Have you heard of Community Consensus Institutes? You need to. It is a game-changing social technology for knowledge sharing and peer to peer support.

With community consensus, the facilitator is “a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage.” In building consensus, the facilitator has minimal input beyond asking questions that work in line with human physiology. When humans are faced with some sort of stressor, their brain immediately goes into survival mode, fight or flight, or freeze.

The mind does not go to their hopes and opportunities for the stressful event. The consensus building process recognizes this natural automatic response and quiets the survival mode through acknowledgment of the situation. Once this is done, the brain is more able to move to best possible outcomes, which is a higher brain function and assess what is good for the community.

The consensus building process works with this natural process to move participants to their desired outcomes. Participants are asked a series of deceptively simple questions about what they want, why they seek that particular outcome and what stands in their way. The process, which entails deep and respectful listening, unleashes a powerful change of state.

Conflicts arise when one party feels their perspective is being ignored or walked over. By creating a frank and open dialogue in a safe environment, a new shared outcome organically emerges. Once people have a common goal, their joint efforts are more conducive to positive results.

The Community Consensus Institute is an experiential training program that builds participants’ ability to successfully resolve conflict using a consensus building approach.

Jeff Goebel of About Listening and Associates (who leads Community Consensus) has developed a highly effective program of respectful listening, visioning and planning that attains complex and long-lasting change through 100% consensus with all parties. He is one of the few world lead facilitators of the late Bob Chadwick’s work. See Finding New Ground, Robert J. Chadwick for this work.

Why Consensus Building for the Land Regen Group?

“Land Regen Group” is an Australian company dedicated to rural people and natural systems engineering in agro-ecosystems. As part of their approach the Land Regeneration Group will be using consensus facilitation in support of landholder partners managing some 30 million hectares who are keen to transition to regenerative production systems. Land Regen Group is the regional coordinator for “Restore North” the northern region of the “Restore Australia Project”, which is a $250 million program managed by Global Evergreening Alliance (The Alliance) on behalf of ARC 2030.

The Alliance is a not-for-profit platform established to facilitate a collaborative approach to address global problems including climate change and land degradation. ARC 2030 unites private capital, global citizens and builders both corporate and individual to fund, at scale and pace, regeneration projects across five key regions to catalyse regeneration across 500 million hectares globally.

Expected to begin within months, the “Restore Australia Project” goals are to greatly increase perennial vegetative biomass, build soil carbon, and promote collaboration and create value chain opportunities for landholders. By creating seed funding and a collaborative working network, the Restore Australia Project aims to create a cultural change in the way land managers, consultants and the wider community interact.

The world needs a commercially viable and actionable set of solutions to improve soil health and increase carbon drawdown. Increasing climate extremes and rapidly diminishing returns for graziers and farmers demand this. The partnership between Land Regen Group and the Consensus Institute encourages stakeholders to engage in a broader conversation critical to people and the planet. This focused conversation is about building longevity, profitability and resilience, a serious commercial proposition good for graziers, good for the environment. As stations are businesses not environmental charities.

Why a New Approach to Work Collaborative?

In total, Jeff has 28 years’ experience with Consensus facilitation, 40 years’ experience in Conflict resolution and 50 years of close friendship and collaboration with Bob Chadwick. He is a leading expert working with complex issues and diverse groups of people, helping individuals and communities reach their goals and remove the obstacles that lie in the way.

As an award-winning consultant in private practice, Jeff’s has worked extensively with optimizing land management. He has also optimized motivation, inspiration and performance and resolved internal and within team conflicts in teams from small and large ranches, NGOs through to multinational teams and also hospitals, institutional academia, marital, various levels of businesses, judicial, attorney, restaurant to name a few.

The consensus building process can be used in all kinds of settings. He has an affinity for taking care of our earth and minority and indigenous related conflicts that include injustice, inequity and resolving different cultural norms.

