Group Decision by Consensus: Reaching Unity in the Society of Friends1


  • 1

    Research conducted under NIMH Grant No. R01 MH17421–02 SP.


For over 300 years the members of the Society of Friends (Quakers) have been making group decisions without voting. Their method is to find a ”sense of the meeting’which represents a consensus of those involved. Ideally this consensus is not simply “unanimity,” or an opinion on which all members happen to agree, but a “unity”: a higher truth which grows from the consideration of divergent opinions and unites them all. Friends can “unite” in support of action which shows due consideration to the individuality of each member and to their corporate concerns.

As an illustration of this method, we will analyze in some detail the group process of a Quaker committee as it worked with a difficult social problem over a period of one year. Before beginning the analysis, we will summarize some of the main points in the process of reaching the “sense of the meeting” as it has been described by Friends and others. Also we will review the functional theory of social interaction which will provide the basis for theoretical analysis.