EAF Steps

Consultation tools


  • The goal of conflict management is not to avoid conflict, but to apply skills that can help people to express their differences and solve their problems for win-win, or mutually beneficial, outcomes.
  • Closely related to conflict management, consensus building is the term used for a number of collaborative decision-making techniques in which a facilitator or mediator assists diverse or competing interest groups to agree on contentious policy issues, management objectives, or other matters for which consensus rather than majority decisions are being pursued.
  • These tools are useful at many points in policy and planning cycles, and management as well, to reduce the actual or potential levels of conflict amongst diverse stakeholders so that decision processes can be more positive and productive.


Given the valuable resources and high levels of human activity that characterize coastal areas, there are inevitably competing and conflicting claims over the allocation and use of such resources. While the resolution of conflict is one of the central concerns of any legal system and courts may have an important part to play in resolving disputes in coastal areas. Traditional `top-down' legislative processes and litigation through the courts have often proved to be ineffective methods of regulating competing interests and addressing conflicts concerning natural resources and the environment.

Dissatisfaction with conventional litigation and rule-making processes has led to a growing trend in favor of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) techniques in the context of natural resource and environmental management. These techniques include arbitration, mediation and direct negotiation, and alternative means of regulating to avoid or manage conflict, such as negotiated rule-making. Since these techniques aim to engage the disputants actively in seeking a result acceptable to all the parties involved, they are likely to be more effective in the ICAM context.

Figure 1 Managing ConflictModified from Scialabba, N. (ed.) 1998
Figure 1 Managing Conflict

Conflict Resolution

Being social interactions, conflicts have many dimensions that should be properly understood before interventions are made. Often there will be more than one source of conflict. Correct identification of the nature of the source of the conflict requires getting past the symptoms until the root cause(s) are reached. Potential sources of conflict include:

• Relationships – values, beliefs, prejudices, past injustices, poor communication.

• Information – poor quality information, misinformation, differing interpretations.

• Interests – perceived or actual; substantive/physical or intangible/perceptual.

• Structures – institutions, authority, resource flows, time constraints, financing.

There are several stages in conflict management and negotiation. The following apply to most methods:

• Initiation – a stakeholder or outsider invites help to manage the conflict.

• Preparation – conflict analysis, information sharing, rules, participant selection.

• Negotiation – articulating interests and win-win options, packaging desired options.

• Agreement – concluding jointly on best option package, recording final decisions.

• Implementation – publicizing outcomes, signed agreement (optional).

Consensus Building

Consensus is a decision making process that works creatively to include all persons making the decision. It is the most powerful decision process as all members agree to the final decision as all participants have a direct voice and veto power. In short consensus takes into account and validates each participant and everyone gets the opportunity to voice their opinion, or block a proposal if they feel strongly enough about a decision.

A consensus means overwhelming agreement, which is not the same as unanimous. It is important that consensus be the product of a good-faith effort to meet the interests of all stakeholders. The key indicator of whether or not a consensus has been reached is that everyone agrees they can live with the final proposal. This therefore also differs from a majority rule outcome which rather than focusing on producing the best possible outcome for everyone, majority-rule decisions almost guarantee an unhappy minority and instability with the minority biding their time, awaiting an opportunity to sabotage the group's outcome.

Most dispute resolution professionals believe that groups or assemblies should seek unanimity, but settle for overwhelming agreement that goes as far as possible toward meeting the interests of all stakeholders. It is absolutely crucial that this definition of success be clear at the outset. Before the parties in a consensus building process come together, mediators (or facilitators) can play an important part in helping to identify the right participants, assist them in setting an agenda and clarifying the ground rules by which they will operate, and even in "selling" recalcitrant parties on the value to them of participating. Once the process has begun, mediators (facilitators) try to assist the parties in their efforts to generate a creative resolution of differences. During these discussions or negotiations, a mediator may accompany a representative back to a meeting with his or her constituents to explain what has been happening.

The mediator might serve as a spokesperson for the process if the media are following the story. A mediator might (with the parties' concurrence) push them to accept an accord (because they need someone to blame for forcing them to back-off the unreasonable demands they made at the outset).

Finally, the mediator may be called upon to monitor implementation of an agreement and re-assemble the parties to review progress or deal with perceived violations or a failure to live up to commitments.

EAF Tool Tips

In EAF, consensus building is especially important at the levels of policy goals and plan objectives where reaching harmonious agreement on big issues paves the way for subsidiary agreements on numerous smaller technical and institutional issues. For example, an agreement on how agricultural and fisheries development should mesh with tourism may set the stage for comprehensive watershed and coastal management encompassing both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Without consensus at a higher policy level on how these economic sectors are either related or integrated, using and interpreting sectoral performance indicators could be difficult.

In the highly technical situations common in EAF negotiations, there may be serious disparities in the capacities of stakeholder groups to interpret and use the information provided. In such situations it may be necessary, as part of the process, to allocate specialist expertise to groups in need. Mutually beneficial outcomes can usually only be realized if participants progress from negotiating on the basis of positions to negotiating in keeping with their underlying interests.

