Accelerated Consensus

Bringing stakeholders together to create a quality-of-life legacy!

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About Accelerated Consensus

A message from Burt Woolf

Accelerated Consensus is a participatory planning, problem-solving, and visioning process that I developed over a twenty-five year period (1970-1995) for my community development consulting-facilitation practice.  I call it "accelerated" consensus because the process takes advantage of the interest people have in what's going on in their world, without demanding an inordinate amount of their time and energy.

The benefits
As a process for planning, visioning or problem solving, Accelerated Consensus has several advantages: 

  1. The process engages stakeholders in the planning effort, to whatever degree they are interested and willing to get involved -- even if their time or interest is limited to just one meeting. 
  2. Stakeholders experience that they are offering their authentic thoughts, ideas, and opinions into the process; and they feel heard by the leaders of the process (those with authority to make decisions and take action). 
  3. Perhaps most importantly, stakeholders who participate often report that they see their "thumbprint" on the final reports and plans that result from the process.
Why I developed it
When I was becoming a full-fledged professional facilitator in the late 1970's, I found that the interactive problem-solving, visioning, and planning assignments that I was retained to design and facilitate gave me a first-hand look at what happens when people come together to talk about improving their community.  Over the course of facilitating my first few dozen community-based planning efforts, I noticed that the same people who want to have a voice in the process, and to be heard by decision-makers, for the most part, don't have the interest, inclination or even capacity to give much time to the process.  Worse yet, when the process asks more of them than they care to give, people lose their energy, interest and creativity.  

The Challenge...
I soon came to realize that I would need to design a process that would enable authentic and meaningful citizen input while requiring the briefest possible time commitment by [so-called] rank and file participants.  However, collaborative problem-solving processes -- especially those that are addressing complex or thorny community issues and projects -- take time and energy to be carried out properly.   When you cut corners with participatory approaches, you tend to degrade both the quality of the input being provided (time helps incubate new and better ideas), as well as the degree of participation itself (if the process generates only the "same-old, same-old" talk, people will quickly become disenchanted and drop out). 

So I set out to develop a participatory process that would encourage not-so-near-in stakeholders to engage with large-scale participatory public improvement planning and visioning efforts that I was regularly being retained to conduct by public agencies in the United States (projects such as a regional environmental planning effort; a ten-county heritage tourism study; and a metropolitan outdoor recreation initiative). 

And thus the design of Accelerated Consensus emerged, entailing : 
  • a series of "stakeholder input sessions" whereby a stakeholder need attend no more than one meeting;
  • for each stakeholder input session, a set of special creativity exercises that generates needed stakeholder input in less than 2 hours;
  • a unique way of identifying most promising ideas and actions shared by stakeholders across multiple meetings;
  • an approach to recording input and reporting results that captures consensus among stakeholders regarding themes of concern, and strategies for action; and
  • a format by which the leaders of the process identify and present strategic intentions for action, based on actual stakeholder input generated during the process.
Thus, Accelerated Consensus engages a broad array of stakeholders in large scale participatory public improvement planning and visioning efforts, producing findings and conclusions that are collectively generated.

A personal conclusion
Accelerated Consensus is a reflection of what is important to me in my own life.  Without human compassion and a zest for living, the techniques and strategies of the process can't make much of difference on their own.   I'd like to think that I bring an engaging  style of facilitation and a spacious world-view that makes this a powerful tool for participatory decision-making and change.   Accelerated Consensus lets us witness first hand that we all share dreams for a better world that works for everyone. 

About Burt Woolf