“Wisdom Councils” and “Citizens Deliberative Councils”
(by Jim Rough, revised by Tom Atlee 1/6/05)
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Citizens Deliberative Councils
Citizens Wisdom Council
| What are they? || Randomly selected groups of citizens are given specific issues to address. Their findings and recommendations are turned over to their convening authority and/or are widely distributed to media and the public. ||Sequential, randomly selected groups identify pressing issues, work to solve them, and reach unanimous perspectives as an embodiment of the whole society, "We the People." |
| Examples … || • Citizens Juries (hundreds done) |
• Danish-style Consensus Conferences (dozens done)
• German Planning Cells
• Citizens Assemblies
| The Citizens Wisdom Council is new. There have been successful experiments in organizations, schools, and cities. |
| Who sponsors it? || The government, a politician, or a non-profit organization. || Ordinary people, acting as -- and on behalf of -- "We the People." |
| How are they convened? || Usually convened ad hoc by government agencies or non-profit groups. Can be made official through legislation or ballot initiative. Could be convened by citizen groups and/or politicians who wish to hear a legitimate, deliberative voice of the people on specific issues. || Individual Wisdom Councils can be held, but are usually convened regularly (quarterly, annually) so as to become an ongoing process and presence. A Wisdom Council can be convened by a small group of enthusiasts or made a regular official event by popular amendment to an official charter or constitution. Over time a periodic Wisdom Council creates its own sponsor -- We the People -- by establishing a recognized voice of We the People. |
| How is expert information included? || With considerable attention to avoiding any perception of bias, convenors provide information on the problem and on solution options through balanced briefing materials and expert testimony whose compilation is overseen by a committee that includes diverse (adversary) experts. || No specialist expert information is required. Participants, as We the People, consult their own experience and desires for their community, about which they are experts. Beyond that, their role is to stimulate a larger conversation in the society, in which specialist experts participate directly, evolving whole-system conclusions. |
| Who facilitates? || There is a carefully selected “facilitator” who acts as both moderator, and at times as leader, who remains scrupulously unbiased. || A “dynamic facilitator” (Tobe.net) helps the group determine and solve its biggest issues and reach unanimous conclusions. |
| The Council delivers what results? || Depending on the process design and "charge" regarding the issue to be deliberated, they may recommend one of a number of predetermined options, or broad guidelines for policymaking, or craft specific options of their own design -- and they may use majority vote, supermajority vote, majority/minority reports and/or consensus process to determine their agreements. || The Wisdom Council determines a statement that all participants support enthusiastically and unanimously. There is no other requirement as to the content of the statement. |
| How is the group comprised? || Usually a stratified random sampling, where a large group (200-600) is chosen at random, its individual members' demographics are identified, and then a smaller group (usually 12-24) whose demographics match the community's profile is then picked from that pool to comprise the council. Visible diversity reflecting the whole community is more important the more decisions depend on a simple majority vote rather than consensus. Alternatively, some versions use very large randomly selected councils to be more statistically valid -- or multiple councils run in parallel on the same subject. || Since the council always reaches unanimity, involves an ongoing process, and functions as a symbol of We the People, a pure random sample is used. Over time all subgroups end up being represented proportionately. |
| What’s the strategy for change? || It’s a primarily rational, within-system strategy: A proxy group studies a specific issue of interest to officials and/or the public and weighs options to address it. If well publicized and/or high quality, their conclusions may reverberate in ways that affect policy. Legislation or prior official commitment can further empower such councils. || It’s a creative, transformational strategy. A proxy group determines the basic issues of the system and frames them for a larger We the People conversation. As an ongoing iterative process, where the results and concerns of this conversation naturally flow into the next Wisdom Council, it provides a stimulus for ongoing change. |
| What’s the quality of conversation? || Deliberation. This is a more or less linear, transactional conversation where people thoughtfully weigh the various options or approaches they were given (or which they crafted) to determine which one is best. || Choice-creating. This is a transformational conversation where people think creatively and collaboratively to discover win/win solutions. |
