The Consent Compass

 A brand new framework for navigating consent. Copyright Jenn Wilson 2023

Consent is a part of everyday life – the choices and decisions we make about what we want and what we are willing to do.

Consent is not a one-off, tick-box thing you can get, or give, and then forget about.

Consent is a practice that supports us to take care of ourselves and make meaningful connection with others as we move through life.

The Consent Compass is a framework designed to support this practice and navigate the possibilities and risks that come with navigating your own way. 

Important Note: March 2024 – A big part of consent is accountability. We all make mistakes and get things ‘wrong’. Navigating consent involves trying not to hurt or harm others, recognising when you do, and holding yourself accountable to learn not to repeat or compound this harm. As the author of The Consent Compass I am here to say, I made a mistake and I am learning. This work is, like consent, ongoing – and if anyone says they have ‘the answer’ or the ‘one true way’ to do consent ‘right’, my advice is AVOID THEM! I am reworking the words that follow and will relaunch The Consent Compass very soon. If you want to know when this work is done and this page is updated, sign up for Irregular News now and we can make sure you are kept updated. If I thought the words that follow were fundamentally ‘wrong’ and likely to cause harm, I’d unpublish this page. To be clear, the reworking is a finessing and clarifying, rather than a total overhaul of the whole concept – so for now, this not-quite-what-I-mean version can stand. More soon!

Practicing consent allows us to ARISE beyond our own limiting beliefs.  Consent provides the freedom to challenge and question assumptions, avoid coercion and harm, and move forward with care and for mutual benefit. The acronym ARISE may help you to remember the points of The Consent Compass.

Navigating Consent: Sometimes we may be treading a well-worn, familiar path, making assumptions about how and when it’s OK to proceed.  When we are confident that we know enough about ourselves, each other, and the direction we are taking, those assumptions might be reasonable.  There are many situations where  expectations and assumptions are unhelpful.  We might be in unfamiliar territory, or among new travel companions – we may find ourselves in a space where the risks are higher. Now there’s much more to notice in order to find our way forward safely. 

The Consent Compass points towards CONNECTION, common ground and consensus to continue.

A – Our own individual freedom and capacity is our AGENCY to make choices, bound by our ACCOUNTABILITY for the impact of those choices. Consent requires choices that are:

R – RESPONSIVE to the constant changes happening within and around us

I INFORMED by curiosity, rather than assumptions

S – SPECIFIC and limited by situation, context and people involved

E – EXPLICIT and understood by all those participating

Video Introduction to The Consent Compass – available HERE

More resources coming soon.

We navigate consent within our sphere of influence, operating across concentric circles:

– Inner voice – the self: the permission you give yourself via your internal dialogue or conscience, the expectations you have of yourself in relation to others

  • Inter- personal, between individuals, usually in dialogues such as parent and child, two or three friends, doctor and patient, lovers, or work colleagues
  • Group dynamics, including peer pressure and social standards, rules (written or unwritten) in specific group situations, such as a workplace culture, place of worship, larger friendship group, night club, or sports crowd.
  • Systemic or socio- cultural – the hierarchies and privileges of social and cultural systems that we accept (or don’t) and perpetuate, systems of state or government.

In more detail:

To travel on the path of consent and consensus, The Consent Compass steadily points towards CONNECTION.  This will lead us towards common ground, and a world that all of us want.

In consent, we use our personal free will or capability: our AGENCY – to make choices.  We all have some capacity to make our own decisions.  However, some of us will have a lot more agency than others, and this will vary in different situations and life stages. For example, a parent will usually have more agency to make decisions than their young child, but when both are adults this shifts.

Practicing consent means learning – so mistakes are bound to happen. Staying within consent means holding ACCOUNTABILITY for the impact your choices make, on yourself and on those around you. With care you can avoid causing harm.  Those with a lot of agency are able to account for their decisions and the impacts they make – willingness to accept this accountability is essential for meaningful consent.  However, those who have limited agency or capacity to consent cannot be held to account for decisions made for them or by those who have power over them. Consent requires choices that are:

  • RESPONSIVE to the constant changes happening within and around us
  • INFORMED by curiosity, rather than assumptions
  • SPECIFIC and limited by situation, context and people involved
  • EXPLICIT and understood by all those participating

To navigate within consent it is important to understand where you and your fellow-travellers are in relation to all four points on The Consent Compass.  These work together to help you stay on the path towards connection and consensus, and avoid pitfalls.  If mistakes are made, the practice can help you to recognise you are no longer in full consent, stop, change course or turn back, and check for and repair any damage before it becomes harm.

RESPONSIVE: Change is constantly happening, within us and around us, so choices shift, and agreements are generally not fixed forever. It can be helpful to check in on what is changing for yourself and others, and how you want to respond.

INFORMED:  Consent cannot be based only on assumptions. Curiosity is required to help us understand what we (and those we are relating with) do and don’t already know, the possibilities and likely consequences of the decisions we are making.

SPECIFIC: Situations and circumstances can alter our choices, when we take notice of the context we are in, what is influencing us and where the end points or limits of decisions or agreements are. Boundaries are generally more fixed limits.

EXPLICIT: Communication, in forms that everyone affected can easily understand and negotiate, helps us to recognise intentions, explore and describe the reasons for our conscious decisions, and feel more confident that our choices will be respected.

The Consent Compass was launched on 30th November 2023 for the International Day of Consent. For more ideas and inspiration, check out IDoConsent Festival and sign up for Irregular News.