If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.

Thomas Edison


VISION - The future this initiative intends to serve

Thoughtful, dynamic conversations are happening all over America, producing a collective intelligence that calls forth the best in all of us for the good of the whole. Most of these conversations are spontaneous at the grassroots and in the media, but they are stimulated by intentionally organized powerful strategic conversations designed to generate community wisdom from truly diverse voices in full view of the whole country. Consequently, more and more people are naturally curious about perspectives that are different from their own and are recognizing the satisfaction of being part of a cooperative effort to birth the emergence of intelligent solutions.


Elected officials serve the public and respond to the needs and suggestions citizens are bringing forward -- largely because politicians who behave in the old ways are now clearly seen to be serving special interests and not the thoughtful views of the whole society. Because the diverse perspectives and collaborative thinking of citizens are now actually sought, heard and valued, the vast majority of Americans are actively engaged in America's revitalized democratic process.


A spirit of possibility, openness, and support is palpable throughout the nation. The media features significant stories that: address the most essential challenges and opportunities facing our country; foster cooperation, conversation, and the wisdom available from our different points-of-view; showcase possibilities and solutions that are emerging as realities; and shine the light of public concern on the issues and areas of our democratic society that need more attention.


PURPOSE - The intentions underlying the design of this initiative

This initiative is designed to build society's capacity to deal wisely with its greatest challenges and opportunities through recurring strategic conversations about major public issues. These conversations are designed using a whole-systems approach and leading-edge processes. Carefully crafted and highly visible, these potent conversations will inform and stimulate broader public discourse and official deliberations. The iterative nature of the design leads to an ever-expanding whole-society capability to address issues in more creative, effective ways. The inclusion of process people and systems thinkers supports the commitment to learn from our experiences so we can develop the quality of our collective thinking and thus improve our ability to meet life’s challenges. Media and digital connectivity professionals help make the initiative universally visible and replicable -- as well as ongoing and ubiquitous, not limited to organized conversational events.

UNDERLYING INQUIRY - How do we generate the wisest and most coherent "voice of the whole" that will be viewed as legitimate by society as a whole? We believe social organization demands an ability to generate some coherence at the level of the whole system. This is especially true in matters of public policy and vision, collective "rules of the game", and the allocation and care for collective resources ("the commons" -- from tax dollars to nature to our economic system to democracy, itself). These are the contexts within which the self-organizing activities of citizens, groups, and corporations play out. The commons should be shaped and husbanded by and for "the whole."

Through both emerging problems and emerging resources to address those problems (see below), we have new capacities to call forth the wisdom and resources of the whole to serve the whole. However, despite many claims that various approaches serve the whole, this developmental direction has not been rigorously pursued as an inquiry: i.e., How do we generate the wisest and most coherent "voice of the whole" that will be viewed as legitimate by society as a whole?

This initiative proposes to do that. It is designed to initially use the most effective and efficient multi-process options we have found. After the first iteration, we will take our cues from the results and, guided by the inquiry above, we will try one or more new designs for the purpose of eliciting a legitimate “voice of the whole”. This experimentation will continue in the context of ongoing learning communities who keep the inquiry alive and digest the results of each cycle.

A wise, coherent, legitimate voice of the whole is not currently present in our public discourse on public issues. We expect its mere presence in public dialogue will, itself, begin to shift democracy in positive directions. Eventually, if it can be adequately demonstrated, we expect it to find its way into our formal institutions of governance.


Most people agree that we need a more effective way to address the enormous and complex challenges that confront us. Our country is more divided than ever before. Partisan talking points, opinions and distracting sensationalism are easy to find while comprehensive discourse, listening for the wisdom in another’s point of view, genuine curiosity, urgency and a desire and ability to effectively come together to solve our major problems is rarely showcased or modeled in our culture, political system, or media.

Many of our fundamental systems are clearly not sustainable. The complexity of our challenges overwhelms expert analysis and centralized governance. Democracy is crying out for “we the people” to become engaged in thoughtful, effective, ongoing change efforts. Politicians and the political system -- warped by an adversarial culture, special-interest power dynamics, and widespread citizen and official ignorance -- are disconnected from common sense solutions, the desires of the citizens, and credible answerability. As this dysfunctional system calls forth dubious behaviors on the part of nearly everyone involved, we find a general distrust and lack of respect between politicians and citizens as well as widespread cynicism about the very nature of democracy.