Jeff is focused on conflict resolution through consensus building, serving organizations, groups, and families confronting complex issues, involving multiple agendas, and seeking lasting solutions. In this video: Consensus and Life Focus, Jeff talks about the importance of “the circle” in facilitating groups coming to consensus. And how his highly effective program of respectful listening, visioning and planning attains long-range and long-lasting change through 100% consensus and commitment of all parties.

Mali, West Africa. Resolving the farming conflicts of power between men and women (2001).

“Conventional ways of working together can result in slow adoption and resistance for adoption of intended outcomes,” Jeff says. “The most influential way to effect change is to make the notion of desirable change possible.” This can happen with a process that accelerates adoption of solutions by allowing humans to willingly evolve the way they think and act. Then, an effective way forward is possible. A way to facilitate transformational change.

“To remove barriers to solutions, I train leaders to facilitate conflict-resolving processes. The process begins by identifying issues and the diverse group surrounding the issues. I focus on how to successfully resolve conflict through consensus building in these conflict theme areas: change, scarcity, stereotypes, power, participatory democracy, one-on-one conflicts and diversity.

Managing Change

Managing change is an area where people experience conflict, either between different views of change or knowing change needs to happen and people don’t know how to undertake the change.

The consensus facilitation process theory of change works like this. The consensus-based process acknowledges two types of change. Most people typically default to one of them, called modificational change. This is often called strategic planning, which is a modification of current activities focusing on strategies and actions. The consensus building work primarily addresses transformational change.

Transformational change is where we adjust our core beliefs and behaviors. As a result, we have a different, more desirable outcome. Transformation change comes from being able to listen with respect to other people in a safe environment. From understanding and facing our fears and shifting to what our best hopes are. This allows us to do what seems to be impossible.

Fear is what paralyses us and prevents us from change, whether the fears are real or imagined. Once our fears are acknowledged, we can imagine possibilities beyond our limited imaginations. Once we imagine our desired outcomes, we can make our best hopes happen.

We gather new information through a process of inquiry. This process crafts, as a body of people, what this change will look like. At this point all people will say we need to do this transformational change. When they say these are the conditions necessary, we learn the strategies and actions that if you act on these, you will see transformational change happen, and it happens rapidly. That’s because we have addressed the fears and our core beliefs and behaviors have changed.

This is what we do, it works, and the process increases change for people. It facilitates rapid shifts in thinking and behavior. When these concepts are applied to real life situations like the LRG, this process can minimize lack of action, lack of commitment or even sabotage, power struggles between individuals, attaining margin success with outcomes and not attaining a fuller potential for the parties involved.

The Power of Consensus Building – Going Slow to Go Fast

Jeff’s approach begins with seeking to understand the root causes of conflict, identifying all the individuals involved, and bringing them together in a collaborative process of visioning, trust building, and negotiation. This empowers all parties with the conflict and ensures that all voices are heard and all interests are considered in the final decision. His vision of social harmony and sustainability is rooted in the belief that as humans, we are all endowed with the ability to identify our needs, articulate our interests and respond responsibly and respectfully to our social and biological world.

The facilitator helps “quiet” the community’s or workplace’s “worst possible outcomes”; that is, their feared future outcomes. And accentuates the “best possible outcomes”; that is, their hopes. By measuring these intentions, one can understand the direction the community is moving. Sometimes this change happens rapidly and at times the change is more subtle and unfolding over a couple of years. A telling indicator for the need for change is when the community’s present situation matches their worst possible outcomes. These communities are focused on fear. The communities usually have a strong desire to get unstuck and move toward their hopes. We have a history of communities moving towards their best possible outcomes.

The Real Stuff! – Where Has Consensus Building Been Successfully Used?

