The objective of many public consultation processes is to achieve consensus within a community behind a particular policy or initiative. As discussed below, achieving true consensus around anything other than the most trivial motherhood statement is difficult, if not impossible. And failure to acknowledge this difficulty is one reason that so many public consultations so quickly degenerate into a sales job, in which a local government desperately tries to convince its constituents that their favored course of action is best.
Some believe that, if we can just get citizens together in a room, we can engage in dialog and work rationally towards a consensus. But our view—which is plastered all over our website—is that consensus is not a realistic goal for local government decisions. Before I talk about why consensus does not (and should not) exist, let me backtrack a bit and recount one of my first experiences with consensus:
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