= How "We the People" can provide leadership to government.
1. Caspar Davis:
"A Wisdom Council is a group of about 12 randomly selected people who meet for several hours with the assistance of a Dynamic Facilitator with the intention of deciding on what issues are most important to the group and concocting a unanimous statement about them. The statement is issued to the broader community at a public meeting, and the Wisdom Council disbands. Jim Rough’s original dream was that the Wisdom Council would be added to the U.S. Constitution as a new institution that would have no power other than meeting periodically, each time with a new randomly chosen group, and issuing statements that came from ordinary people who met as individuals with no pretence of speaking for anyone but themselves, who would create statements that came from ordinary people rather than from any power base or interest group. Jim Rough believed, and experience has confirmed, that ordinary people are far ahead of politicians, the media and other leaders in understanding the real problems of our communities and in conceiving solutions for them." (http://blog.tobe.net/?p=60)
"The Wisdom Council describes itself as "a way the people of a very large system—e.g. citizens of a community, members of an organization, citizens of a nation—can address and solve difficult issues together — achieving thoughtful, near-unanimous results.
The process builds the spirit of community, solves difficult problems, and builds the capacity for collective wisdom".
It was initiated by a non-governmental organisation/charity and encourages people to participate through public assembly. The Wisdom Council is local, regional and national in orientation and concerned with democracy, politics & representation and participation.
It was launched in 2002 and is ongoing." (http://www.open.edu/openlearn/society/politics-policy-people/participation-now/the-wisdom-council)
Examples of the Evolution of Wisdom Councils in Europe
Please see the page "Creative Insight Councils" for more information on the evolution of Wisdom Councils and its related forms, primarily in parts of Austria, Switzerland, and Germany, along with a recent notable example of this participatory public policy format as applied to the refugee situation.
Examples in North America
"Wisdom Councils are that kind of leap into the unknown, an attempt to create a “politics of process that “puts context in front of ideology.
Three Wisdom Councils have been held in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. They resulted from the convergence of at least two already commingled streams of people: those who had come together as a result of a visit to Victoria by Robert Theobald in 1996(?), and the local branch of the World Federalist Movement – Canada, which has a deep interest in improving democratic processes.
Origins of Victoria Wisdom Councils
Robert Theobald was a great evangelist for the power and wisdom of ordinary people, believing that they were far ahead of their so-called leaders. He came to Victoria at the invitation of the World Federalists, and his visit led to the formation of a the Group with No Name, which started with about 50 people who met every other Saturday to share their thoughts and ideas. Spin off groups produced a forum on work as well as No Name University, a group of curious people including a couple of retired professors who explored topics ranging from physics to the power of myth. The Group itself dwindled over the next 5 years until it came down to about 10 people and finally it petered out.
One of Theobald’s associates was Tom Atlee, founder of the Co-Intelligence Institute and author of the Tao of Democracy. Tom put some of the Group in touch with Jim Rough, the developer of Wisdom Councils and Dynamic Facilitation. Jim, who lives in Port Townsend, Washington, came up with the idea for Wisdom Councils through his work as a facilitator. He developed a technique called Dynamic Facilitation which helps groups quickly solve “impossible” problems by generating fresh ideas rather than just choosing between conventional options. Jim wrote a book, Society’s Breakthrough, describing how a constitutionally mandated Wisdom Councils could transform American democracy for the better. Several people from Victoria – including Caspar Davis, a World Federalist and George Sranko, another veteran of the Group with No Name – established a connection with Jim by taking his Dynamic Facilitation seminar.
Nuts and Bolts of the Victoria Experience
Early in 2006, Sranko and Davis talked about the possibility of holding a Wisdom Council in Victoria. By a happy coincidence, the local branch of the World Federalists had received a bequest, and had decided to use some of it to explore democratic innovation. They decided to bring Jim Rough and Tom Atlee to Victoria to talk about Wisdom Councils, which they did. The event was held on a Friday evening in November 2006, and the next day about 40 people met with them to pursue their ideas, and Wise Democracy Victoria was born, with the intention of holding a series of three Wisdom Councils in the City.
About 30 people agreed to work on the project. They called themselves Wisdom Council Conveners, and they and the World Federalists agreed that a series of at least three Wisdom Councils was needed to fairly test the idea. The World Federalists agreed to fund the first two Councils, to cover the cost of mailings to potential Councilors, renting facilities for the Councils, etc. The Conveners kept in touch with themselves and with others who had attended the talk by email.
The Conveners met every Saturday for several months in a series of somewhat anarchic self-organized meetings that spent a lot of time deciding how to make decisions and sometimes overturning earlier decisions about subjects like what geographic area to draw the Wisdom Council from, how to do random selection when no really comprehensive list of residents was available , or perhaps even existent. They could not get the voters list, and in any case neither it nor the phone book was truly comprehensive, but in the end they settled on the phone book and devised a method of selecting random pages, random columns on the page, and a random number of lines from the top. The meetings were sometimes chaotic, but each week someone volunteered to facilitate and certain principles were faithfully observed, including the right of everyone who came to have a voice and to be heard. The conversations were always constructive, and decisions were by consensus. It was often messy, and usually slow – especially when previous decisions were rejected a week later when some different people showed up, but it was understood that real democracy takes time and understanding.
