Generating Wisdom through Democratic Process
Multi-Process Public Participation Programs
GENERATING WISDOM THROUGH DEMOCRATIC PROCESS
A critical systemic dimension of public participation is community
intelligence (see Essay
3 and Appendix
A, above). As it deepens and broadens, intelligence becomes
For my purposes here, I'm defining wisdom as the capacity
to transcend limited perspectives towards greater and deeper
understandings and broader, longer-term beneficial outcomes.
Wisdom can also be knowledge, statements or solutions that arise
from such understandings and envisioned outcomes Democratic wisdom
emerges from creative interaction among diverse parties and perspectives,
in co-creative service to the common good. To some extent it
emerges naturally, as the compelling presence of diversity stretches
people's perspectives to be more inclusive.
History is filled with democratic follies and catastrophes
-- and with wisdom that has little impact on the lives of ordinary
people and the fate of civilizations. We need to midwife a coming
together of democracy and wisdom.
We need a democracy capable of generating wisdom grounded
in the lives and perspectives of ordinary people and fully usable
by them, which can simultaneously provide guidance on technical,
obscure public issues that could make or break our survival as
To that end, we need to clarify what kinds and levels of wisdom
are available to and through democratic processes. So, just as
we have various spectra of public participation (see Essay 3,
above), I believe it would be helpful to come up with a spectrum
of collective wisdom-generating dynamics.
I offer below a draft of such a spectrum. It attempts to clarify
the dynamics through which wisdom can come about in various democratic
processes, conversations and institutions. This presentation
of these dynamics starts at more or less shallower levels of
wisdom-generating power and proceeds to perhaps deeper, more
Some levels tend to include and transcend the levels below
them, enhancing the sense of a hierarchy of levels. However,
an actual process or conversation may well have elements from
a variety of levels. Many processes characteristically specialize
A Spectrum of Deepening Wisdom Through Democratic Process
1. BALANCED HEARING - Hearing all major viewpoints,
or the views of a diverse group.
2. SOLIDARITY - Acknowledging differences and conflicts,
while setting them aside to collectively pursue shared goals.
3. FAIR DELIBERATION - Hearing competing views regarding
the leading alternative proposals and then collectively evaluating
them to choose one.
4. NEGOTIATION - Working through differences to outcomes
acceptable to all parties. This often, but not always, involves
5. FULL HEARING - Hearing all the relevant voices,
ideas, information and stories -- especially those usually marginalized
-- in a context where they are heard by each other, by the public
and/or by relevant public officials. In the right circumstances,
healing and/or creative outcomes arise naturally from this process.
6. CREATIVE CONSENSUS - Consciously using both differences
and commonalities creatively* to come up with previously unseen
possibilities that engage the life energy of all involved.
7. TRANSFORMATIONAL DIALOGUE - Bringing forth the underlying
perspectives, needs and energies -- and discharging any of their
destructive aspects while empowering their co-creative contribution
towards broadly beneficial outcomes. This differs from creative
consensus primarily in the depth of its shared inquiry into what
underlies various reactions, beliefs and proposals.
8. COMMONS CONSULTATION - Finding collective guidance
in the common ground that exists among the world's great Wisdom
Traditions (e.g., the Golden Rule, respect for the Earth, etc.,
as expressed in such documents as "The Earth Charter"
and "Towards a Global Ethic") as personally experienced
and valued by those involved
9. HOLISTIC DIALOGUE AND DELIBERATION - Creatively
integrating a full spectrum of perspectives with long-term needs
of the whole (community, situation, watershed, world, etc.) --
while honoring the gifts, limitations and evolutionary nature
of all the living systems involved. This usually involves some
form of systems thinking or sensibility. The term "living
systems" can include individual people, groups, organisms,
ecosystems, communities, cultures, etc.
10. SPIRITUAL DEEPENING - Tapping into the deepest
wellsprings of individual and collective wisdom, while still
engaging creatively with any emergent unity or diversity.* This
is particularly difficult in democratic forums because most techniques
for spiritual deepening are associated with particular religious
beliefs, practices or rituals shared by some people and rejected
by others. Yet there is no denying the wisdom-generating capacity
of such techniques. The challenge is how to usefully integrate
a variety of such pursuits -- or to develop generic versions
that are acceptable to widely diverse people and/or have no explicitly
* Diversity AND commonality can be used creatively OR destructively.
For example, diversity can be used creatively for broadening
understanding, stimulating creativity, and engaging greater resources.
However, as we all know, diversity can also be used destructively
through such dynamics as prejudice, domination and violence.
Likewise, commonality or unity can be used creatively in such
forms as life-affirming values, functional common ground (like
shared language or experience) or a shared spiritual center ("that
of God in every person"). But we have all seen commonality
and unity showing up in destructive or dysfunctional phenomena
like conformity, mob dynamics and cultural blind spots. Community
wisdom can arise from brilliant engagement with these two factors.
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