As much as consensus decision making may be in vogue, as much as it may feel like an appropriate and progressive form of civil discourse, it is not without its problems and it may not always be the best avenue to pursue.
Policymaking about community problems requires all the creativity we can bring to the task. One of the areas where we might best apply our creativity is in the continual search for improved models of civil discourse and decision making. Consensus-based approaches hold great promise for addressing thorny issues like dispersed public housing, but we need to remember that such methods are relatively new to most of us, and that we are still feeling our way with them.
These cautionary comments, however, should not be embraced by public officials as excuses for keeping citizens out of public policy setting. Governments work best ultimately where there is broad consensus for their policies.
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Bernie Jones is associate director for university resources in the Colorado Center for Community Development at the University of Colorado at Denver, where he also holds an appointment as associate professor of urban and regional planning. His mailing address is Campus Box 128, University of Colorado at Denver, P.O. Box 173364, Denver, Colo. 80217-3364.
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Jones, B. A comparison of consensus and voting in public decision making. Negot J 10, 161–171 (1994). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02184175