rough consensus (was Re: "trouble maker")

Dave Crocker dhc at
Wed Jun 25 13:27:10 CEST 2003


JS> "What is rough consensus?" How rough is "rough"?

JS> Unfortunately, this was not particular well-defined even tho it is one
JS> general answer of "rough consensus" are super-super majority.
JS> The general figure is >75%-80% but bear in mind that we dont "vote",

From RFC 2418, IETF Working Group Guidelines and Procedures:

   3.3. Session management

   Working groups make decisions through a "rough consensus" process.
   IETF consensus does not require that all participants agree although
   this is, of course, preferred.  In general, the dominant view of the
   working group shall prevail.  (However, it must be noted that
   "dominance" is not to be determined on the basis of volume or
   persistence, but rather a more general sense of agreement.) Consensus
   can be determined by a show of hands, humming, or any other means on
   which the WG agrees (by rough consensus, of course).  Note that 51%
   of the working group does not qualify as "rough consensus" and 99% is
   better than rough.  It is up to the Chair to determine if rough
   consensus has been reached.

The rest of that sub-section has useful discussion about the pragmatic
aspects of assessing rough consensus.

While the definition of rough consensus is not mathematical, I believe
it actually is pretty clear:

If we can tell what the "dominant" view of the group is, then there is
rough consensus.

References to super-super majorities and numbers like 75% are merely
ways of suggesting what it takes to make a dominant view clear without
having formal measurement methodologies.

The nature of the rough consensus approach to decision-making is not
just that we don't have membership. It is recognition that mathematical
majority doesn't mean much if there is inadequate community support for
a decision.

If there is rough consensus, then there is *clear* community support for
the decision. Even if there is a vigorous minority calling for a
different outcome, our being able to see that there is a rough consensus
*in favor* of the decision gives us some hope that the decision will
mean forward progress and community *use* of the decision.

Of course, rough consensus does not mean much if there is no one
participating.  75% of 6 people is not going to mean much about
community use.

 Dave Crocker <mailto:dcrocker at>
 Brandenburg InternetWorking <>
 Sunnyvale, CA  USA <tel:+1.408.246.8253>, <fax:+1.866.358.5301>

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