On the meaning of “consensus”

There are probably fewer than three people on the entire planet who read the whole of the output of the various online groups that address issues of internet governance. They are all/both academics with a professional interest.

I dip in and out as different topics flare up. I recently dipped into a discussion on the meaning of consensus in the context of ICANN’s  decision-making processes. The writer who caught my eye on this occasion was Milton Mueller. Here is my favourite, slightly edited extract

.….after 18 years….. I have less and less an idea what “consensus” means (within ICANN). The term has been abused so frequently…..I wince every time I hear it. I know what it used to mean – no objection from any engaged party (Quaker consensus). But neither ICANN nor…..anyone except perhaps Quakers actually operate that way.

Of late it seems it has become the fashion in ICANN (and other internet governance quarters) not to refer to a consensus because in truth there never is one. Instead we hear internet governance leaders refer to a rough consensus.  What does Milton make of that?

So  (now) we’re down to “rough consensus” or what I prefer to call “declared consensus” which means in essence that some Working Group chair gets to decide which people/opinions he or she is going to ignore….. 

Elsewhere Milton implies that simply voting isn’t a noticeably superior way of determining matters within ICANN, not least because of the way the weighted voting system itself has been constructed.

Ah well. What can I say? Once Alice followed the rabbit down the hole…..