Participatory Wisdom

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search


List proposed by Tom Atlee:

Qualities of folly and wisdom - with factors that support each aspect of participatory wisdom

A. Fairness vs. bias

1. Folly comes from narrow-mindedness, bias, partisanship

2. Wisdom depends on open-mindedness, equity, objectivity

3. Factors supporting this aspect of participatory wisdom include balanced information; attention to "broad benefit" and "general welfare"; balance of power; neutral conveners and facilitators; all voices heard; holistic thinking; attending to deep needs/interests of all parties; identifying lies and manipulation; legitimate mini-publics / random selection; citizens considered experts on community values; public visibility; transparency

B. Knowledge vs. ignorance

1. Folly comes from ignorance, denial, obliviousness

2. Wisdom depends on awareness, insight, understanding

3. Factors supporting this aspect of participatory wisdom include balanced information; access to diverse experts; systems thinking; 21st century info access (online, open source, crowd sourced, citizen science); focus on "taking into account what needs to be taken into account"; deliberation; iteration (reviewing results); all voices heard; understandable information; free flow of information; holistic thinking; respect for science; identifying lies and manipulation

C. Responsiveness vs. arrogance

1. Folly comes from arrogance, hubris, dogmatism

2. Wisdom depends on humility, judiciousness, responsiveness

3. Factors supporting this aspect of participatory wisdom include focus on learning; listening; integrating multiple viewpoints; iteration; collective intelligence; dialogue; systems thinking; holistic thinking; identifying lies and manipulation; citizens considered experts on community values

D. Caring vs. selfishness

1. Folly comes from selfishness, thoughtlessness, cold-heartedness, insensitivity

2. Wisdom depends on compassion, concern, resonance

3. Factors supporting this aspect of participatory wisdom include attention to "broad benefit" and "general welfare"; hearing each other's stories; attention to deep needs; all voices heard; triple bottom line; internalized costs; citizens considered experts on community values; support for emotional expression; opportunities to take responsibility for who and what you care about

E. Responsibility vs. carelessness

1. Folly comes from carelessness, negligence, rashness

2. Wisdom depends on mindfulness, judiciousness, responsibility

3. Factors supporting this aspect of participatory wisdom include deliberation; focus on "taking into account what needs to be taken into account"; invocation of citizens to service on behalf of the larger community; triple bottom line; internalized costs; transparency; public visibility; opportunities to take responsibility for what you care about

F. Prudence vs. shortsightedness

1. Folly comes from shortsightedness, immediate gratification, impatience

2. Wisdom depends on prudence, foresight, vision

3. Factors supporting this aspect of participatory wisdom include focus on long-term benefit; systems thinking; ecological thinking; scenario work; visioning work; iteration (periodic and ongoing conversations); internalized costs; triple bottom line; focus on resilience (often contrasted with narrow efficiency); the precautionary principle; attention to each others' concerns

G. Inspiration vs. convention

1. Folly comes from convention, habit, conformity

2. Wisdom depends on imagination, creativity, inspiration

3. Factors supporting this aspect of participatory wisdom include choice-creation; moving beyond partisan/traditional boxes; access to spirit; multiple viewpoints; all voices heard; creativity/visioning exercises; listening to multiple viewpoints; using diversity creatively; awareness of assumptions and narratives; supporting self-organization; group "flow"; opportunities to take responsibility for what you care about

H. Integrity vs. corruption

1. Folly comes from corruption, profiteering, manipulation, adulteration of good process

2. Wisdom depends on integrity, trust, dependability, faith

3. Factors supporting this aspect of participatory wisdom include random selection / legitimate mini-publics; ad hoc citizen deliberative councils; supporting self-organization; transparency; identifying lies and manipulation; penalties for corruption; protection and validation for whistleblowers; public visibility and broad public engagement; citizen watchdogs; considering multiple viewpoints fairly; citizens considered experts on community values


Tom Atlee:

"When I imagine myself in a culture that enables and empowers public wisdom, I imagine a society in which the following are true:

  • In general, among all of us, there is a very strong sense of - and identity as - "We the People". We see ourselves, together, as the powerful, wise, self-governing force of our shared world. We are our own wise sovereign, a sensible collective guide arising from our informed, shared common sense.
  • We feel the government is US, not THEM. We feel that WE, ourselves, collectively, are running things, making our communities and countries work well. We are competently creating better prospects for our children - and we are proud of that.
  • Most issues are getting resolved in ways that the vast majority of us - usually well over 80% - think are sensible. We treasure and protect the systems we have instituted to achieve those results.
  • There is less protest and money in politics than in "the old days" - and far more productive conversation. There is still attempts at political manipulation and polarization, but they are minor footnotes to the overall functioning of our politics and government. We recall with some horror the old days when "politics" meant all-out polarized battle, often with little real discussion or insight about what was really going on and what was really important. (Young people today can't even grasp how insane it all was!)
  • We often watch a randomly selected group of our fellow citizens working through a difficult issue or creating a budget using our citizen deliberative council approach. Many of us participate in forums, chats and call-ins before, during, and after such formal deliberations. Viewing and participating in citizen deliberations is a major national pastime. After all, hot debates often surface and dramatic stories get told. Since the results affect us all, we're intensely curious each time to see how it will turn out. We have to admit, however, that as popular as these deliberations are, they only occasionally get better ratings than major sports events. (Some things never change!)
  • More and more people see political parties as anachronisms. Their remnants today are fringe, sort of quaint, like Civil War re-enactments. They've been largely replaced by self-organized political discussion forums and advocacy alliances that cross over and mix up what people used to see (in the old days) as Left and Right, liberal and conservative. Most of us are now fully aware that such partisan over-simplicity doesn't come close to reflecting our tremendous diversity and creativity, to say nothing of our potential common ground on 90% of the issues we face.
  • Seeking that common ground, people listen well to each other in political conversations and know how to use their differences creatively. Many methods for doing that are well known and widely used. For many years we always depended on professional facilitators, moderators and mediators to help us do this, but we are rapidly a broad cultural competence at doing it ourselves.
  • When there is political battle - which still happens occasionally - it is usually (not always) respectful and provides us observers with useful information about the issues. We tend to recognize and dismiss partisans who use attack ads and undue emotional manipulation in their propaganda. Most of us know we have far better ways to learn about and decide about the big issues in our society.
  • Engaged citizens frequently turn to the crowd-sourced Deliberapedia - first described in the book Empowering Public Wisdom by Tom Atlee - to get a clear sense of the arguments that support various approaches to each issue. Many of us - especially us activist types - add our two cents or rewrite sections to make it more complete or useful. Deliberapedia increasingly covers fringe approaches and emerging issues, which is good because some of the lesser-known issues and approaches are where the most important wisdom shows up first or is needed most.
  • Although so much of our political and government activity is handled by citizen deliberations in policy juries and by citizen-reviewed ballot initiatives, we still have a representative system of government. However, unlike in "the old days", we feel like our reps work for us, rather than over us or behind our backs. The reps mission is to help craft our expressed collective policy preferences into a consistent body of laws that all stakeholders can live with and support, and to make sure their constituents are engaged and cared for in the process. We're very proud of how we've woven representative democracy, direct democracy, and citizen deliberative democracy into a potent and satisfying whole.
  • We push our diplomats to use wisdom-generating conversations rather than violence, threat, and manipulation in international relations. This shift mimics what most of us are doing more and more in our homes and communities. The biggest result of all this is that families, communities, countries and the world are much more peaceful.
  • In general, per survey data, we feel far less fear and far more collective determination, creative engagement, and willingness to explore transformative approaches when addressing crisis-level issues like climate change, economic disruption, nuclear issues, emerging technologies, and the remnants of terrorism (there's less of it but it's often more dangerous). We've come to understand that such crises can help us focus on the need for fundamentally new approaches.
  • A sustainable economy is evolving based on enhancing and sustaining our quality of life together right where we are, more than on consuming and having our own stuff made in big factories and plantations far away. Resource constraints and new technologies are combining to channel more economic activities into local interactions, enhanced by lots of sharing and gifting and mutual aid. Much has been written about how our systems for eliciting public wisdom have contributed to our turning away en masse from mass consumerism to this far more satisfying way of life that happens to also be more sustainable.
  • Thanks to our spreading sense of ownership and participation in governance, governments no longer complain about scarcity of resources for programs and services. For one thing, there's less need for government as we return to doing more things for ourselves and each other and building mutually supportive communities. For similar reasons, many remaining government programs don't cost as much as they once did because so many people are involved in creating and implementing them, so they are far less bureaucratic than in the old days. Finally, we have wisely revised our tax systems, replacing taxes on income from productive work with taxes on activities that threaten or damage our "general welfare" (that great phrase from the US Constitution has become quite popular in recent decades). We see taxes as a way to support our society's health and to practice responsible citizenship, not as an oppressive burden.
  • We keep close watch over our public-wisdom generating processes to protect them from being corrupted. Luckily, we have the means to do that: periodic review by both randomly selected citizen panels AND ongoing oversight by American Citizens Engaged - our independent association of past members of citizen deliberative councils. Backing them up are very tough laws against efforts to corrupt the process or the citizens who are selected to participate in it. Finally we can and do sometimes hold referendums (at every level including the national) to head off sneaky efforts to degrade our wisdom-generating systems and their safeguards.