The Conveners considered that their own process was just as important as the process of the Wisdom Councils themselves, and a strong bond developed among the conveners. They carefully evaluated each Wisdom Council with an eye to improving the process and its impact on the community.
The Victoria Wisdom Councils
The first Wisdom Council, held in March 2007, was a great success for both the conveners and for the participants, who were astonished at how quickly the process of Dynamic Facilitation got them talking openly about important matters on which they had strong feelings with a group of strangers. Most were exhilarated by the experience, and some felt that it was an important event in their lives.
The first Council also got good media coverage. Two local papers (but not the major daily) and two radio stations ran stories on its planning, and the public meeting following it was attended by about a hundred people, including Victoria’s Member of Parliament and a city councilor. After the event, the Wisdom Council presented its unanimous statement at a meeting of City Council. The only disappointment was that it failed to generate much buzz in the larger community. Members of the Council were invited to join the conveners, and one or two did.
The conveners did everything they could to make things easy, comfortable, and safe for the Councilors, who were each giving a Friday evening and all day Saturday to the project. For each Council, the conveners provided rides if needed, food, and daycare – although daycare was needed only for the third Council.
The second Wisdom Council, three months later, was also a success for conveners and participants, but it got less media coverage and again failed to generate a buzz. It was held in June, and the conveners did not reassemble until September. That fall Jim Rough gave his Dynamic Facilitation seminar in Victoria and some of the conveners attended. Jim had facilitated the first Wisdom Council and his associate DeAnna Martin facilitated the second.
While Jim and DeAnna were in Victoria for the seminar, DeAnna facilitated a meeting of the conveners, and they decided that one reason the first two councils had failed to generate the hoped-for broader conversation was that they got lost in the noise of the city. From the start, the conveners had spent a lot of time and energy on determining the geographical scope of the Wisdom Councils, and the main question being whether to draw on the whole city or on a smaller area, It was decided to try the third Council in a smaller area, and the conveners chose Fernwood, a compact residential area that already had a stronger than average sense of community, and where several conveners and former councilors lived.
Following that decision, the conveners met with several community leaders and got articles in both community papers. They also held a meeting in the local pub, where attendees learned about the Wisdom Council process and discussed local issues and possible actions and solutions.
The third Wisdom Council, sponsored by the local Unitarian Church, was held in a Quaker Meeting House on the edge of Fernwood in March 2008, almost exactly a year after the first Council. It was also a tremendous success for the conveners and the participants, but it also failed to generate as much buzz as had been hoped.
Repercussions of the Victoria Wisdom Councils
One of the conveners taught a communication class at a local University, and he devised an exercise that grew out of his experience as a convener. He divided the class, who came from many parts of the world, including the Peoples Republic of China, into three groups, and assigned each group to conduct a meeting. One group was given rudimentary training – about half an hour – in Bohmian dialogue. A second was given a similar amount of training in Dynamic Facilitation, and the third was given no instruction. The three groups each performed in front of their classmates on one day, and on a later day they spent a later day on a post-mortem on the exercise. They were all exhilarated by the experience, and they recognized that even rudimentary training in Dynamic Facilitation had yielded the best results. This was a spin-off of the Wisdom Council project that may yield important – if unmeasurable – results as these young people pursue their careers, mainly in the media.
Another convener is involved in a Civic League, whose purpose is to determine a set of basic community values by going door-to-door and discussing them with as many municipal residents as possible, and then to measure the votes and actions of each municipal councilor against those values. This is a very different process, but there is a substantial degree of congruence between the values emerging out it and the statements of the three Wisdom Councils, which also had a lot of similarity with each other. (see the appendix below)
There was some discouragement after the third Council, and the conveners and the World Federalists held post-mortems, both separately and together. They recognized that the Councils had had an important impact on the lives of both the conveners and the Councilors, but they also saw that it had taken a great amount of time and energy to randomly select potential councilors, to invite them, and to persuade enough invitees to participate. No one felt that the time or energy had been wasted, but most felt that their next efforts might take a different direction.
There has been considerable talk about having a Wisdom Council in a local school, and that nay yet happen. There ahs also been considerable interest in convening similar Councils to address specific topics, rather than having an open agenda. Jim Rough calls this kind of council a Creative Insight Council.
After the post-mortems, the conveners took a break, but 10 of them – and two ex-Councilors – met for a potluck dinner in June before scattering for the summer and discovered that they still had a great deal of cohesion and a strong desire to persevere in some fashion. It is hard to say what will happen next. But the project will not cease. Both the conveners and many councilors have been infused with “the joy of doing, and [the realization that] the doing is filled with meaning.” (http://blog.tobe.net/?p=60)