports and findings is required.
This advice is taken from: Department of Sustainability and Environment (2005), Book 3: The Engagement Toolkit. Effective Engagement: building relationships with community and other stakeholders, The Community Engagement Network Resource and Regional Services Division Victorian Government Department of Sustainability and Environment.
Pages 26-27 of this extensive guidebook provides a detailed overview of using community fairs for stakeholder engagement.
Department of Sustainability and Environment (2005), Book 3: The Engagement Toolkit.Effective Engagement: building relationships with community and other stakeholders, The Community Engagement Network Resource and Regional Services Division Victorian Government Department of Sustainability and Environment. Retrieved from http://www.dse.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/105825/Book_3_-_The_Engagement_Toolkit.pdf
'Consensus conference' is referenced in:
- Communication for Development (C4D) :
- Rainbow Framework :