Consensus, Collaboration, and 
Letters to the World: Poems from the Wom-po Listserv

Presentation by Rosemary Starace
for Dr. Browdy de HernandezŐ class: Zines, Blogs & Indies: Explorations in Alternative Media Formats and Techniques. Bard College at SimonŐs Rock, April 22, 2009


Some ideas for applying consensus-based collaboration to a project of your own:

1. Read up on consensus practice. See the bibliography at the link below. All of it is important background, but the first two sections have the most Ňhands-onÓ information. Discuss this in your group before embarking on your project so that everyone understands its purpose and methods. You might want to develop written guidelines that group members can refer to.

2. In any group,  the process will not work if any person has veto power. That includes, in this case, the teacher! Teacher and students should decide in advance how to handle the fact that the teacher is, inevitably, a figure of authority. You should all get clear about whether and how your teacher will participate (or intervene) in any aspect of the project.

3.Allow plenty of time for your project! Discuss and reflect on ideas. Choose one together that appeals broadly and makes the most sense for your group and the time-frame you have.

4. Whether you meet in physical space or on the Internet, make it a practice to hear from everyone about each step you take as a group toward your goal. Get to know each other, too.

5. If people disagree or are not sure about something, keep talking. Find out what the objections or concerns are. Adjust the ideas in terms of what is workable and best for the project. Be inclusive. Welcome all ideas and opinions. Do not walk away if your ideas are not liked, but rather think about the project and whether some other idea will work equally well. You donŐt have to compromise; rather you have to ask yourself if the decisions being made will move the project forward well enough and if they are true to the ideals of your project and of egalitarian process. If they are, then maybe you can agree to go forward without feeling bad.

6. Have faith in your own and othersŐ imaginations. ThereŐs always another good idea out there that will allow you to move forward. Your group is a creative entity! You never know where a good idea will come from next. Consider every person to be equally creativeŃthey are! It can be hard to believe that your participation and ideas are as valuable and important as the next personŐs, and hard to speak out. A supportive group attitude will make that easier.

7. Trust othersŐ commitment to the project. Trust will build over timeŃso trust that, too. When things need to be done, let volunteers step forward. ItŐs fine to volunteer for anything, even if you will be learning on the spot. Always welcome anyoneŐs offer to work on any aspect of the project. Also welcome and trust your own enthusiasms. You are all smart and capable, and you can take a chance. You can ask for help. Make it a group principle that you will help each other. It is a great privilege to empower each other to be effective!

8. ItŐs natural that some people might do more work than others. One person might emerge as a leader on part of the project, and then another might emerge to deal with a different aspect. ThatŐs fine. Just be sure you are soliciting and working with everyoneŐs thoughts and ideas. Be sure you have unity before moving forward.

9. DonŐt take votes; just keep talking until each person can feel fine about moving forward. You may still have some objections, but you might decide to let them go for the sake of the project.

10. Give each person credit for their contributions.

11. Your consensus-based process does not have to be perfect. It takes a little luck as well as will and devotion!  And skill builds with practice. No matter what, your engagement with these ideas and practices will teach you something valuable about working with others, about creativity, about authority, about self-empowerment  and empowering others.


Bibliography online at If I can be of further assistance, please contact me through Dr. Browdy.