Consensus Formation, the Ninety Minute Model
Value and Restricted Potential of the Model
The "Ninety Minute Model" has potential mainly in
an audience already deeply committed to various values of
family farming. This removes the consensus formation from
a negotiating activity to an exercise in making explicit and
consistent values already deeply held and pursued. Consequently
it has the potential of getting significant work done in an
hour and a half.
This activity is definitely worthwhile because
it enables the community which holds those values to define
itself in an authoritative way, the authority deriving from
the common agreement. The consensus by no means compels others
outside the community to agree to the values, but it does
enable them to know what that community itself believes to
be its values. If the community cannot state its values, confirmed
by an explicit agreement, why would it expect others to know
what its values are, let alone support them?
The authority bearing consensus is one of the
values which the Soul of Agriculture pursues since so much
of the public and so many policy makers have no where else
to turn in finding an answer to the question: Why is family
managed farming worthwhile to protect and augment.
Winning Sponsorship and Support
Organizers of this activity may encounter a special difficulty
in getting conference planners and knowledgeable and committed
speakers and discussion leaders to volunteer time and energy
to this activity-in this friendly environment-because it seems
like "preaching to the choir" until its policy-impacting
potential is pointed out clearly. When that is seen, the value
of sponsoring a Soul workshop or panel is quickly accepted.
It seems at least plausible that a strong statement of the
values of family managed farming and the ethical commitments
needed to sustain those values, in a friendly group, could
be hammered out in a relatively short period of time.
Plan and act as if, in 90 minutes, you could
get most of the audience to agree that we have a basis for
a short statement on the values of family farming which could
be further polished by continued communication, possibly by
e-mail, between all willing to participate in the final polishing.
And the same might be done (with less confidence--in my opinion)
with a statement of the ethical commitments corresponding
to the values.
1. Preparation: Two or three panelists
will spend a month or more just listing for themselves a range
of values (goods, benefits, advantages) which family managed
farming actually or potentially has a superior ability to
produce or protect, goods that would be sorely missed if family
farming disappears, goods that industrial, absentee centralized
management would be unlikely or with grave difficulty able
Try to make the description of those values
one line each with maybe one line to support it. E.g. Family
managed farms have a natural potential to care more for the
environment. (support: because they and their children and
neighbors must live in it, and are likely to love its beauty
and health.) Fill one page (maybe two) with brief value statements.
The draft consensus document Creating a New Vision of Farming,
which the major Soul of Agriculture meeting (November 1997
in Minneapolis) created the content for, has examples of such
one-line value statements under "First Task, Values"
and this page has them listed at #4 below, with a handy downloadable
format for use with an overhead projector at #4b. Values are
grammatically nouns and, therefore, not statements at all.
But typically the value will be introduced in a complete sentence
such as "Family managed farming tends to produce more
and better employment in a rural communities where it is the
dominant production unit." One can shorten that to: "Vigorous
family farming produces employment in rural communities where
Make enough copies for your audience and a transparency
of use on an overhead projector.
2. Presentation: Each speaker will have
5 to 10 minutes to go over their list with the audience which
will have copies of the list. At this point only brief questions
and clarifications will be invited. When all presenters are
done with clarifying their list of values, the floor will
be opened to the audience with the encouragement by the chair
that this is their chance to add, subtract, critique and amend
any of the value lists. The panelists will dialogue with audience
at this time
If there is evidence of passivity in the audience,
the chair may try to stir things up by going over the overheads
and asking for a floor vote (show of hands) on content, on
wording, on priority. Dissenters will be asked to suggest
changes, which would gain their assent
After 20 minutes the chair will indicate that
the gathered suggestions (gathered on a black-board or paper
easels and on tape) will be worked on by the panelists and
submitted for consideration and added polishing by consulting
with the sign-up (and e-mail) list being collected during
The three panelists will again take their turns
at the overhead projector presenting their lists of moral
principles (ethical commitments) needed to sustain the values.
Some examples of principles can also be seen in Creating
a New Vision of Farming at "Second Task, Ethical
Principles" and at #5b below. Use the same format as
for the values presentation. After all are done, the floor
will be opened again for the remainder of the time.
3. Polishing: After the panel, panelists
and chair will convene briefly to divide the work of trying
to reconcile the gathered suggestions etc. If need be, the
materials can be put in some fairly manageable form and sent
to a regional or national Soul of Agriculture coordinator
along with the audience e-mail list.
4. Comments on This Model: This web-site's
DISUSS page is partially devoted to collecting your comments
on consensus formation activities. We need to learn by doing,
by our mistakes as well as our successes. Hence if this format
seems destructively restrictive, please let us know. Send
comments to [email protected]
for inclusion in DISCUSS. We do need a model of consensus
formation which can work efficiently in a friendly group.
This may not be the model, but it is worth a try.