Formally, a protocol is a series of steps to be followed by multiple autonomous parties. For instance, multiple servers obeying the Internet Protocol or HyperText Transfer Protocol, or people agreeing to be bound by a group entity using an organization protocol.

By contrast, an algorithm is a series of steps to be followed by only one party operating only from their own point of view. A protocol must accomodate multiple point of view in order to work at all, and a dialectic can develop between the expectations of the various parties involved in it. Protocols can fail in ways that algorithms cannot.

The least stable elements of any protocol are elaborated as issues and subject to IPA debate. Those arguments that seem to have the most evidence/source/authority backing will tend to prevail. In a political party, this is resolved by a position protocol by which it is determined what is "our position" (see pronouns) and what is not.

The most stable elements of the protocol can be represented as a tensegrity, e.g. a constitution or social contract which is harder to change than other elements of the protocol. This might require a higher degree of consensus to change or even to challenge.