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  Enabling Consensus?
What are the best ways to enable a group to build consensus in the online environment?

It is often said that communities are built upon like-minded individuals sharing ideas. So it has been for centuries and is now carried onto the Internet. Of course like-minds still differ and shared visions can still come from different backgrounds -- it is an understanding of that which is important when it comes to consensus.

Websites can and do provide means for individuals to share like-minded thoughts and build consensus via the following methods;

1) A comprehensive message board system where well-rounded topics are available for idea sharing.

It is important, however,

a) that your message board is clear and effective in its purpose; b) that there are easy to understand and precise guidelines to posting; and, c) that your moderators can skillfully manage differences within the community, guiding users to the pertinent discussions and dealing calmly and equably with conflicts.

2) An online chat room where topical chats and live events can be held based on the topics for consensus.

Again, it is very important that your chat events have clear purpose and guidelines for use, and that your moderators have been suitably trained and equipped to deal with potential problems.

3) A polling tool where members of the site can share their input regarding particular questions.

This is a more objective and impersonal method of obtaining opinions which limits the possibilities for conflict. However, a polling tool should not be used in isolation, as it does not provide the platform which is needed for full expression of opinions. Think of the polling tool as an “end point” or auxillary to your more qualitative facilities such as message forum and chat events.

Providing a safe and viable environment for others to share in will ensure that they are able to build consensus in a constructive fashion. Conflicts are bound to happen but it is in the handling of those that your community will truly shine. It is important to remember that it is not enough to place a method for sharing on a site, it must be maintained, kept up to date with fresh topics and safeguarded from undesirable actions that violate your site guidelines. Above all it should be managed caringly, with understanding and with personality.

We do hope this helps, and we wish you the best of luck in building consensus with the members on your site. The Internet is certainly a wonderful place to do so, as it has a great deal of diversity available at the click of a key.

- Jon Nix and Pam Thomas
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