The Q approach to consensus building: integrating diverse perspectives to guide decision-making

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Jonas Geschke, Davnah Urbach, Graham W. Prescott, Markus Fischer


1. Decision-making processes are complex and time-intensive, particularly when a consensus needs to be achieved amongst more than two parties. Discussions and negotiations must consider all relevant stakeholders and their individual perspectives on the decision to be taken. Methods for identifying, understanding, and acknowledging divergent perspectives can support successful consensus building. A tool pointing to those perspectives that have a consensus is missing though.
2. Here, we propose a policy support tool to statistically guide the processes of consensus building around sets of goals or statements, using the Q method. Priority rankings of the goals or statements are used to analyze group perspectives. Our Q approach then expands Q method by consolidating the group perspectives and producing a novel consensus priority score indicating the level of consensual preference or priority for each goal or statement.
3. We demonstrate the applicability of our Q approach in a hypothetical prioritization example involving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Although all 193 United Nation’s member states have agreed upon the 17 SDGs, the implementation of sustainable development measures often requires the prioritization of one or more goals. In the example, we use 40 individual stakeholder perspectives to identify which SDGs should be prioritized to successfully achieve the 2030 Agenda. This is, to satisfy most of the 40 people the best way possible, SGDs 4, 8, and 3. It is important to note that every individual perspective matters.
4. The Q approach to consensus building provides a transparent and replicable method to calculate consensus priority scores for goals or statements of interest and identify those that have medium to high consensus. The approach can be applied to a wide range of situations where diverse perspectives and objectives need to be reconciled and synthesized at a range of scales. It can thereby be applied in consensus building processes from subnational to international levels.



Communication, Environmental Policy, Environmental Studies, Geography, Models and Methods, Policy Design, Analysis, and Evaluation, Political Science, Social and Behavioral Sciences


environmental governance, sustainability governance, policy-making, consensus building, priority setting, Q methodology


Published: 2022-11-11 12:35


CC-BY Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International

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The supplementary materials will be made available once the manuscript has been peer-reviewed or upon request.