Gradients of Agreement can help move groups forward

Gradients of Agreement is a consensus tool that has the ability to allow groups to move forward.

Gradients of agreement scale from endorse to veto.

Michigan State University Extension educators are often asked for consultation on facilitation services for groups. One tool that is taught in the facilitative leadership session, and used by trained staff in facilitation, is known as The Gradients of Agreement Scale. It was developed in 1987 by Sam Kaner, Duane Berger and the staff of Community At Work. It enables members of a group to express their support for a proposal in degrees, along a continuum. Using this tool, group members are no longer trapped into expressing support in terms of yes and no.

The book, Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making, featuring the tool is now in its third edition. It has served as a base for what many refer to as levels of agreement, as it may be adapted to suit the needs of the group.

The tool is outlined in the Facilitative Leadership Participants Guide, which is received by participants enrolling in the facilitative leadership session provided by MSU Extension staff.


Ask the group what consensus means. With a marker, write participants’ thoughts on a flipchart, then give the following definition, “the level of agreement necessary to move a group forward.”

Explain that there are levels of agreement and that some decisions need a high level of agreement, while others need a relatively lower level of agreement. Ask what determines how high a level of agreement is needed.

Answers should get at the importance of the decision, the need for stakeholder support or implementation and so on. Explain that before using any decision-making method, the group must decide on the level of agreement needed. The level of agreement will depend on the number of people needed to agree or strongly agree before moving forward. It will also depend on whether vetoes can be tolerated and if so, the number of vetoes that will be tolerated.

Hand out the Gradients of Agreement 5-Point Scale handout or refer to the flip chart drawing if you made one. Explain that the scale is a polling tool, not a voting tool. For example, polling determines consensus on a topic and stimulates discussion. It gauges where people are on a topic. Voting indicates a win or a loss. Using this tool helps a group push through the groan zone into closure as described in The Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making by Sam Kaner (1996). There are five steps in this cyclical process:

  1. After a time of discussion, have someone suggest a proposal for action or next steps. Write the proposal on a flip chart.
  2. Poll each person in the group to determine his or her level of agreement, putting a check mark for each on the scale. Have them hold explanations until the next step.
  3. Discuss responses round-robin style allowing each person to explain his or her level of agreement or disagreement. Ask those who have the highest level of agreement how the proposal could be modified to better suit those with a lower level of agreement. Then ask those with the lowest level of agreement how the proposal could be modified to better suit those with a higher level of agreement.
  4. Modify the proposal according to the group’s ideas.
  5. Poll the group again. Repeat steps two to five until the necessary level of agreement is reached.

This five-step process repeats a three-step cycle of polling, discussion and modification (steps two to five).


Optionally, before using this tool for a real situation, demonstrate its use with a simple situation such as the following, so participants clearly understand its purpose:

Let’s pretend that after this session we’re all going to go to lunch (or dinner) together. My proposal is that we walk a half mile down the street to an Ethiopian restaurant.

  • First, what level of agreement do we need for this decision?
  • Now let’s poll each of us. Where do you each fall on this scale?

Use the scale on the flip chart and mark each person’s vote. Then, ask each one to explain why. Next, ask those who disagreed most how the proposal could be modified to suit them. Check with the group to be sure there’s agreement before making any modifications. Repeat the polling and modifying process as necessary.

Debrief by asking the whole group some questions to process their experience. Some examples are:

  • How did the tool work for your group?
  • What level of agreement did you think was necessary?
  • How did your level of consensus change from one round to the next?
  • What agreement did you come to?
  • What would you do differently next time?
  • How do you think this tool would work in your real life situations?

Once the group reaches consensus, plan or brainstorm how the proposal will be accomplished.

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