Today we have know-how and resources the founders of American democracy never dreamed of. Today we can take democracy to a whole new level. The time is ripe to bring together identified challenges, the wisdom of whole-systems thinking, and leading-edge group processes that call forth the collective wisdom of groups, communities, organizations and societies. It is becoming increasingly obvious that failing to address crises in an effective, timely manner will result in catastrophe, while success -- which includes our ability to learn well from mistakes and changing conditions -- will create a far more vibrant, just, and sustainable civilization.


We design wise solutions for the urgent and complex issues that face our communities, states, nation, and world.

Democracy flourishes as we engage individuals, groups, sectors and systems in public conversations about public issues.

Citizens are directly engaged in addressing any and all challenges or issues that interest or impact them.

Leadership is redefined as servant leadership and elected officials are genuinely interested in engaging the wisdom of the citizenry as partners to solve problems and work towards more desirable futures.

Respect is restored between politicians and the people and between “camps” of people who have different points-of-view.

Cultural communication values are enriched through a societal commitment to curiosity, respectful listening, and a desire to work together cooperatively to identify and respond to the challenges and opportunities of our times.

Transparency throughout society is the norm, as part of answerability and learning systems that support the health and development of individuals, groups, and society as a whole.

Energy, enthusiasm and optimism are generated through the active engagement of an increasing number of citizens, the implementation of good and thoughtful solutions, and the creation of inspiring visions.

Americans experience a sense of belonging and a commitment to something greater than their personal comfort.

The media focuses on the urgent and important challenges facing us and exemplifies conscious ways of bringing different points-of-view into a whole-systems conversation in order to uncover intelligent, creative solutions.

More resources are available to resolve our most important public issues and enhance society's development.

The use of a whole systems approach is woven into our culture, influencing our institutions, and expanding our ability to engage with the true complexity of the situations we face.


Whole System Stakeholder Summits and Whole System Citizen Summits

We will start by convening recurring "Whole System Stakeholder Summits" and "Whole System Citizen Summits" on various issues or troubled areas. The Summits are designed to inform, engage, and activate the systems involved and the society at large to wisely address those issues, and stimulate any needed systemic transformation.  Following the “Summits”, we will convene a Whole System Creative Breakthrough Summit of both citizens and stakeholders to uncover deeper forms of common ground. We will publicize these conversations and their outcomes and stimulate widespread conversations about them by using processes that are designed to bring millions of voices to the table. And we will learn from the outcomes and try out new forms in an ongoing effort to develop the wisest, most coherent, and most legitimate "voice of the whole" of which we are capable at any given time.

The Stakeholders Summits would engage players from across sectors that are involved with the issue.  In the case of food, for example, this could include industry representatives, gardeners and local farmers, food movements and NGOs, consumers, academia, government agencies, think tanks, topic-related media, philanthropists, etc., who are involved with the challenges of providing adequate quantities of quality food under current and future conditions.  This approach includes "the whole system" by including as many as possible of the different perspectives, interests, and roles involved in making food "an issue".

In Citizen Summits the participants would be randomly selected to represent the demographic diversity of the population. Summit participants would be informed about the issue by a wide spectrum of briefing materials and experts (including any outcomes from earlier Citizen Summits and Stakeholder Summits on the same or related topics). In this case, "the whole system" the participants would represent is the whole system of the citizenry, in which everyone is viewed as a peer. Additionally, the diverse information and expertise these citizens are exposed to would represent the whole system of knowledge, interests, and options related to the issue. 

Creative Breakthrough Summits

We would expect some significant differences between the outcomes of Citizen and Stakeholder Summits. To explore these differences and seek breakthrough agreements, we would form two Creative Breakthrough Summits, each made up of members of the Citizen and Stakeholder Summits. They would engage in a "choice creating" process that reaches beyond deliberation into imaginative exploration of what really matters to all involved. Past experience suggests that breakthrough common understandings and proposals would arise from such explorations. Any similarities and differences between the two Creative Breakthrough Summits would be instructive for the next round of experimentation.

So, just as Congress represents the whole U.S. through its citizens (House of Representatives) and its states (Senate) and uses "conference committees" to resolve conflicts between legislation approved in the separate legislatures, so our initial model proposed here taps the diversity of the whole country's involvement with an issue through its citizens (Citizen Summits) and its issue stakeholders (Stakeholder Summits) and uses Creative Breakthrough Summits to discover deeper common ground.

