The constitution of the debian operating system project says things like “consistent with the consensus of the opinions of the Developers” at various points but doesn’t say how strong a consensus or how the project will test for consensus. I think those were mistakes, breaking a couple of the conditions for consensus.
Wikipedia’s understanding of consensus is even worse. Wikipedia seems to treat consensus as a synonym for unanimity. Its testing methods allow an infinite loop to form where the casual observer can’t differentiate between a controversial proposal and consensus. I think those were mistakes.
These famous-but-imperfect implementations frequently lead to misdirected rants which seem to misunderstand consensus as requiring perpetual bikeshedding. Apache’s implementation is rather better – and it may surprise you to learn that our co-op is mostly run by consensus.
There are two key differences which I feel makes consensus work for us: we’ve set limits beforehand on some decisions where we need to act fast – where not making a decision would usually be the same as making a bad decision – and our methods of testing for consensus are better. We test for consensus with secret-at-vote-time-but-published-after straw polls, or using Crowd Wise by email.
I summarise Crowd Wise as follows: gather all ideas plus option 0 (do nothing) if possible, carry out a de Borda (preference) voting round 1, merge/amend/consolidate ideas, voting round 2 if needed. It does still work better if participants put their ego aside a little and co-operate, but it does put limits on non-co-operators.
Anyway, as described in Xana/ xana2/ bamamba/ Why Russ is wrong, debian isn’t exactly using consensus much at the moment, anyway. Should we try to fix its bugs? Do you know other projects where consensus is working?