Jeff’s largest project was with the Colville Indian Reservation, bringing all natural resource department programs into harmony. The tribal government operated with a $55 million annual revenue and when the tribal enterprises were added the total was approximately $250 million dollars of revenue. The Tribal Business Council consisted of fourteen elected officials representing twelve bands of indigenous people. There were 1,500 employees at the Tribe, 250 government programs, 8000 tribal members and 25,000 people living in close proximity of the reservation. The initial reason for a new approach was the inefficient and ineffective process to get timber sales designed and implemented in a timely manner in order to maintain a constant flow of revenue to the tribal government. There was tremendous resistance from tribal interests in culture and the environment. The successful solution required a consensual, more holistic perspective to address the complexity of a large American Indian tribe on a large, diverse land base. Not only did we resolve the local issues, the work was involved with writing new national policy because of the success.

A significant example—Jeff served as Project Coordinator for the Washington State University-WK Kellogg Foundation Holistic Management Project. This was a $2.5 million, five-year joint project, which included the Colville Tribe as an investor, to bring 160 diverse people together across the state of Washington for an educational intervention toward sustainable outcomes. The 160 people consisted of roughly half being farmers and ranchers, ten federal and state agencies, five tribes, environmental community members and university and extension faculty. This project used the consensus building process entirely through the project with administration and management, as well as in the on-the-ground delivery. It has had amazing impacts over the last 25 years and still to this day.

Examples of other clients include the USAID in Mali, National Geographic Society, federal and state agencies, rancher to rancher projects, and various tribes across the United States. Projects also included complex eco-restoration and socio-economic renewal programs in Molokai, healthy soil restoration in Navajo, restoration of the pastoral way of life for the Maasai in Kenya.

Recently, Jeff used Consensus facilitation highly effectively in co-leading the development of the New Mexico Healthy Soil Act, which resulted in quick legislative passage with near consensual backing and has evolved into a very highly energized program within New Mexico. Other groups across the United States are adopting the approach for their own successes.

New Mexico, USA. Graziers and government officials meeting to resolve water, community and grazing conflicts (2018).

Listening, Consensus and Lifting Past Primary Impediments

Consensus facilitation is about listening and improving the exchange possible for people and projects. During 2019 not for profit charity Regenerate Earth and Tropical Sustainable Ag, then later social enterprise Ag Talent undertook extensive action research to identify the primary impediments to the uptake of regenerative agriculture.

Regenerative Agriculture is agriculture for the twenty-first century is a system of farming and grazing principles and practices that increases productivity by restoring natural processes and building resilience in the landscape. It reduces the need for costly chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicide. It also increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves capture of rainfall and improves the function of watersheds. This results in increased net profit for farmers, improved environment and increased vitality for rural communities.

With these increased prospects for prosperity, you would think graziers and farmers would be changing their practices expediently. While the number has been increasing over the past 15 years, particularly so over the last five, speed of uptake is slow because there are many impediments.

Regenerative agriculture usually involves a whole system change, not a single practice; i.e., new crop species, or new planting technique. This makes it difficult to “give it a try.”

A major reason is the overwhelming quantity of publications that big chemical agriculture companies fund on conventional agriculture. Still, decades of quality scientific and applied research by the global communities of organic farming, agroecology, Holistic Management, and agroforestry exists. But there is no coordination, consolidation, curation, no knowledge management in the sector. It results in a lack of optimal resources but an over-abundance of information sources.

Another reason is that graziers and farmers aren’t easily able to explore these innovative new practices privately. As a particularly conservative profession, there is great peer group pressure to be seen to be staying with what is “normal.” Social barriers can be huge, as innovators are usually isolated from each other without peer to peer support.

All graziers and farmers are keen to build resilience, profitability, prosperity and longevity into their landscapes and their operations. To be able to do this there is a need to collaboratively build a trusted network of innovative people undertaking self-directed learning and sharing knowledge.

Consensus, Knowledge Sharing and Regen News

Hence Ag Talent, via their Regen Farming News website, is developing a crowd sourced, online, free, knowledge sharing library that is searchable, promotable, accessible and shareable. Regenerate Earth and Land Regen Group are strong supports and advocates for this. It will make learning and implementing easier by linking people to trusted information, assisted learning and growing a community of practice.

