Civic Intelligence

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= A form of Collective Intelligence, proposed by Doug Schuler



"Civic intelligence, like Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence, or the various types of intelligences identified by Howard Gardner in Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (or even, erotic intelligence, the cover story in a recent edition of the Utne Reader), can be used to explore – and invigorate – a flexible and powerful competence that goes beyond the traditional notion of intelligence (which is typically equated to what IQ tests measure). Civic Intelligence is a type of intelligence that focuses on the betterment of society as a whole – not just on individual aggrandizement. Moreover since Civic Intelligence focuses on society as a whole, its manifestation is collective and massively distributed. The boundary between one person's "intelligence" and another person's "intelligence" is permeable, indistinct, and constantly shifting. Ideas in your mind today might be central to my understanding of the world tomorrow. How "intelligent" would one person be without interacting with other people – directly (through discussion or argument) or indirectly (through reading books, watching television or pondering works of art) – or with the non-human world (observing nature, for example).

Civic Intelligence builds on what we know about how people learn and maintain knowledge about the world and their place within it. Intelligent behavior in individuals is rich and multifaceted. It involves perception, monitoring, deliberating, remembering and forgetting, categorizing, coming up with new ideas and modifying old ones, negotiating and discussing, making decisions, testing hypotheses and experimenting. Society as a whole engages in analogous activities and these are embedded in our institutions, traditions, artifacts, and conversations. That they exist is indisputable. Less obvious, but also true, is the fact that they are all subject to change. The idea that they could – and should – be consciously improved is the topic of this pattern.

The number of organizations exhibiting civic intelligence today is incredibly vast and growing. There were ten times more "transnational advocacy organizations" in 2000 then there were in 1900 (Keck and Sikkink, 1998). Not only are these organizations more numerous but they are increasingly thoughtful and forward-looking. While in the past, protest may have been simply opposed to something, it is not uncommon today for organizations to develop sophisticated analyses and policy recommendations. In the first published exploration of civic intelligence (Schuler, 2001), six dimensions were identified (orientation, organization, engagement, intelligence, products and projects, and resources) in which organizations and movements that demonstrate civic intelligence are likely to differ from those that don't. Some notable examples (among tens of thousands) include the worldwide Indymedia network, the World Social Forum, the Global Fund for Women, Jubilee 2000, Science for the People, and New Tactics in Human Rights.

A model (illustrated below and described in more detail elsewhere) of civic intelligence that depicts its primary processes has been proposed (Schuler, 2001). It contains three main components: the "environment" which includes everything that is relevant to the organization, yet "outside" of the organization; (2) the "mental model" (or "core") that corresponds to the sum of knowledge that the organization uses; and (3) the remaining constituents of the organization including its resources (including people) and most importantly the interactive processes under the control of the organization that link the environment and the mental model. The functional model contains eight types of interactive processes that a movement, organization or other group exhibits when engaging in civic intelligence.

  1. Monitoring. How the organization acquires new relevant information non-intrusively.
  2. Discussion and deliberation. How organizations discuss issues and determine common agendas, "issue frames" (Keck and Sikkink, 1998) and action plans with other organizations. The mental model of any participants or of the organization itself can change as a result of the interactions.
  3. Engagement. How the organization attempts to make changes through varying degrees of cooperation and combativeness.
  4. Resource transfer. How non-informational resources like volunteers and money are acquired from the environment.
  5. Interpretation of new information. How new information is considered and how it ultimately becomes (or doesn't become) part of the core. New information can also include information about the organization.
  6. Maintenance of mental model (includes resource management). How the organization maintains its organizational integrity by consciously and unconsciously resisting change over time.
  7. Planning and plan execution. How a campaign is initiated, carried out, and monitored.
  8. Modification of mental model. How the core itself is scrutinized by participants in the organization and modified. Another term for this is "organizational learning."