Consensus Conference

Objective: Consensus conferences are meetings comprised of a panel of randomly selected citizens who can engage in dialogue with experts on a particular topic at publicly held conferences. According to "it is designed to inform the public and present participants the opportunity to actively engage in learning and expressing their opinions, aiming to find common ground regarding contentious issues...Consensus Conferences attempt to achieve a more nuanced definition of the issue under review by receiving the public’s opinions on what should and what should not be done. In short, consensus conferences seek to find common ground between a diverse number of individuals on broad and complex issues.

How it Works: Process, Interaction and Decision-Making

There are many processes underlying this style of deliberation. Consensus conferences usually begin by drawing a panel of randomly selected citizens that research and construct questions in order to present to experts on the date of the conference. This process of researching may involve individual or group examination of a pamphlet or information package provided as well as attending preparatory events or presentations.

The next step has the group of participants construct their presentation to the experts. The ideology behind this step demonstrates the ability of the group to decided what will be discussed in the debate as well as which witnesses will be contributing. The methodology used during this phase can vary but, ultimately, some form of consensus or agreement is required. The determining of questions to present to the panel may also allow for the general public to weigh in on which aspects of the issue demand attention.

Preceding the panel’s decisions, lasting anywhere from two weeks to a few days, a conference is held where the press and public are allowed to be present. A head organizer, otherwise known as a facilitator, oversees the conference ensuring that deliberation remains on track. Post the conclusion of the conference, the panel construes a report outlining the conclusions and recommendations which are then circulated to key players regarding the organization at hand and the media. The organization and outlay of the Consensus Conference steps is essential to deriving strong deliberation and hearing the public’s voice. The strategy of this style of deliberation demonstrates an optimal path to uncovering a common good.

Experts explain context of some public issues to citizen groups who can ask questions. Stakeholders take part in the conference and work towards crafting a report stating their consensus on a matter. The results are presented to decision-makers ("

When is it suitable to organize a consensus conference?

"Consensus Conferences function at their most optimal prime involving controversial issues at a National level and with subjects that deem complex or are expert dominated. These types of discrepancies perform preeminent because they enable the delivery of views of informed average citizens to other general public citizens in a language suitable. Other citizens will be able to regurgitate the material and will result in a better informed public on the debate at hand. In conclusion, Consensus Conferences enable a complex matter to be broken down into a more generalized form that can be presented by the media to update citizens that do not contain an in depth knowledge in the subject. Differing from perfect Consensus Conference topics, this form of deliberation and informative material should not be exploited when the issue is uncontroversial, contains biased participants, or when the panel is expected to create actual decisions. Consensus Conferences are not intended to derive decisions, make detailed technical recommendations, or be read as a representation of a whole society" (

Participation level Target groups Number of participants Duration/Timeline Implementation Frequency Budget
Consultation Any Up to 30 Longer than a week Live event More than one event High
Organizational requirements:
  • People with subject expertise
  • Venue for the conference
  • Compensation for expert panel, citizen panel and organizational personnel
  • Accommodation for experts (optional)
  • Moderator/Facilitator
  • Protocol/Documentation
  • Project management/Event organization