3 July 2013: Consensual Systems Workshop

Thanks again for an inspiring couple of hours! The question what is consent, consensus and how do we achieve it, is very interesting.
- workshop participant

On 3 July, another group came together to edit three new editions of The Beginners Guide to Consent zine. After trying and contrasting various different democratic methods for doing this, participants invented their own systems.

Un/democratic Systems

In the first round, an editor was chosen by the group to select her favourite texts for the zine. In the next round, they were given the opportunity to comment on her choices by using the "Like" button taken from Facebook. Some used this button incorrectly, placing it upside-down to indicate dislike - but this misuse was corrected when the results were counted, meaning that some of the most unpopular texts came out at the top. The top four texts in this round went into edition #4.

In round three, an opportunity to veto was introduced, on the condition of a forfeit: taking a drink from a glass of soapy water. Surprisingly, three people made use of their veto to remove disliked texts for the next round.


The online organizing tool eConsensus gives various options beyond 'yes' or 'no' for commenting on proposals. We used these to elicit more nuanced responses than in previous rounds. But how to interpret the results? Include texts with the most positive comments, an absence of ambivalent comments, or simply those generating the most comments in total? The group decided on this latter option to create edition #5.

Invented Systems

Each participant proposed a new system, for choosing which texts to include in edition #6.
These included:

  • An online voting interface which doesn't actually count user's votes, but produces the same result regardless of input (giving the experience of consultation without the messy results).
  • An ongoing 'loop' in which chosen texts are set aside from the main collection, and participants take it in turns to remove one text from the chosen group and swap it with another one. Repeat until nobody wants to swap any texts. (This system was hijacked in practice by one person who refused to stop swapping when the rest of the group had settled upon a consensus.)
  • An elaborate 'matrix' in which each participant scores every text against every other (below).

Combined results from the last two were used to produce edition #6.


Each text is referred to by its letter, in the left column. While each different system was 'democratic' in some way, results did not stay static across the different systems and were influenced significantly by the design of the system used to reach agreement.

The top 4 texts in each round were selected for the zine. Key: first place, second place, third place, fourth place, fifth or below.

Editors Pick Facebook 'Likes' of Editors Pick eConsesus comments on Editors Pick eConsensus: Total Comments Mariska's Matrix Mariella's Swapping Loop
U 3 Consent, Danger 2 1st place
S 3 0 4th place
I 1 Consent, Question 2 3rd place
P 1 Danger, Danger, Concerns, Comment 4 5th place
K 0 0 4th place
R 0 Consent, Consent, Concerns, Question 4 2nd place
C 0 0 6th place
X 0 0 7th place
Edition 4 Edition 5 Edition 6