On consensing…

[updated 2011, 2019].
We live in a much faster-paced world today than our ancestors did, and we have to make decisions very quickly (something that, as it turns out, I really, really suck at… but less of that, and more about what I intended to write about in the first place).

We like to reduce decision-making to the equivalent of answering a multiple-choice questionnaire. Take ordering fastfood, or the way our voting systems work, for example (pick one: candidate A, B or C, etc).

Unfortunately, there are several situations in which the ease of eliciting responses to a random survey will vary inversely with the usefulness of the responses – especially for complex surveys. More to the point:

1) the scope (applicability) of solutions founded on rapidly-made, quantised responses to a survey probably miss a lot of edge cases (laws of requisite variety)
2) solution-fit decays over time anyway, regardless of whether those solutions are based on good or bad responses to a problem or survey.

If the above hunches are true, it may be useful to move away from closed, uni-directional surveys / polls / rating systems and toward something that I like to call consensing… in which a consensus is not a shared set of agreements or compromises, but rather a sort of computed sum of values, based on reiterable surveys (or some other mechanism for discovery of peoples positions on important matters), whose impact is realized on a case by case basis, in real time. The “value network” yielding each impact is open for all to see, and the consensing participants may respond differently (new choices, new values, etc).

If there was a method by which new positions could reconfigure the basis of the original enquiry (e.g affect its goals or change its assumptions) then the enquiry and the response set both become a unified system that can evolve toward a more useful basis for decision-making. Essentially, ‘consensing’ is the grativation toward a useful attractor in the enquiry-response system. The ideal (and perhaps only) way to support that is through openness and transparency. Too often (unless it is a largely-pointless web poll), the cumulative results of important surveys, quizzes and questionnaires are not made available to, or shared with, the respondents.

I think something that would set consensing apart is to allow respondents to observe, in real-time, the accretion of their own (and collective) choices, and any metadata (e.g. reasoning or supposed rationale – perhaps this latter also quantised in some way) that supports such responses, and to have at their disposal tools which bring to the fore emerging patterns and shifts in value systems, affiliations among respondents, gaming strategies being employed to manipulate the enquiry / its outcomes, and so on…


*If you’d read my post about jobs for futurists, you’d know what a ‘Consenser’ was. You might even be planning to shed your current career in order to pursue this decidedly vague occupation…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *