The Consent Compass

 A new framework for navigating consent. Copyright Jenn Wilson 2023

“Do whatever you want and do no harm”

Jenn Wilson

CONSENT IS NOT A TICK BOX

Consent is…..

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 the practice of making meaningful connection whilst taking care of our selves and each other.

The Consent Compass: Exploring the possibilities of connection

The Consent Compass is designed to support consent in practice.  Exploring the possibilities that come with human connection, the Consent Compass provides a structure to navigate the risks.

As we travel through life making choices for ourselves and with others, we don’t always think about what we really want or the potential impact of our decisions.   

We could avoid coercion, harm, judgement, or blame. 

We could aim for mutual benefit, moving forward together. 

We could question assumptions or challenge social convention. 

Practicing consent could be liberating and transformative – for us as individuals, in our relationships and in the wider world.  The Consent Compass supports more adventurous choices – escaping limiting beliefs, living life on our own terms and shaping the world we all need. 

Consent Compass Framework:

Each individual holds their own Consent Compass: A framework to guide decisions, choices and agreements, individually and collectively.

Navigating consent is a constant seeking of common ground, moving together through spaces that are safe and comfortable enough for all those involved to continue. 

DIRECTION: The compass point on the Consent Compass constantly directs us towards CONNECTION 

The AA Axis – Navigating consent requires a balance of our AGENCY (the centre) and our ACCOUNTABILITY (the container).

A – AGENCY The capacity each of us has to make intentional choices and to act on our decisions.

A – ACCOUNTABILITY Reflecting on the impact of our choices, to reduce harm and deepen connection.

coloured circles illustrating a compass diagram described in the text that follows

The 4Cs of Consent – CHANGE, CURIOSITY, CONTEXT, COMMUNICATION provide the landscape for our journey

Change – the constant changes happening within and around us, so our consent is ongoing, not something you give or get in a one-off decision, but an ongoing state that you can reverse, renegotiate or adjust

Curiosity – recognising none of us knows what we don’t know, and assumptions may be inaccurate, curiosity allows us to seek out information, to improve our individual and mutual understanding

Context – the specifics of any situation, beyond the general – the time, place, circumstances and other factors – that may create particular limits and boundaries, or require unique adjustments or revisions

Communication –an active and engaged capacity for all to understand and be understood by everyone else involved, with appropriate and adaptive ways for all to indicate their ongoing consent

Navigating Consent

The landscape of consent is constantly shifting, for your self and for any fellow travellers, so navigating it can be tricky.

When you are travelling a well-worn, familiar path, it’s likely you’ll make some assumptions about how and when it’s safe to proceed.  It’s usually reasonable to do this, for example when choices and decisions are based on:

  • Learning from past experiences
  • Self awareness
  • Confidence that you understand the other person/s
  • Similar courses of action that have gone well
  • Assessment that risk of harm is minimal

When you are in unfamiliar territory, travelling among strangers or new acquaintances, or a hazardous landscape, suddenly expectations or assumptions can become very unhelpful.  If you step off course, you or someone else might get lost or badly hurt.

The higher the risk of harm, the more there is to notice and learn – for your own well-being and for others’.  Without consent, it’s time to pause before somebody gets hurt.  Navigating consent helps us to continue our journey and make more adventurous choices. 

The impact of consent

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: decisions and agreements between individuals, usually in dialogue – such as parent and child, two or three friends, doctor and patient, romantic partners, or work colleagues 

Group dynamics: standards of behaviour and rules (written or unwritten) in specific group situations, which are sometimes impacted by peer pressure and social expectations – such as a workplace culture, place of worship, larger friendship group, night clubbers, or sports crowd

Systemic or socio- cultural – the hierarchies and privileges of social and cultural systems that we accept (or don’t) and perpetuate in our own day-to-day lives and decisions, including formal systems of law, state or government as well as social or cultural norms.

COMING SOON: A short video introduction PLUS in November 2024, Jenn Wilson’s book on The Consent Compass.

