Support Polling

While consensus is desirable in the SDM process, it is not always mandatory. Often the exploration of trade-offs leads to a clearly preferred solution and a consensus is achieved. Even when it doesn’t, the structured exploration of trade-offs and documentation of areas of agreement and disagreement will, at minimum, narrow the set of alternatives under consideration, and inform the ultimate decision makers about the key trade-offs and uncertainties associated with them.

Support polling is one tool that can be used to clarify where participants in an SDM process are at with respect to supporting the alternatives. In this method, each person is asked to rate the current array of alternatives using agreed-to terms such as “Endorse”, “Accept” or “Oppose”, where for example:


means the party fully supports the option. “I think this is a good/great/best solution.”​ Parties may endorse more than one alternative.


means the party supports the alternative, even if they have some reservations. “I can live with this option. It may not be my first choice, but I’ll support it”​.


means the party is unable to support the option. “I don’t think it can be part of a successful solution.”​​

Many groups define consensus as any time all parties either endorse or accept a proposal.

Reasons are documented and become part of the record. Documenting reasons is particularly important for any party who Accepts or Opposes. In earlier iterations of an extended process, asking ‘what would it take to move you to an Accept or an Endorse” is a great way to create the next round of alternatives.

The figure below shows an example of the results of a support-polling matrix. It makes clear that all parties have either endorsed or accepted an alternative called “Bouldin Island”.


TAC Member Bacon Island Bouldin Island Holland Tract Webb Tract
Participant 1 Accept Endorse Oppose Oppose
Participant 2 Accept Endorse Accept Oppose
Participant 3 Accept Endorse Oppose Accept
Participant 4 Endorse Endorse Accept Accept
Participant 5 Oppose Endorse Endorse Oppose
Participant 6 Endorse Endorse Accept Accept
Participant 7 Accept Endorse Accept Accept
Participant 8 Accept Endorse Accept Endorse
Participant 9 Accept Accept Accept Endorse
Participant 10 Endorse Endorse Accept Accept

Some parties may wish to abstain. If they do, it’s good to try to establish what message they want to send with the abstention. It could be any of the following, and each has its own implications for what to do next: 

  • I abstain because I need more time to check-in with other people in my community 
  • Implication: we’re not ready yet to make a decision 
  • I abstain because I’m indifferent about the outcome 
  • Check – does this implicitly mean ‘accept’, in which case that is a better way to record the level of support. 
  • I abstain because I can live with the outcome but I don’t want to be seen doing so 
  • Again, confirm, privately if need be, that there will be no attempt to oppose the outcome.