Winslow & The Colors of Facilitation/Consensus
From: TomMOENCH (
Date: Sun, 9 Mar 1997 08:32:25 -0600
In response to using color cards:

At Winslow we still use the cards and in two ways -- 1) to facilitate group
discussion and 2) to poll for consensus. The former works well. The latter
gets wrapped around what you mean by consensus.

Colors of Facilitation -- I have revised the order of calling over the years.
The most recent explanation of their use is in Chris Hanson's new book. I
will also email you a brief description of their use if you email me directly
at -- TomMoench [at]

We use the color cards for our large general meetings (25+ people). They are
very easy to use once you know how and easy to teach if you have some
familiarity with group dynamics. We make it easy by putting the five cards on
a ring plus a white card with the colors listed on them, their function and
priority of calling. That way people can just remind themselves at any time
during a discussion. To ensure everyone has cards we simply keep them in a
basket that comes to our general meetings, hand them out before and collect
them after. Once in a while people forget the subtleties of how they are used
or we get new members so we have a brief review on how to use them. The
biggest issue is people confusing their personal opinions which have the
lowest priority with providing factual information which has a higher

The whole point of the cards is visual recognition of what's on people's
minds in large groups (20+ people). You can use fingers, objects, whatever.
Colors are so powerful because most everyone (with the exception of the color
blind who have some problems with some colors) can instantaneously know who
needs to contribute when. The whole point of a priority as to who speaks has
to do with how people communicate and learn in groups.

Colors of Consensus -- we also use the cards to poll people regarding where
they are in arriving at consensus. I personally do not like the process and
the using of the cards. It is cumbersome to me and I feel it gets in the way
of sensing the group. Part of the reason for me is we assign a different
aspect of consensus (e.g., in favor, neutral, willing to stand aside, no way
Jose) to each of the colors. Since I believe we use an "unanimity process"
and not a "consensus process" the cards become problematic--pushing us in the
wrong direction.

For those who are curious -- an unanimity process is designed such that each
person has to agree or the group cannot go forward. The power to decide does
not lie in the group but in the individual and so unanimity promotes a form
of individualism, not wholism. It is is fundamentaly based on fear. A
consensus process is based on trust and faith in the sense (wisdom) of the
group--a sense of unity, not unanimity. While individuals are honored for
their views and the group's forward progress can halt while they are making
their point of views known to be reflected upon, the power to decide lies
with the group, not the individual.

Cohousing groups and other "consensus groups" often confuse unanimity and
consensus. I have tried for a long time to figure out how to convey what the
difference is when I came upon two questions that seem to make the important
distinction.  If in deciding an issue you ask this question of yourself, "Can
I live with this decision?" and you have the power to block the decision and
the group's creative progress if you can't live with it, then you are using a
"unanimity process." If in deciding an issue you ask the following, "In what
way is this decision detrimental to the welfare of the group if we proceed?"
and you accept or stand aside if you cannot articulate to the group's
satisfaction that the decision-to-be is detrimental, then you are using a
consensus process. 

Some food for thought.


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