Congregational democracy: Gradients of agreement

By Joy Silver

I participated in a very informative workshop called, Gradients of Agreement at the BC Regional Gathering this past weekend, (November 2007),– A Participatory Decision Making Process. I would like to pass on to you the highlights of this workshop for your consideration for future congregational decisions that require significant buy-in to a motion. This process has grown out of treaty negotiations between our BC government and our first-nations people, and facilitated by Unitarian member, Michelle Poirier from the Capital Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Victoria. Michelle is willing to give us workshop on the process as a part of her research grant, at a cost that covers her traveling expenses only. She works from her Vancouver office between Sunday afternoon and Thursday afternoon. She can be reached at or 604 361-4144.

I was very excited about the following decision-making process that strongly addresses our recent CUC mantra to “Go Deep” and our CUC resolution “to promote and increase the use of the democratic process within our congregations.” The Capital UU Congregation uses the model extensively and would be a good resource for us to discover successes and possible caveats.

It is with enthusiasm that I offer Unitarian Congregations in Canada the opportunity to consider a deeper step in our decision-making process.

Gradients of Agreement Decision-Making Process

The Participatory Decision Making process has the goal of affording members to have sufficient time to dialogue about a motion and then to go through a two step consensus-building voting process that will:

  1. reveal the gradients of agreement ranging from enthusiastic support through meager support.
  2. Indicate the need to implement, develop or set aside/shelve the motion

This model of voting allows the membership to see how strongly a motion will ultimately be supported in the future, and is viewed as a more integral model to the democratic process of decision making.

The first step is what is called a survey of “gradients of agreement” among the quorum present. This means that we don’t just ask for agreement or disagreement with a motion – we ask how strongly the voters agree.

In this First Step we would be given five choices: Endorse, Support, Neutral, Don’t Like, Block (but won’t block)

  • Endorse means you not only like an idea, you are prepared to invest your time and energy into helping to ensure the motion succeeds by volunteering, encouraging others to get involved by donating resources.
  • Support means you give your approval to the motion and feel in favour of passing it.
  • Neutral menas that it will be fine with you if the motion passes and just as fine with you if it does not.
  • Don’t Like (but won’t block) means just that, you do not like the idea but you are not completely against it. That is, you won’t act to prevent the motion from passing.
  • Block means “No”. Indicating a block during the “gradients of agreement” survey means you will stop the motion from passing – at least in its current form. There is accountability attached to a vote to block a motion. You many be asked to work with others to revise the motion or to develop an alternative motion.

After the first vote there is a chance for everyone who would like to comment to speak as often as you need to. However, you would be placed on a Speaker’s List. Everyone is given the opportunity to speak once before any one person speaks a second time.

The Second Step – The Decision –Point

In a traditional consensus’ vote, the decision would be a direct result of the survey of the “gradients of agreement”. That is, if on one blocked the motion, the motion would pass. In this model, the survey is not the “decision point” – the survey is the information on which the vote about the decision is made.

When the vote on the decision is taken the members are given 3 choices: Implement Develop Set Aside/shelve

If for example, there was only lukewarm support for a motion, the congregation may vote to develop the idea further – to see if changes could be made, for example, that could enable people who don’t like the idea but don’t want to block it, to be able to support it. Similarly, if there is a motion put forward which most people don’t care about one way or the other but which would be very demanding of volunteer time in order to successful, the decision may be to set the motion aside, at least for now. In a majority vote, or even consensus, both of these motions would “pass” – but potentially be the source of conflict at a later date.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.