Civic Councils

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Rosa Zubizaretta:

"Vorarlberg rewritten their constitution to specifically include public participation, they have also committed to hosting Civic Councils on any topic for which there is a petition signed by 1,000 people (this is in addition to the regularly-scheduled ones.)

Manfred Hellrigl is the director of their small "Büro für Zukunftsfragen" (Office for Future-Related Issues, or more literally, 'Office for Questions About the Future). Given the success of these Civic Councils, they have been spreading in other parts of Austria, as well as parts of Germany and Switzerland..." (email, July 2016)


Rosa Zubizaretta on Meaning-Making Social Technologies

Rosa Zubizaretta:

"he good news from my perspective, is that we as humans have actually been developing effective ways to make meaning together, across a wide diversity of initial perspectives. However, many of the "social technologies" that make this possible are not yet widely known, and much less widely applied. Still, just as we already have technologies to generate power from the sun (and only need to invest in them to make them more widely available) we also already have powerful human and social technologies that are largely untapped.

A recent example can be seen in the 5 minute overview video of a recent participatory public policy process in Austria, in response to the current refugee crisis. Created by documentary film-maker Martin Rausch, it shows an intentionally diverse group of community members, making meaning together to develop creative and humane responses to the crisis.

What's important to note here, is that what we see in the above video is not an unusual case. The State of Vorarlberg has hosted over 35 of these ad-hoc Civic Councils to date, on different topics, using the same powerful combination of processes. Each time, the Council has consisted of an entirely different group -- yet one chosen to ensure diversity of perspectives. And each time, there has been a powerful experience of collective meaning-making among the participants.

Of course, this does not, in and of itself, solve all of our problems. The evidence that with the right support, any small, highly diverse group can reliably arrive together at powerful shared insights, is only a small step toward addressing the many global issues we are facing. However, we know from past experience that the work of a small microcosm can influence our larger society, especially when we are able to share the story widely. This is what happened in the "Canadian Experiment" that was facilitated by Roger Fisher and studied subsequently by Tom Atlee; it's also what happened in the South African Mont Fleur dialogues that were facilitated by Adam Kahane.

In the case of Vorarlberg, the format they have used repeatedly with good results could be described as an unusual variant of a "citizen's jury". A randomly-selected microcosm of the public participates in creative deliberation for 1.5 days. They are supported with an empathy-based process for collaborative meaning-making within highly diverse groups. This process goes by the name of Dynamic Facilitation, yet is significantly different from conventional facilitation approaches. This is followed by a Civic Cafe, hosted using a World Cafe format.

I have been collecting English-language news articles, reports, and book chapters about the significant experiments taking place in Vorarlberg on this webpage. (Full disclosure: my personal interest in this, is that I personally practice the Dynamic Facilitation approach, among others; I also lead workshops on it, and have written a book that is the go-to guide for this particular methodology.)

Now, after many years as a practitioner, I have returned to graduate school for doctoral studies. We need academic research on these Councils, and we also need academic theory that can help us understand more deeply how these processes work. I am particularly focusing on the links between diversity of perspectives among participants, the use of empathy within facilitation methodologies, the resulting process of collaborative meaning making, and creative outcomes for both participants and for the larger system." (


Roots in the Wisdom Council Process

Jim Rough:

"The “Wisdom Council process” is the same as “Civic Councils in Vorarlberg" … The term “Wisdom Council” doesn’t translate well into German. So they use the term “Burgerate,” which translates back to the U.S. as “civic councils.”

Dr. Manfred Hellrigl who first adapted the Wisdom Council process came to my 4 day seminar on Dynamic Facilitation 3 times, the last time bringing a group of consultants and colleagues with him, During the seminar they planned their first Wisdom Council process, which happened in Wolfurt Austria. Then it spread to other communities. Later members of the Parliament said, “We want them too.” And, thanks to Manfred’s deep understanding of the process he helped them amend the state Constitution of Vorarlberg. Actually, they made some amazing improvements to the process. They set it up so that the Wisdom Council happens two times a year … once where the issue is picked by the Governor and once where the issue is picked by the Legislature. PLUS, they also added that the citizens can pick an issue through an initiative process at any time, needing only 1000 signatures.


Since then the Parliament of Salzburg (again thanks to Manfred) amended their Constitution in the same way that happened for Vorarlberg. Also along the way hired Dr. Patrizia Nanz from Germany to evaluate selected Wisdom Councils and now she's written a book about citizen involvement highlighting Vorarlberg’s Burgeratte. And this led to a German national version of the Wisdom Council on Energy policy for 2030. So it seems to be tipping there.

Although the Wisdom Councils were picked up by governments in Europe and although I originally thought it needed to be chartered into existence through a Constitutional amendment process, (see my book “Society’s Breakthrough! Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People …" (email, August 2016)