Journalists and bloggers would be present as unobtrusive observers of all these Summit proceedings. Summit participants, experts, and organizers would all be available for interview after each summit is over. Media people would be actively encouraged to spread news of these events and encourage widespread commentary about all Summit people, processes and outcomes.
To all these gatherings we would also invite systems thinkers who would be participants in the Stakeholder Summits and expert witnesses in the Citizen Summits. Some would be systems-level experts in the topic area, while others would be specialists in systems thinking. Systems thinkers may range from sociologists, economists, ecologists and evolutionary scientists, to general systems and complexity theorists, to experts in computer simulation, to psychologists and group dynamics specialists, to indigenous elders and storytellers. These Whole System Summits would not be just isolated events.  First of all, they would be held periodically -- Summits for many issues, numerous Summits for each issue (perhaps even local, state, and national), and integral Summits that reach across numerous intersecting issues.
Secondly, they would lead to ongoing broad engagement by the public with the issue, both online and face-to-face. This would include leading-edge forms of public conversation (e.g., World Café, Study Circles, and 21st Century Town Meetings), as well as ways to encourage self-organized activity (e.g., Open Space Technology, Future Search Conferences, social networking and wiki sites). We will also develop ways for such engagement to productively interface with the iterative Summit program, so that ideas and concerns from the broader public are input into future Summits.
Finally, these Summits will be organized to constitute promotional opportunities and R&D laboratories for three ongoing communities of practice: 
   *  The process people who organize the Summits, to increase awareness (by both participants and the public) about the power and use of conversation in general and various process methodologies specifically, as well as to test out process innovations and principles and, after the fact, reflect on what happened to improve future Summits and advance their field, specifically in ways that further the project inquiry of "How do we generate the wisest, most coherent, and most legitimate 'voice of the whole'?"
The systems thinkers, who would collaboratively plan their engagements for each Summit, demonstrate to participants how systems thinking applies to the issue at hand, and together review what they learned, both about the issue-related systems and about how to teach and apply whole-systems awareness.  
The connectivity infrastructure and knowledge system techies who would continually experiment with new forms of enabling productive interactions among participants and others, and spread their developments through technology-oriented channels to the larger society.  
In some cases it may be desirable to organize certain stakeholder or citizen participant groups into ongoing learning communities or action groups, above and beyond the self-organizing opportunities provided by the connectivity infrastructure. However, at the start, we will view participants as passing through the Summit events created by players in the three ongoing learning communities described above.  

Including the whole society

While the whole of society's concern about an issue can be most readily tackled through conversations among microcosms of stakeholders and/or citizens, an actual society is much larger and more complex than either of these.   
So stakeholder dialogues and citizen deliberative councils are properly viewed not just as problem-solving tools but especially as potent catalysts for more informed, wise, and widespread dialogue among and engagement of stakeholders, citizens, and officials.  The content of these conversations, the changes the participants go through, and any findings and recommendations they come up with, are all potent grist for the mill of widespread commentary, conversation and action.  They just have to get out so they can be seen by the larger society.  There are at least four potentially synergistic avenues for this: 
   @  Participant networks and celebrity -- to the extent stakeholder participants are well-networked and/or well-known they will naturally spread the word about these efforts to those who look to them, who will then spread them further. 
Infrastructure for connectivity -- specifically for communication, collaboration and social networking around the issue -- providing online and/or face-to-face forums and resources for ongoing engagement of participants and others. 
Media -- especially journalism, the arts, and performance.  News coverage, performances, artistic expression and imagery are carrier waves for the meme (i.e., the capacity to generate collectively intelligent approaches to public issues, which can be applied to all issues in all sectors at all levels).  

Officialdom -- these gatherings can be legitimized by official (governmental or nonprofit) mandate or sponsorship and officially publicized. 


Stakeholders from all parts of the issue-system -- people who are affected by what happens with the issue; those with the authority, power or resources to move things forward or hold things back; people with relevant experience, knowledge, wisdom and skills -- from across sectors and silos, including stakeholders from various overlapping or related systems, and ensuring the presence of dissonant and marginalized voices.   
In seeking to include all relevant parts, a whole-systems approach to a public issue necessarily involves including the conflicted voices involved with it. Properly handled, any alignment among these players constitutes a major move towards resolving the issue as a whole, just as any alignment that doesn't include them will probably run into their resistance.  
Microcosms of the community or country concerned.  While stakeholder inclusion is grounded in a conflict-resolution paradigm, inclusion of citizens from a particular geographic polity is grounded in a democratic problem-solving paradigm.  In a democracy, the citizenry are the final arbiters of communal values and their application to public affairs, as well as authorities on how any solutions might impact the everyday life of citizens.  Citizens need access to useful (balanced, adequate, relevant, and understandable) information and to each other in order to intelligently deliberate, but collectively, they are "the deciders."  Ideally, expertise and leadership are "on tap to, not on top of" their democratic decision-making.   
These conditions are met very haphazardly in normal public discourse.  To meet them for the whole society would be ideal, but cost-prohibitive.  However, we can affordably engage a microcosm
of the citizenry by convening a random sample of the citizenry (perhaps using a "stratified sampling" approach that produces a demographic diversity reflective of the larger population), giving them good information about the issue, and helping them deliberate productively among themselves, producing useful results for the larger community and its leaders to work with.  This is the same rationale underlying juries who deliberate about guilt and innocence, here applied to deliberations about public policy options.


