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Activity 4: Consensus (10 minutes), Session 7: Democratic Process (Chalk)

In "Toolbox of Faith," a Tapestry of Faith program

Materials for Activity

  • Optional: Newsprint, markers, and tape
  • Sheets of green, red, and yellow construction paper and scissors
  • Optional: Sheets of orange and blue construction paper
  • A variety of snacks, all desirable, such as cookies, ice cream, and candy (or various dried and fresh fruits)
  • Paper plates, napkins, and/or utensils as needed for snack

Preparation for Activity

  • Purchase three different varieties of food treats — enough of each type to feed all the participants. Make sure no participants have allergies to any of the snack options.
  • Obtain paper plates, napkins, and/or utensils, as needed.
  • Cut colored construction paper into cards to provide each child with a set of color cards: one green, one yellow, and one red.
  • Optional: To include orange and blue cards, cut additional construction paper.
  • Optional: On newsprint, write a brief description of when participants should hold up a green, yellow, or red (or orange or blue) card. Post the newsprint where children can see it during the discussion.

Description of Activity

Tell the group you have a treat for them, but first they must reach a consensus about which of several treats to have.

Explain in these words or your own how consensus differs from voting:

In a vote, the majority wins. In consensus decision-making, the whole group considers the objections of the minority as well as the wishes of the majority to shape the most agreeable decision. Consensus seeks a decision that is at least acceptable to everyone in the group.

Ask if anyone has experienced consensus decision-making in a group. If no one volunteers, ask the children how a group of friends decides what game to play or what movie to watch together. Allow some comments.

Tell the group:

Consensus decision-making can be an effective way for a group to pursue its common goals. Consensus takes more time than voting, but it has advantages for groups that want to do their best to address the needs of every single person in the group. Groups that use consensus might be a group of friends, people who own a small business together, a church committee, or an intentional community such as co-housing, where families or adults live together by choice.

A good consensus requires open discussion, but the discussion has to move toward a timely and sound decision supported by everyone. It cannot go on forever. One process for moving to a consensus decision uses color cards.

Distribute the color cards to all participants. Explain how they will use them to discuss the decision they will make about the snack.

  • Holding up a green card means "I have something to say" or "I have a question." When several group members hold up a green card, they are noted and placed in a "stack" of people waiting to speak. Each person speaks in turn.
  • Holding up a yellow card means "I can clarify" or "I need clarification (on what was just said)."
  • Holding up a red card asks members to look at the process. For example, an individual who displays a red card might say: "Are we getting off track, here?" or "What is our objective in doing this?" or even "How about we take a break?" It gives all members an equal chance to be facilitator.

Announce the three snack choices, and tell the group you will facilitate their discussion. Invite them to use their green, yellow, and red cards and try to reach consensus on which snack to have.

When you perceive the group coming to consensus, help them articulate a proposal. (You may want to set a time limit for discussion.) Invite the children to show their cards as follows:

  • Holding up a green card means, "I agree."
  • Holding up a yellow card means, "I can live with it." (Sometimes referred to as "standing aside.")
  • Holding up a red card means, "I don't agree, but am willing to work to find a better way, taking into account what has been said by all group members." Thus, a red card does not block progress, but signifies that the person is willing to work with others to bring the question back to the group at a subsequent meeting. Since this is time-consuming, red cards are not used lightly, but when the decision to be made is complex, it may be necessary.

If you are also using orange and blue cards, explain:

In the Uniting Church of Australia, orange and blue cards are used to mean "I am warm toward this" or "I am cool toward this." The use of orange and blue allows people who have difficulty distinguishing red from green to participate in the discussion.

Facilitate discussion until the group reaches consensus. Then, serve the snack.

Including All Participants

Find out from parents or the religious educator about foods to avoid due to allergies before choosing snacks for this activity. Also find out if the group includes any participants who have difficulty distinguishing colors. If so, use a bold marker to differentiate the green, yellow, and red cards with different, large symbols, such as an asterisk, a triangle, and a solid dot, in addition to their colors.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

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Last updated on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.

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