EAF Tool Synergy

This can be used in conjunction with the other facilitation skills and tools.

EAF Tool Usage



Low, High

Depending upon how many participants there are, how long the process runs for and who needs to be employed, this can be a quick and inexpensive approach or very long and expensive.

EAF Tool Capacity

Moderate – High

This requires a good to excellent facilitator.

Background Requirements


No formal data are required. The information required is an understanding of peoples concerns and likely roadblocks and non-negotiable outcomes.


Moderate - High

Consensus can work with groups as small as 5, groups of 300, or more people. Within a small group consensus tends to be simpler if all the group participants are kept abreast of each other's activities and all the factors of the decision. Within groups of 300 or so, consensus takes different shapes: the group might have a single facilitator, and the 300 members may be arranged into mini-groups using consensus and with one spokesperson who then speaks to the larger group.

Time Range

Short – Long

This may only take an hour or two, but it could go for a long period (days to months).

Source of Information

Scialabba, N. (ed.). 1998 Integrated coastal area management and agriculture, forestry and fisheries. FAO Guidelines. Internet resource
A short guide to consensus building Internet resource
Consensus Building Institute Internet resource
Consensus: How to and Why Internet resource


How Consensus Building Works

(modified from https://www.msu.edu/~corcora5/org/consensus.html?pagewanted=all#guide)

  1. Presentation
    The proposal is presented as clearly as possibly by its author(s).
  2. Clarifying Questions
    Questions are asked by anyone about the proposal to make sure that everyone understands it before you discuss it.
  3. Discussion
    The proposal is discussion and debated. Possible amendments to the proposal are made at this time. The author(s) always reserves the right to alter the proposal as s/(t)he(y) see fit. (If it is only a caucus, this is the last step.)
  4. Take general feelings on the proposal
    These can be registered through a straw poll, by a round robin or once-round all members, or through some signal such as thumbs up/middle/down. This can be used to modify the original proposal, consider going forth with a vote, or scrapping it altogether.
  5. Call for Major Objection or Strong Concern

A single Major Objection may block the proposal from passing. If you have a major objection it means that you cannot live with the proposal if it passes. If it is so objectionable to you/those you represent that you will stop the proposal from passing. A major objection isn't an "I don't really like it" or an "I liked the other idea better." It is an "I cannot live with this proposal if it passes, and here's why ...!" A general I don’t like it doesn't mean it is a major objection, a proposal can still pass if there is dislike but with no major objections.

A Strong Concern does not block the passing of a proposal, but it is a public statement of why you dislike it (so you can say 'I told you so!' later...). All strong concerns are written in the minutes of the meeting or otherwise recorded by the group note-taker.

Does the Proposal Pass?

  • If the feelings of the group are generally positive and there are no major objections, then the proposal passes.
  • If general feelings are positive, but someone has a major objection to the proposal, the proposal doesn't pass. It may get sent to a reconciliation committee, or withdrawn and reworked on and re-presented at a later date.
  • If the group feelings are generally negative, the proposal doesn't pass.
  • If the group feelings are mixed, not generally positive or negative, discussion continues, or the proposal is tabled until the next meeting, or until more information is available.

If discussion seems to be going on forever without the possibility of resolution, the group can:

  • decide to drop the proposal;
  • move onto approval voting of specific options within the proposal; or
  • send the proposal to a 'reconciliation committee' - or perhaps the original author - for rewriting to work out the objections.

Some Guidelines for Reaching Consensus

  1. Present your position as lucidly and logically as possible, but listen to other members' reactions and consider them carefully before you press your point. Avoid arguing solely for your own ideas.
  2. Do not assume that someone must win and someone must lose when discussion reaches stalemate. Instead look for the next-most-acceptable alternative for all parties.
  3. Distinguish between major objections and discomfiture or amendments. A major objection is a fundamental disagreement with the core of the proposal.
  4. Do not change your mind simply to avoid conflict and to reach agreement and harmony. When agreement seems to come too quickly and easily, be suspicious, explore the reasons and be sure that everyone accepts the solution for basically similar or complementary reasons. Yield only to the positions that have objective and logically sound foundations.
  5. Avoid conflict-reducing techniques such as majority vote, averages, and bargaining. When a dissenting member finally agrees, don't feel that s/he must be rewarded by having hir own way on some later point.
  6. Differences of opinion are natural and expected. Seek them out and try to involve everyone in the decision process. Disagreements can help the group's decision because with a wide range of information and opinions, there is a greater chance the group will hit on more adequate solutions.
  7. Decision making through consensus involves discussion and accountability of view points as opposed to power struggles. Postponement of decisions to give time to reconsider and recognize that all people participating are able to accept and work with the decision is vital to the consensus process.
  8. Remember that the ideal present behind consensus is empowering versus overpowering, agreement versus majorities/minorities. The process of consensus is what you put into it as an individual and a part of the group.
  9. Finally, use your minds -- you've got good ones or you wouldn't be here. So think before you speak; listen before you object. Through participating in the consensus process, one can gain insight into not only others but also oneself.

Powered by FIGIS