A Deeper Dive

CONNECTION is the basis for consent and our direction of travel. The search for common ground and consensus moves us towards and through spaces where we are all comfortable and safe enough to stay in connection.

Constantly seeking connection will guide us toward what we want for ourselves and each other – a world that all of us have shaped and can share.

AGENCY is your personal free will, capability and capacity to make choices.  We all have some agency to make our own decisions.  However, some of us have a lot more agency than others, and this varies across different situations and life stages.

For example, a parent has more agency than their young child and makes decisions for them – being accountable for the child’s well-being and behaviour.  As the child grows, the balance and decision making process shifts accordingly.  The child learns and has greater agency, in adulthood reaching full agency and accountability for their own choices. 

ACCOUNTABILITY for the impact your choices make, on yourself and on those around you is an important balance for navigating consent.

Practicing means learning – and so mistakes are part of the process. Even if you slip beyond the edge of consent, if you take care and make considered choices, you may be able to avoid mistakes that cause real harm.  If your mistakes do hurt others, accountability is learning what went wrong and taking steps to get back on track and not repeat them.

POWER AND BALANCE

Having a lot of agency is a form of power or privilege in most situations.  This equates to a greater ability to account for your choices and the impacts they make. The more freedom and capacity you have to choose and act however you want to, the bigger the potential impact of your decisions. Consent requires a willingness to accept this greater accountability. 

Those who have limited agency or lesser capacity to choose their own actions cannot be held to account for decisions made by those who hold power over them. 

The balance of agency and accountability is an important part of consent in practice. A significant imbalance may upturn consent.  Often, finding the balance is more nuanced.

Navigating the 4 Cs

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 dangers and pitfalls.  If mistakes are made, this  navigating practice can help you to recognise you are no longer in full consent. 

Then you can stop, change course or turn back.  You can check carefully for damage.  You can work on repairs before causing more harm. You can look for a safer way forward. 

Change is constantly happening, within us and around us, so choices shift, and agreements are generally not fixed forever. It can be helpful to watch out for subtle shifts. Check in with yourself and with others, to become more aware of those changes and how you want to respond.  Sometimes change is scary, sad or disappointing, Sometimes embracing change can make things event better.

Curiosity is essential for understanding what we, and those around us do and don’t already know.  Making assumptions often leads to big misunderstandings. You might think you know something, but you haven’t considered the possibilities.  Sometimes it’s good to leap in and try something new, and sometimes it’s important to weigh up the possible consequences first.

Context has a big influence on our decisions.  What felt great yesterday might feel wrong today… or in five minutes.. or the second time around… or in a different space… in colder weather… with different people. There are so many ways that the situations or circumstances can alter your choices. You may or may not know exactly where the end point or limits of your agreement sits.  It may take time to work out your boundaries and explore what is flexible or fixed.

Communication is how we make sure everyone that needs to be is on board, confident that all of us will be heard and respected. You might struggle to listen to your own intentions and make conscious decisions.  You might not speak the same language as others. Sometimes no words are required to understand or demonstrate its ok to move forward.  However, we continue discovering, understanding and negotiating until the connection is working for everyone. 

coloured circles illustrating a compass diagram described in the text that follows

The Consent Compass was first launched on 30th November 2023 for the International Day of Consent.

Important Note: July 2024 – A big part of consent is accountability. We all make mistakes – that’s how we learn. Navigating consent involves avoiding causing intentional hurt or harm, recognising opportunities for learning, and being accountable for mistakes, missteps and the harm these may cause. As the author of The Consent Compass I wish to state clearly that I am learning as I practice. Those who believe they are have found ‘the answer’ or the ‘one true way’ to get consent ‘right’ are, in my opinion, missing something important.

Just a couple of months after launching the Consent Compass framework in November 2023, I recognised a significant flaw in the model, which I have now revised.  A significant rework and relaunch of The Consent Compass in its present form was completed in July 2024.  This work, like consent itself, is ongoing.  If you want to be informed of future updates, sign up for for Irregular News now and you will be kept updated.