A consensus conference is a process that brings together citizens to discuss an emerging issue. It provides a forum in which discussion can take place without being dominated by experts.
Consensus conferences offer a way of obtaining and understanding informed citizens' views on controversial issues. The outcomes can be used to develop materials on the subject for public use as well as to inform media debates on the issue. In general, consensus conferences are used for issues that achieve national prominence and where the debates have been monopolised by expert voices.
- Participants are chosen who do not have a direct stake in the issue under discussion.
- The process should be deliberative with participants meeting on more than one occasion.
- Participants are provided with information and the opportunity to question experts (for example researchers or companies developing technologies).
- The outcome of the conference is usually a report that highlights the points of agreement (consensus) between participants.
Consensus reports illustrate aspects of the issue on which there is general agreement. However, it is anticipated that there will also be many points of disagreement.
Consensus conferences are normally conducted with a view to publicising the outcome widely. Consequently, a strategy to maximise your impact should be developed at the start of the project.