TAKING THE NEXT STEP IN DEMOCRACY TOGETHER
A letter sent to a few democracy innovators in June 1999
In the past few months I have been looking for ways to promote
political/governmental innovation based on collaboration, holism and living
systems theory. For the purposes of this letter the nature of this
innovation is irrelevant. Suffice it to say that my search has taught me a
lot and uncovered some exciting possibilities I wish to share.
My search has revealed to me a larger field of innovators and
which share important assumptions (with me and with each other). My first
cut at articulating those assumptions looks like this:
1) Differences are a resource for the generation of wisdom, solutions and
2) Tapping the richness of diversity requires good attention to process.
3) People who care about something are a special resource for handling it.
4) Properly facilitated dialogue among diverse stakeholders can produce
understandings and programs on which they can all agree.
5) A small group (1-5 dozen people) who have been selected (randomly or
scientifically; not politically) to represent the diversity of a larger
population can, through appropriately facilitated deliberation, generate
real wisdom about complex issues on behalf of that larger population.
6) Those who will be affected by a decision should be able to play an
informed and appropriate role in shaping that decision.
7) The systems we live in (cultures, institutions, media, power relations,
infrastructures, etc.) are among the most profound influences on our
consciousness and behavior. Efforts to change a society's consciousness
and behavior require changes in systems.
8) The political and governmental systems we have now are not working. In
fact, they play a significant role in generating our growing collective
problems (even catastrophes).
9) Any positive evolution of democracy will be grounded in collaboration,
our common humanity, respect for diversity, and/or our understanding of
holism and living systems theory.
10) Such evolution of democracy is of the highest importance. Without it,
our circumstances will likely grow increasingly dire. With it, every other
public issue will be more readily resolved. This is where the leverage is.
Given the audience for this essay, I will not enumerate the
have encountered that are founded upon these assumptions. I am assuming
that each of you know at least several. I assure you that there are more
than you or I know about. [For some examples, see Citizen consensus councils
or Co-Intelligence and the Holistic Politics of Community Self-Organization.]
Any one of these innovations, if instituted, would have a profound
on our public life and collective prospects. Each of us knows this about
our own favorite innovation(s); that is why we promote them so
energetically. This is certainly true of me.
As usual, that passion is both a resource for and an obstacle
collaboration among the various approaches. However, in our case, our
continuing failure to collaborate is particularly poignant, for a number of
reasons, among which is that we should know better -- and that the world
needs us very badly right now. All of us. Together.
What I have stumbled upon is a sense that
a) many of these innovations may fall into a coherent
pattern -- a fully
differentiated and powerful governmental/ political gestalt -- a
potentially complete replacement for the dysfunctional system we currently
suffer under, which could be built right now in the midst of what exists;
b) there is a field of study and practice here -- and
a rich collection of
resources and tools -- that seem to add up to a movement that is one step
from coherent self-awareness; and
c) no other movement in the history of humanity has been
capable of benefiting from its own diversity and taking charge of its own
collective evolution -- because that is what this movement is all about.
It has just never applied its expertise TO ITSELF. If it were to do so,
one would expect it to develop ever- more- advanced versions of itself as a
movement and of its political vision and potential.
We have the capacity to make ourselves, as a movement, into
the world we've
dreamed of. If we can't do it, then we have no business telling anyone
else that it is possible.
I started out merely as an advocate of a particular innovation,
and of a
larger theory ("co-intelligence") to contain and evaluate such innovations.
As I uncovered more innovations that fit the pattern described by the
assumptions above, I became excited by the prospect of convening a dialogue
to explore with others the larger possible gestalt I sensed they all
pointed to -- the elusive new system of which our different innovations are
precursors or potential elements. And now I find myself in an even more
generic role, as vision-weaver for a movement of innovators like myself.
So what might be needed for us to get underway as a conscious
I'm no expert in this, but I can see a number of things. More could be
filled out at a gathering of those interested in convening this particular
I] GATHERINGS - we need to get together and talk
- At the very least, we need annual professional gatherings like every
other special study has. We should be able to do a good deal better than
"they" do, given the nature of our specialty. I, for one, would love to
experiment with a mix of open space and world cafe processes, involving
anyone and everyone who share our assumptions.
- We also need gatherings and dialogues of servant leaders specifically
interested in weaving the movement into being, who are more passionate
about that than they are about their particular innovation or anything
- I very much want to see a meeting of the advocates of diverse approaches
who meet and apply to themselves at least one of the consensus-building
processes to help them (us) generate a coherent shared vision and
strategies to proceed together.
- We are innovators, especially innovators of powerful conversations. How
many varieties of this might we create among ourselves? How many ways
might we weave these together?
II] MEDIA TO PROMOTE THE IDEAS/METHODOLOGIES/STORIES/POSSIBILITIES
- A journal, a website, list servs, etc., through which to exchange news
and views and visions.
- Books. And access to the collected works of all such books of this type
(in the form of a library and/or catalogue).
- Study Circles and Workshops through which we can share our expertise and
increase our numbers.
III] ACTION FUNCTIONS
- Networks of students; of community groups; of underprivileged people; of
anti-corporate activists; of political reformers; etc., who try to get
these innovations actually instituted in their institutions, communities,
states, or countries as part of their activism ... or who educate and
train the public ... or who do research or volunteer or participate in
on-line or local dialogues, etc.
- Organizing networks of conflict workers, facilitators, OD consultants,
computer experts, and others who have relevant skills but have never before
viewed them in terms of their potential political/governance role. Once
they "get" the vision, many of them will be eager to update their skill set
with skills specifically designed for that purpose, and to start promoting
opportunities to use those skills in political contexts.
- Funders who finance all this as the highest leverage social change
available, or to remove political obstacles from the path of whatever
issue(s) they hold dear.
TRACK ONE: Convene a small group (5-10 people) to meet
form of consensus process to generate a shared "platform," if you will --
under the rubric of COMMON SENSE 2000 (after Tom Paine's famous
revolutionary tract). Or perhaps use the list of assumptions, above, sort
of the way Dr. Karl Henrik Robert of Sweden used his initial statement
of ecological principles to generate a CONSENSUS statement of ecological
principles (which ultimately became The Natural Step): We could send our
list of assumptions to several dozen advocates of various forms of new
paradigm democracy and ask them "What's wrong with this list? What's
missing? What should be changed?" and see if we can generate a consensus
statement after a dozen or two iterations.
TRACK TWO: Plan a meeting of 30-200 people,
probably mostly in "open space" process, in which the full dimensions of
this movement's prospects could be explored. Such a larger meeting
requires more resources and time to pull together than the small meeting in
Track One. That event could be planned with 3-10 people who are
really excited about the prospect of building this movement, and see that
event as pivotal.
If the resources exist to create an organization to start promoting
above functions (I-III), I'd be willing to advise it, but I am not the best
organizer and that is definitely not the best use of my skills. I do
believe that such an organization could have a profound impact,
being possibly the most potent form of social change work
someone could undertake.