What You Really Need to Know About Consent Agendas

Let’s be honest: we’re all looking for ways to shorten meetings. Enter the consent agenda—an underused tool for streamlining meetings and saving time. Today’s post explains what consent agendas are and how to use them.

First, a Definition

Although it includes the word “agenda,” a consent agenda does not replace the normal meeting agenda. A consent agenda is a single item (usually one of the first) on the overall agenda, and—here’s the key point—it uses a single motion to approve multiple noncontroversial action items. Rather than passing each of these items separately, a consent agenda groups them into one motion that passes without discussion unless there is an objection.

And that’s where the “noncontroversial” part comes in. Items on a consent agenda should pretty much be guaranteed to pass—otherwise your goal of abbreviating discussion is defeated.

At this point, you’re probably thinking—approving all those items in one fell swoop? Passing one quick motion instead of voting six separate times? Sign me up! How do I use it?

According to the Rules

Start by checking whether your parliamentary authority allows consent agendas. Robert’s Rules of Order does not, so if you want to use a consent agenda, your group has to (a) adopt a special rule allowing one whenever proposed or (b) take a vote to allow a consent agenda every time you want to use one.

Protecting Members’ Rights

This might sound like a lot of hassle, but there’s a good reason. Using a consent agenda suspends a basic right of every member—to discuss and vote on each motion. Because a consent agenda takes away that right for a minute by passing multiple motions with no discussion, it requires extra permission.

And because the right to discuss is so important, consent agendas carry an extra safeguard: if even one person wants to discuss a certain item, they can tell the presiding officer, and then that item comes off the consent agenda and is placed back onto the normal agenda.

By default, only one person must object for an item to be pulled off a consent agenda. But a larger body may want to raise that baseline to, for example, 10% of the members, or members from a certain number of regions or districts, to help ensure that the request to remove an item from a consent agenda is representative of the group’s perspective.

The How-To on Using a Consent Agenda

So, what does this look like in action? Here’s a breakdown of the process.

  1. Before the meeting, give notice of your plan to use a consent agenda and provide necessary information on the items that it will include.
  2. During the meeting, when you consider the consent agenda, ask if anyone wants to move an item off the consent agenda. If so, adjust both the consent agenda and the regular agenda. If not, continue.
  3. Ask if there is any objection to adopting the consent agenda.
    • The Chair should say, “Is there any objection to adopting the consent agenda?”
    • After pausing for a few seconds (3 is a good number), if there are no objections, the Chair should say, “Hearing no objection, the consent agenda is adopted.”
    • If someone objects, simply follow the process for taking a voice vote.
  4. Everything adopted by consent agenda should be recorded in the minutes (including the full text of relevant documents). 

And that’s all there is to it. When executed well, a consent agenda can help your group move through things you all agree on, leaving more time to discuss the complicated stuff. And who doesn’t want that?

Part 2—coming soon!—will include details about how to decide which items should go on a consent agenda.

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