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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Building agreement in a complex world : subtitle a study of the theory and practice of consensus decision-making Lizée, Yvette

Abstract

This is a study in how a select group of practitioners skilled in leading consensus processes view and do their work. It is also an examination of the diversity and complexity of practice and its alignment (and divergence) with certain theoretical frameworks and principles. The thesis' chief goal is to create a resource that marries some of the theory on consensus decision-making, primarily coming out of land and resource planning bodies in this country, with personal accounts and strategies from people who do this work professionally. In so doing it seeks: a) to offer hands-on advice for building consensus from experts in the field; b) to relay areas of commonality among particular practitioners and between selected theory and practice; c) to provide a glimpse of the "messiness" and complexity of real-life processes; and d) to give witness to the diversity that exists in practice by highlighting key differences in perspectives and methods encountered in the group. With this end in sight, the author interviewed 13 consensus-building practitioners using a semi-standardized interview format. Beyond inquiring about their background and expertise, the interviews explored three key aspects of the respondents' practice, namely: their view and application of consensus building principles; the process stages they commonly work through (from initial preparations to implementation); and key techniques they use when facilitating at-the-table discussions. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 present the responses to each of these topics woven alongside selected writings on the subjects and the author's own analysis. On a conceptual level, the theoretical frameworks framing the discussions on principles, processes and techniques were found to hold at least some relevance to practice. In fact, they were for the most part reasonable reflections of the very loose lines of consistency encountered across practitioners. Outside these rough similarities though, how individuals interpreted the concepts and frameworks and how they set about applying them (either consciously or unconsciously) were endlessly complex and diverse. The thesis examines the many differences in perspectives and approaches described by respondents and some contextual, stylistic and perspective-based factors contributing to the complexity and diversity of practice.

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