By using random selection for our temporary citizen councils, we greatly reduce the problem of corruption. We take seriously abolitionist Wendell Phillips' 1852 warning that "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty—power is ever stealing from the many to the few…. The hand entrusted with power becomes … the necessary enemy of the people." Random selection, as our ancient Athenian democracy-ancestors knew, is a potent antidote to the corruptions of power and the manipulations of elites. Unlike the ancient Athenians, we include every adult in our random selections and we use it to maintain the integrity of our representative system - our republic - as well, so that we can have the best of both worlds. Our citizen councils enhance the "balance of power" America's founders innovated when they equally empowered all three branches of government - legislative, executive, and judicial. We also use the eternal vigilance of the People's collective wisdom to oversee the behavior of our media and those corporations upon which we still depend.

Our biggest innovation is that we use not just vigilance but wisdom - our collective wisdom. In 1958 theologian Henry Nelson Wieman warned, "The predicament of Western man …is a failure to develop wisdom proportionate to power …Wisdom must be in proportion to power if power is to be used wisely. All the evidence seems to indicate that the wisdom of the majority of people in Western culture has not been increasing as rapidly as the gigantic increase in power which they have acquired …Wisdom in this context is the understanding of other minds and of one’s own mind in such a way that one knows what are his basic needs, the needs of others, and the most important needs of human kind."

This we have done by catalyzing a leap in the wisdom that we - we ordinary people together - can co-create and apply to the conditions of our lives, the life of our communities, and the world that our children's great grandchildren will thrive in. Knowing the risks of "gigantic power", we have given our collective wisdom the power to monitor the other forms of power we have collectively created - social, political, economic, and technological powers - powers whose tremendous gifts come with great shadows that can only be effectively illuminated and dissipated with the revealing light of the collective wisdom we generate together."

The key role of the fringes

Tom Atlee:

'In the end, I believe that those who call forth the most collective intelligence and wisdom will be those who can manifest - and help others manifest - two vital capacities:

1. the ability to include more of what is normally overlooked and excluded and

2. the ability to use diversity and disturbance creatively.

Obviously, these are not always easy to do. But then, neither is "Love your neighbor as yourself". However, we all need to exercise these holistic muscles at least a little bit on our shared journey to collective wisdom.

These capacities are important because our world is whole, complex, interconnected, and always changing. It is seriously messy and hard to track. It is all too easy to overlook the many non-obvious, non-trivial factors that will - or could - play a big role in what's going to happen next.

In order to notice as many of these tricky factors as possible, we need to step out of our normal ways of thinking and feeling. That's why I advocate a bias towards inclusion and the ability, once we include some of those tricky borderline cases, to use the resulting diversity and disturbance creatively.


Some practitioners of Open Space have a saying - "Welcome the stranger" - that hints at this. Open Space - like many other nonlinear "emergent processes" (e.g., The World Cafe, Appreciative Inquiry, Dynamic Facilitation) - has a quirky capacity to productively deal with the resulting diversity and disturbance.

Along the same lines, evolutionary theory suggests that evolution tends to happen most rapidly "at the margins" where one set of living patterns meets another, generating some friction and dynamic tension which exert a kind of pressure for new things to show up, from which natural selection can then pick solutions that resolve or creatively utilize those particular tensions. Similarly, chaos theory notes that life gravitates to "the edge of chaos" - a vibrant zone bounded by the twin dangers of too much order and too much chaos. The entities and patterns of life that persist don't venture too far towards chaos when conditions are stable, and don't venture too far towards order when conditions are changing. They are the responsive, self-organizing "chaordic" entities and life patterns.

So in our challenging, rapidly changing times, we find ourselves in need of fringes and edges, of borderlands and strange encounters. My interest in this realm comes largely from wondering how this fringy dynamic might play out in democratic politics and governance, especially in co-intelligent versions of democracy designed to enable public conversations to generate public wisdom that can deal well with our very serious 21st century challenges.

I am coming to suspect that it is the fringes that make the difference between collective intelligence and collective wisdom.

