Consent is reached if, and only if, each and every member of a circle, after understanding the problem and thinking through the proposal in all its detail and implications, honestly states that they currently see no objection against implementing the proposal.

Everything else is not consent.

It’s not consent if somebody could not be bothered to prepare for the meeting and read the proposal. It’s not consent if someone after an exhausting meeting simply does not care and says “I have no objection” just to get it over with. It’s not consent if somebody misunderstood the problem, or (part of) the proposal.

The consequence of no consent is no agreement. No agreement is fine as long as there’s a shared understanding that there’s no agreement. Thinking we have an agreement, when in fact we don’t, is dangerous.

We may be tempted to believe that this just a problem for the individual: even if they misunderstood the proposal, they still have to adhere to the agreement. In fact, however, this is a massive risk for the whole circle: Without consent, we have not used all the knowledge available to determine that the proposal is good enough for now and safe enough to try. In other words, the proposal may very well be not be good enough, or not safe enough to try.

Understanding this will change our paradigm: For an organization to build a solid culture of “informed” consent it requires a lot more than just sticking to the meeting format and holding each individual accountable for their consent. We now hold everyone accountable for us all understanding that everyones consent is essential. For supporting each other to make sure there is consent, for watching out for each other, and creating a space where it is possible for each and every one of us to engage with each and every decision. Again and again, every time we make an agreement.

This is why we love proposal forming so much, it gives everyone the space and time to engage with a problem. The chances that we all understand a proposal we co-created are just so much higher. This is also why the tuners need to be aware of the rest of the group while tuning a proposal: the amount of creativity they can bring into the proposal when bridging ideas or adding new ones is limited to what the rest of the circle can consume and still achieve consent. With every circle, this changes over time, so we need to constantly watch it.

So sometimes you might say, “I have a concern: I do not think this is good enough for now and safe enough to try, because I’m afraid that some of us did not understand the proposal.” And if that happens over and over again, there’s a tension to be processed.