The library is particularly focused from when a rancher or farmer first hears about an innovation. It allows them to find information that helps them gain the trust, confidence and courage they need to attend a field day, workshop or course. This then connects them to the social support they need to begin to trial activities, by connecting them into communities of practice.

In time it will have the functionality for multiple entry points to pop up when a postcode is entered, such as: What can I read/watch/listen to? Who in my area can I talk to? What events are coming up? What are the groups I can join? Dive deeper into a learning program.

Montana, USA. Graziers, extension, and government agencies meeting to address and resolve the issues of the agricultural economy and consequences preventing young people from returning to the station (2016).

Regen News believes it is important for us to build respect and appreciation and understanding of agri-ecosystems and the value they create for land managers, the community and environment.

There are a range of other tools within the Regen Farming News website, which serves as a global hub for the regenerative agriculture industry. It includes daily industry news, training opportunities, events, job, businesses and expert articles presented in a practical and open way.

The team at Regen Farming News are seeking to co-create a freely available global database where people can easily find the world’s best regenerative farming related podcasts, videos, reports, documents, case studies and more. Anyone can contribute to the library and further there are public ratings and reviews to help assure quality.

The term “regenerative farming” is treated as a broad umbrella to capture a range of farming practices and philosophies. The key agricultural themes covered are soil health, carbon farming, landscape health, biodiversity, water, innovation and nutrient density in food. The platform focuses on building an audience of commercial scale farmers in Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada and Europe. However, a following is also growing in India and Africa. The platform aims to provide outreach and engagement to a broader readership than just early adopters of regenerative agriculture practices.

It is focused on regenerative agriculture knowledge and resource sharing in a broad and inclusive way. The term “regenerative agriculture” can be divisive and alienating for a large part of the farming community. Side debates relating to topics such as carnivores versus veganism or climate change derail campaigning for open and fair discussion even further. Regen Farming News aims to counter this by providing a space where ranchers and farmers can learn, stay informed and explore without judgement.

It also focuses on the accessibility of relevant evidence, described and presented in a conservative manner so differing views on climate do not offend.

Consensus Inspired Guiding Statement to Bridge the Divide

The Land Regen Group is catalyzing consensus training for project collaboration to underpin their restoration projects across 30 million hectares in the tropical north of Australia. By starting with the end in sight; i.e., consensus, the projects will co-create shared value outcomes that exceed usual approaches.

Most landholders think they are doing their best. And nearly all are. So let’s be gentle, kind and respectful. And focus on caring for and about rural people, supporting them to transition, not evangelizing climate change. This is the most moral and ethical option and will achieve carbon drawdown faster.

Let’s unite with our desire to provide a service about building resilience and profitability for All landholders. It is every landholder’s right to hear about and explore these innovations on their own terms in their own way, not just people from one frame of reference. Let’s be respectful and make the knowledge available and accessible, in culturally appropriate and neutral language and manner.

We can discuss vegetative biomass, soil health and soil carbon as the integral, uniting theme. Landholders need biodiversity of agri-ecosystems and soil for resilience and profitability. Activists want it removed from the atmosphere and stored in the soil as part of drawdown, one part-solution for global warming. Building vegetative biomass and soil carbon gives landholders stronger social license and the potential to capture more value from their production. Foodies can accelerate and scale this by driving up demand for regenerative food and fiber. It is a win-win solution.

So hard working stewards of the land and advocates are really on one team. We can share a newly formed common goal, based on our differences through a respectful environment. We can be successful together. If we look after people, the planet will look after itself. And for all of us this starts with healthy agri-ecosystems, soil and soil carbon. Providing access to consensus training and information in a cutting-edge blend of technology, shared wisdom and hope can create positive outcomes for all.

Greenvale, Queensland, Australia. Example landscape of the 300mil hectare region of the Restore North project.

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