The Co-Intelligence Institute CII home // CIPolitics home

Citizen Reflective Councils


The concept "citizen reflective councils" is emerging through our deeper study of the concept citizen deliberative councils.

In most materials on this site -- and in the book The Tao of Democracy -- we've used the term "citizen deliberative councils" to embrace a set of democratic innovations that we now believe needs to be reconceptualized. We in the Co-Intelligence Institute are moving towards a new way of understanding this area. We are coming to believe that the general overall catetory that we previously called "citizen deliberative councils" would best be described as citizen reflective councils, with citizen deliberative councils being a specific subcategory under that. This revised terminology is not yet reflected in the materials on this site, but will be increasingly reflected in new materials we produce.

Note: Despite the reconceptualization, the term "citizen deliberative council" continues to apply to the vast majority of examples given on this site and in the book, since they are deliberative in the strictest sense (and therefore deliberative councils in the new sense).  The Wisdom Council is the only innovation formerly categorized as a citizen deliberative councils which is clearly not covered by the current version of that category. Consensus conferences and the Maclean's experiment are borderline cases.

Due to the common use of the term "deliberation" in political discourse (e.g., "deliberative democracy"), we may continue to use citizen deliberative councils in its old broader sense in some of our public statements.

Here is our new, emerging framework:


Citizen reflective councils are

temporary councils of one-to-five dozen typical citizens convened to consider public concerns in order to raise the quality of public dialogue and provide specific guidance for public officials and the citizenry.

They are called reflective for four reasons:

Within the category citizen reflective councils, there are two somewhat distinct varieties of citizen council -- those characterized primarily by deliberation and those characterized primarily by co-creativity.

Those citizen reflective councils that practice deliberation -- careful, usually slow or methodical (even cautious) consideration of multiple options and their consequences -- are considered citizen deliberative councils. These councils are charged to focus on a specific issue or set of options, and so offer a predictable range of outcomes. Citizens juries and planning cells exemplify this approach.  

Those citizen reflective councils that use more creative or transformational processes to move towards previously unrealized options, understandings and relationships are termed citizen co-creativity councils. Their creativity often results in them ending up in very different places than where they started. Wisdom Councils exemplify this approach.

The Danish-style consensus conferences are mostly deliberative. However, the participants are given significant leeway in how they proceed, and they are grounded in consensus. This may result in enough co-creativity to make a particular consensus conference a hybrid of the two categories. This demonstrates that, while the two categories have distinctly different centers, they sometimes overlap. (Note: Those citizen reflective councils that use consensus are often called citizen consensus councils -- a category that overlaps both deliberative and co-creativity councils.)



citizen reflective councils

a) citizen deliberative councils.

b)  citizen co-creativity councils



Comparative definition / connotation study of "Deliberation" and "Reflection"


Although both words mean "thoughtful consideration," reflection has a broader connotation that can be used to embrace deliberation.

The word "deliberation" has a linear weightiness about it that is not descriptive of some of the processes involved -- such as Dynamic Facilitation (used in Wisdom Councils) -- which can be vibrantly alive and nonlinear. Other processes are far more methodical and slow, and are characterized by a very conscious weighing of options, values, trade-offs, consequences, etc. Both kinds of process have their value and place, which appropriate language (names for them) can clarify.

Deliberation has a more outcome-oriented, perhaps practical connotation than reflection, being so oriented to decison-making and action. In normal parlance, "reflection" is not intrinsically -- or even primarily -- practical. It often -- but not necessarily -- concerns itself with deep understanding, not necessarily connected to decision-making and action.  This non-practical connotation (which is not part of the strict definition) can be ameliorated on the one hand, by the presence of "deliberation" as a subcategory and, on the other hand, by the association of reflection with wisdom, a central concept in co-intelligent democratic theory.

Although "deliberative democracy" is an already recognized field, and deliberation is readily associated with public issues and policy, this need not be a problem, since we are retaining the category "citizen deliberative council" as a subcategory of "citizen reflective council."  In fact, we believe deliberation offers a tremendous advance over off-the-cuff or biased decision-making. We believe that citizen deliberative councils have a significant role to play in the overall deliberative dynamics of our political culture and in the study of deliberative democracy. However, we also believe there are modes of reflection whose creative and transformational potency reach beyond the normal outcomes of deliberation. We advocate their use and offer "co-creativity" as a label useful in exploring them (as in "citizen co-creativity councils").

Reflection can also be used to describe the results of thoughtful consideration, as in "reflections on poverty." This usage would be handy for describing a council's findings and recommendations.

Reflection is also associated with reflections in mirrors. This association is useful because a trademark characteristic of such councils is that the diversity of their membership is a reflection (a microcosm) of the diversity of the community or country from which those members were drawn. Furthermore, what happens in such a council is a reflection of what would happen in the whole community or country, were it to have access to the dialogue and information resources made available to the council.

Reflection also means (more generally) "bounced or bent back, such as sound or an image." In a very real sense, the council is reflecting back to the community or country the concerns and wisdom that are latent in the entire community or country. In fact, there is a feedback loop (an ongoing bouncing back and forth) that is possible between a community and the institution of a council that is convened every six or twelve months from the citizenry, that can greatly enhance the health and collective intelligence of the community.