Collective intelligence solves problems or resolves conflicts of, by and for a group, an organization, a community or a whole society. It solve those problems and conflicts for the here and now, for people who are interested, aware, and involved.

Collective wisdom, on the other hand, has a bigger challenge. It needs to expand out from the particular problem or conflict, from the here and now, from those interested, aware and involved. It needs to embrace larger contexts, interests, drivers and possibilities. It has to consider the deep needs of people long gone and yet unborn, and to delve into deeper levels of understanding and caring. It ventures into unseen dimensions of life - into background trends, hidden corruptions and connections, psychospiritual influences, scientific microcosms and macrocosms - to realize unexpected consequences, novel resources, and extraordinarily potent answers. Being the Big Picture form of intelligence, wisdom is born out of our capacity to stretch creatively into the unknown and the unacknowledged, into the new angle, the deeper parts of ourselves, the fringe insights and possibilities.

In the borderland where collective intelligence begins to expand into collective wisdom we see radical inclusion of erstwhile opponents in conversations enriched with broad-spectrum perspectives and information. We find Citizen Juries of randomly selected citizens studying briefing materials which summarize the main conflicting approaches to the issue they're considering and then spending a week interviewing diverse partisans and experts and pulling together conclusions and recommendations to share with the public and its representatives.

Such approaches are so much more collectively intelligent than the polarized battles, bought-off politicians, and back room deals that shape so much of public policy today. They are also wiser, although usually hovering on the edge of real wisdom. They don't journey too far in the direction of greater wisdom. That would take more thought, time, and resources. And it can seem just a bit too theoretical and risky for those involved in making things better now, with what we have.

But we need that bigger, longer-term wisdom. Given our circumstances, we can't be satisfied merely with intelligence - even when it is collective. We need to invite and push ourselves and each other beyond smart into big-picture ways of being wiser together. Why? Because that's where our greatest challenges and dangers will transmute into our greatest creative breakthroughs and positive possibilities. And because we are talking the edge of extinction here, for ourselves and so much of the rest of life - an edge that luckily also contains all our prospects for a far, far better world.

Open-ended emergent processes like those mentioned earlier are one approach to calling forth this wisdom, an approach especially suited to facilitating self-organization and transformation in organization and communities. Initiatives to generate transformational public policy, however, could benefit from a different approach - specifically, expanding the techniques of deliberative democracy into the fringes.

For example, the practice of "framing an issue for deliberation" involves breaking the mainstream arguments about an issue into 3-5 diverse approaches, summarizing them, and presenting them as educational stimulants to citizen deliberators. Occasionally, the deliberators are charged with choosing one approach over the others. More often, they are invited to pull together an approach that seeks to resolve some of the difficult trade-offs that these competing approaches demand, often by mixing and matching aspects of them all. Sometimes deliberators are even challenged and empowered (perhaps with Dynamic Facilitation's "choice-creating" process) to come up with something quite different from all the mainstream approaches, something that addresses the issue at a deeper, broader, or more imaginative level.

Alternatively (or additionally) citizen deliberators could be explicitly invited into the fringes. The Web is filled with non-mainstream information and solutions for virtually every issue we face. What if the 24 citizen deliberators in a Citizens Jury (for example) were broken up into 6 teams of 4 deliberators and given an afternoon to search the Web for the most useful existing information and/or possibilities they can find, relevant to the issue they're working on. Each team would work independently from the others, in parallel, with any Web-searching assistance they needed. They would be challenged to find information and options that are even better than what the other teams find. At the end all the teams would come together to share and discuss what they found. It would be an immersion in the messy world of the Web's juicy fringes, with no pre-ordained instructions or conclusions. Informed by their earlier studies and interviews, the 24 deliberators could tap that rich brew for new ways of thinking about and solving - or even transcending - the issue before them. It would be interesting to then bring in new experts who know about the new options the deliberators are considering, and to engage those new experts with the previous, more mainstream experts, to delve deeper into understanding what's going on and what's possible.*

Public wisdom involves the public and decision-makers (whomever they may be) taking into account what needs to be taken into account for broad, long-term benefit. We need an active inquiry to formulate, test, use and institutionalize many diverse approaches to generating such wisdom. The very diversity of approaches would be a resource for wisdom. As a reader of this essay, you may have your own ideas. That's great! Post them as comments on this blog. This essay is intended merely as an initial stimulant to raise interest and energy for the vital inquiry about how we can co-create our participatory wisdom."