Consensus is the community resolution when opposing parties set aside their differences and agree on a statement that is agreeable to all, even if only barely.
Disputes on Wikipedia are settled by editing and discussion, not voting. Discussion should aim towards building a consensus. Consensus is a group discussion where everyone's opinions are heard and understood, and a solution is created that respects those opinions. Consensus is not what everyone agrees to, nor is it the preference of the majority. Consensus results in the best solution that the group can achieve at the time. Remember, the root of "consensus" is "consent". This means that even if parties disagree, there is still overall consent to move forward in order to settle the issue. This requires co-operation among editors with different interests and opinions.
What consensus is
Not a majority vote
Consensus is not a majority vote. Every opinion counts. Consensus accounts for dissent and addresses it, although it does not always accommodate it. An option preferred by 51% of people is generally not enough for consensus. An option that is narrowly preferred is almost never consensus.
A vote may help to organize discussion around specific proposals, but this can sometimes breed conflict and division. One problem with a yes-or-no vote on a proposal is that there may be a consensus for a middle option. Even a "middle ground" option can be insufficient, as forcing people to choose between options may prevent new ideas from coming forward that would gain more support. Another problem with voting is that it might prevent a real discussion, as voters do not have to justify their position. This prevents people from evaluating the underlying reasons for a vote, and criticizing weak or inaccurate reasoning for a vote. It also prevents people from coming up with alternative ways to satisfy the voter's concern, with a less divisive course of action.
The best way to determine consensus is to actually read and understand each person's arguments, even if they are divided on the surface. A consensus can be found by looking for common ground and synthesizing the best solution that the group can achieve at that time.
Consensus is not the same as unanimity. Every discussion should involve a good faith effort to hear and understand each other. But after people have had a chance to state their viewpoint, it may become necessary to ignore someone or afford them less weight in order to move forward with what the group feels is best. Sometimes a rough consensus is enough to move forward.
Insisting on unanimity can allow a minority opinion to filibuster the process. If someone knows that the group cannot move forward without their consent, they may harden their position in order to get their way. This is considered unacceptable on Wikipedia as a form of gaming the system, as well as tendentious editing. There is even a three revert rule to limit efforts to stonewall the editing process.
Editors should make a good faith effort to reach a consensus. That means that the dissenting party has to state how the current proposal fails to meet the interests of the wider group, rather than merely stating they will not accept it. But after a good faith discussion, sometimes the dissenting party must consent to move forward even if they disagree with the specific course of action.
Not all or nothing
If the group can identify areas of agreement, they should move forward where the group shares the same view. A complicated dispute might involve several issues, and some issues may be more controversial than others. But a disagreement on one issue should not prevent consensus on another issue. It is not helpful to expect complete and total agreement on every aspect of the dispute. Work with the issues where there is common ground, and revisit the lingering issues later if necessary.
Consensus can change. Past decisions are open to challenge and are not binding, and changes are sometimes reasonable. When challenging an old consensus, it may help to explain what you think has changed in that time.
Not the king of Wikipedia
Even where there is a consensus among a group of editors, their preferred outcome is not always acceptable on Wikipedia. In specific cases, other decisions have precedence. For example, consensus cannot override decisions by Jimbo Wales, the Board, or the Developers.
Not a walled garden
A consensus by a small group of editors cannot override policies and guidelines that have been agreed to by a wider range of editors. For example, a few editors may consent to edit warring, but it does not override the project-wide consensus against edit warring; a small group of editors may wish to promote an original theory or host personal information, but these activities are not permitted under Wikipedia policy. Editors who wish to change established policy should instead make efforts to update and modify policy reflecting project-wide consensus and actual practice.
Not a contest
It may be tempting to solicit opinions from Wikipedians or administrators who agree with your viewpoint in order to get your way. It may also be tempting to ignore the consensus found at one forum, and solicit a new discussion at another forum. This violates Wikipedia's behavioral policies and guidelines. Sometimes it is appropriate to try a different dispute resolution process after one has failed. But there is a difference between reasonable dispute resolution and gaming the system, and it is important that Wikipedians understand that difference.
While everyone on Wikipedia has the right to be heard, this does not mean that discussions remain open indefinitely until we hear from them. Nor does it mean that a consensus should be overridden by an appeal to "Wikipedians out there" who silently disagree. There is no way to determine whether or not this is true. Thus, if you believe that the current discussion does not represent real opinion, you should either prove that by referring to an existing discussion or suggest starting a new discussion with a wider audience.
Using the consensus-building process
How to achieve consensus
- When in doubt, defer to the policies and guidelines. These reflect the consensus of a wide range of editors.
- Make use of the BOLD, revert, discuss cycle:
- In a discussion, begin by understanding the group's interests, and work towards a proposal that meets those collective interests.
- Freely exchange your interests and concerns. Also try to understand policies and guidelines that represent the interests of the Wikipedia community at large.
- Offer a proposal that best meets everyone's interests and concerns, to the extent that they are reasonable.
- Modify the proposal based on further feedback from the group.
- If necessary, begin a new discussion and repeat the consensus building process with a wider range of editors. Consult Wikipedia:Dispute resolution for advice.
How not to achieve consensus
- Don't edit war.
- Don't simply state your position over and over, without explaining your underlying concerns and interests.
- Don't canvass in an inappropriate way other editors who agree with you.
- Don't give up when people disagree on a specific proposal.
- Don't take a hard line position to extract concessions from other editors. This often backfires, and undermines the reasonableness of your viewpoint.
- Don't question the other party's motive.