| Impact on people? || Participants tend to experience a new form of citizenship and feel quite enthusiastic. Also, many people and legislators become more informed about the issue, its numerous options and trade-offs and what the people think is the best approach to handle it. || Participants tend to experience a new form of citizenship and feel quite enthusiastic. Besides informing lots of people, Wisdom Councils also help the culture as a whole break out of denial, think more systemically and creatively, and become part of one inclusive, coherent public -- We the People. |
| Impact on policy? || There is indirect influence to the degree the results are demonstrably useful or wise and/or broadly publicized and popular. There may be a direct influence on policy if the council is delegated authority by those in power or given power by ballot initiative. For instance, the Parliament of British Columbia gave the Citizens Assembly the power to put an initiative directly to the voters. || The recommendations of Wisdom Councils may appeal to official decision-makers by virtue of their win-win merits. More importantly, as the Wisdom Council process gains widespread interest and involvement, We the People become legitimized and assume ultimate authority (if not direct power) over policy, elected officials, and the Constitution. The process could transform the nature of policy itself. |
| Cost? || Most citizen deliberative councils (e.g., citizens juries) cost between $10,000-$50,000, but especially large ones could cost millions. || Local grassroots Wisdom Councils can typically be done with volunteer labor and a few thousand dollars. National or official Wisdom Councils would cost more. |
| Relation between the two? || A Wisdom Council, acting as "We the People," can be the authority that assigns an issue to a citizen deliberative council, thereby providing a more direct democratic authority than when a politician or government agency convenes it and assigns the issue. || The Wisdom Council can convene Citizens Deliberative Councils, so We the People can explore specific topics in more detail, accessing specialist expert opinions as needed. |
(For more information about Citizens Wisdom Councils see www.WiseDemocracy.org)
(For more information about Citizen Deliberative Councils see www.co-intelligence.org)
Tom Atlee writes (5/Dec/06):
WCs are not equipped to deal with complex TRANSFORMATIONAL problems, as well as within-system ones. The ordinary citizens can think outside the box about things they have personal experience, but they may well not have the specialized or systemic understandings needed to make appropriate recommendations (e.g., few members of a WC would be aware of the problem of methane in global warming or the evidence for planned detonation of the World Trade Center; and even the Rogue Valley Wisdom Council found they didn't know enough about the issue they had decided on -- funding for education -- to make specific recommendations).
Once the members of a WC name transformational priorities, the complexities of how to undertake those priorities need to be worked out through a broader conversation (per WC theory) -- particularly conversation between experts (who, I wish to remind us, are not all within-system thinkers) and We the People. Those conversations can have many forms, two powerful versions of which are CDCs and Dynamaically Facilitated sessions.
Rather than picking and choosing methods, you might think of how many creative ways we might integrate such powerful forms, such as having several parallel independent DF'd sessions (with citizens and experts) come up with (probably) diverse solutions, which would then be turned over to a CDC for deliberation. Or having alternative experts testify to CDCs why the options currently on the table in public debate are ultimately inadequate and arrange for the CDC to have another round of expert testimony from more out of the box thinkers. Etc.
The current lack of such experiments is why I think we are at the Kittyhawk stage of development in citizen process. We still are defaulting into fixed ideas and approaches instead of facing the true complexity of the situation we face and actively seeking approaches to it (and through it) through integrating and tweaking the many resources we have available to us, as well as well-conceived original experiments (like some of your earlier proposals were adventuring into).
Of course such radical exploration requires a level of dedicated grassroots effort and/or funding that may be difficult to muster at this stage. That's why I believe that the best current approach is WC processes in many cities (to generate a sense of We the People broadly enough that it catches fire), combined with CDCs where there is real official commitment to follow the public's lead (as there has been in Western Australia, for example), and more mild/cheaper forms of citizen deliberation (such as national issues forums, world cafe, or study circles) where there is lighter but real interest from public officials. With such a combination, the field of citizen process can mature into increasing support for increasingly radical transformational/evolutionary approaches.