We believe that collective statements arising from properly held deliberations and creative explorations of this nature can be considered a legitimate voice of We the People, as a whole.  On any given issue the number of such citizen deliberative councils and stakeholder dialogues -- and the coherence of their recommendations -- add to the legitimacy of their collective Voice.  This Voice of the whole is one sorely missing from our current partisan discourse. It is a Voice whose presence and significance in our politics will have to be heard, discussed, and promoted on an ongoing basis to become fully familiar to the public at large.

We believe that numerous approaches have been developed to approximate this "Voice of the whole", but that much more research, development, and education needs to be done to demonstrate an ability to predictably generate collective wisdom from a process the public recognizes as legitimate. (The use of the term "legitimate" here refers to a population's trust in a process and a willingness to cooperate with the mandates it produces. The more legitimate a democratic process is, the less force government needs to apply to generate compliance. Similarly, it is now widely acknowledged that the greater role people play in creating a decision, the more willing they are to go along with it. Unfortunately, scientific PR and lopsided power systems currently in place are capable of "manufacturing consent" with little participation. This project aims to provide a potent alternative to current practice.) 

The outcomes of these dialogues and deliberations are intended to guide and influence public consciousness and conversation as well as official and institutional policy and action. We intend that self-organized, unofficial as well as official/institutional actions emerge from the ongoing Summits in response to their statements and proposals. But we also expect and will encourage them to express unresolved or newly discovered questions for subsequent summits and the community at large to address.

The actions and choices made at any point are subject to continual review and amendment as experience reveals the benefits and challenges of whatever we are doing at any given time.



Whole Systems Approach

An ideal whole systems approach involves whole system participation, whole systems understanding, a whole systems attitude, and whole systems modes of engagement.

Whole System Participation engages the whole system as participants, linking issue stakeholders from all aspects and sectors, randomly selected microcosms of the community or country (or whatever scale is appropriate), as well as the broader society through various state-of-the-art process designs.

Whole Systems Understanding includes communication, conflict resolution and behavioral methodologies, ecological and evolutionary understandings, as well as chaos and complexity sciences and field theory and other forms of "systems thinking".
Whole Systems Attitude recognizes the radical uncertainty, incompleteness, and interconnectedness that characterize whole systems work, and engages these realities with humility and ongoing inquiry -- as individuals, in interactions, and in evolving, interactive communities of inquiry. 

Whole System Modes of Engagement involves analytic, intuitive, somatic, aesthetic and narrative ways of knowing and relating.

Leading Edge Processes

There are many "leading edges" in all fields. “Leading edge processes", for the purposes of this proposal, are those which have the potential to enhance a whole society's collective intelligence and wisdom.

Such processes may apply to personal and interpersonal realms, or to group and organizational dynamics, or to the larger processes and systems of society.

They may represent innovations in quality deliberation, generating breakthroughs, creative use of diversity, big-picture integration of diverse information, connectivity that produces coherent action, ways to comprehend deep time and complexity, generative use of iteration and ongoing process, process flexibility and development, facilitating the emergence of passionately self-organized activity, and other such areas of exploration.

The more open to experimentation and modification a process or practitioner is, the more "leading edge" we consider them to be. Some leading edge practitioners are even moving beyond methodology entirely to fathom and apply the dynamics that underlie the power and success of all methodologies.

Many leading-edge approaches are described in books like THE CHANGE HANDBOOK by Peggy Holman et al, and THE TAO OF DEMOCRACY by Tom Atlee, and websites of organizations like the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation http://ncdd.org and the Co-Intelligence Institute http://co-intelligence.org.

The leading edge represented by this proposal is specifically focused on our underlying inquiry How do we generate the wisest and most coherent "voice of the whole" that will be viewed as legitimate by society as a whole? Because current democratic systems are so inadequate at providing answers to this question, any process and practitioner that has something to contribute to this inquiry is considered, by us, to be leading edge, and is of interest to our explorations.