What is a Wisdom Council?
The Wisdom Council is a newly invented structural approach to achieving genuine democracy in a system where democracy is appropriate, like cities, unions, associations, counties, or nations. No matter how many people are in the system, it structures a creative, thoughtful, system-wide conversation about the most pressing issues so people can form a "We the People" viewpoint. The Wisdom Council has undergone a number of successful tests, one of which is in the Rogue Valley of Oregon (see http://www.RVWC.org ).
The Wisdom Council involves a public lottery every four months or so, where about twelve participants are randomly selected to meet for a short period, like a day and a half over a weekend. The group meets with a "dynamic facilitator," (see http://www.ToBE.net ) identifies key issues, works on them creatively, and develops consensus statements of what everyone feels or thinks. These "Statements of the People" have no coercive authority, but are presented to everyone in a ceremony, like a "State of the Union" message. A large number of people are invited to hear this report, to meet in small groups to consider the Statements, and to report on their conclusions.
Generally, when these groups report out most everyone is supportive of the statements and of the process. Since the issues are critical and the Wisdom Council has dealt with them thoughtfully, eventually everyone in the system will talk about these issues and about the conclusions. They feed back their views through the Internet or through letters to the editor in local papers. If they disagree with the statements and if the process has media attention, the people will hear these views in time for them to be considered in future Wisdom Councils. Eventually, Wisdom Councils evolve Statements that pretty much everyone supports. Action happens voluntarily by individuals or through the elected government officials.
The Twelve Features
To achieve the promised transformation, a Wisdom Council must have all, or most all, of the following twelve features:
- The Wisdom Council must be chartered by We the People : This a paradox since without the Wisdom Council already in place there is no possibility for a "We the People" to exist. Indications are a Wisdom Council can be convened by just a few dedicated people, which generates a tentative voice of We the People and building interest in a second Wisdom Council. Each successive one charters the next until there can be a near-unanimous vote or some other symbolic gesture to officially charter the process
- It is a microcosm of randomly selected people : The people on a Wisdom Council are not self-selected, elected, or appointed by some authority. Each person speaks only for him or her self and not for any subgroup like women, Democrats, poor people, or for a geographical region
- It is empowered to select and frame the issues it addresses : Because the Wisdom Council symbolizes all people, there is no higher authority. As boss of the system, symbolically speaking, the Wisdom Council chooses the issues it will consider, frames them, and works on solving them
- The members are chosen in a ceremony: a lottery : In an annual, semi-annual, or quarterly lottery, each person in the organization receives a number and has a chance to be selected
- It is non-coercive : No one is forced to serve on a Wisdom Council and the results have no official power. The Wisdom Council merely presents its conclusions and then disbands, initiating a whole-system, creative conversation which can reach consensus
- It operates in a fishbowl : Once Wisdom Council members have been publicly selected, they are isolated from the influence of others, but everyone knows they are meeting
- It is facilitated dynamically : (See the comments on Choice Creating and Dynamic Facilitation below.
- It generates unanimous statements : Unlike normal politics, the Wisdom Council strives to reach conclusions that everyone, not just those on the Wisdom Council, can fully endorse
- The results are presented in a ceremony : When the Wisdom Council concludes its work, there is an immediate presentation of the final results as well as the story of the experience, back to the people. Everyone in the system is part of the extended audience to whom the Wisdom Council speaks
- Small group dialogues are convened : All are invited to participate in small group dialogues in town halls, churches, community centers, and individual homes, and to voice their response
- The process is ongoing : Each Wisdom Council articulates interim conclusions from an ongoing dialogue, providing a way to track changes of attitude and progress on issues
- The process operates in parallel with normal governance structures : The Wisdom Council merely adds a periodic short-term, small-group meeting and presentation. Follow-up actions happen through the existing structure.
The Wisdom Council's unique benefits are due in large part to the "magical" quality of talking and thinking it establishes among its members and throughout the larger population. This quality of talking and thinking, known as Choice Creating is different from normal political discussions, where people agree and disagree on topics; different from dialogue where people talk deeply and open mindedly exploring issues without necessarily reaching decisions; and different from deliberation where people weigh options carefully before deciding which is best. It is where people address difficult issues creatively and collaboratively seeking breakthroughs of both head and heart. Choice Creating is transformational rather than transactional, similar to when people respond to a life-threatening crisis. Although they may feel uncertainty and stress in the moment, they can rise to occasion, solve impossible problems, grow together with others, and become different through the experience. In addition, Choice Creating is naturally inclusive, where diversity and uniqueness are valued by all. It creates the spirit of "We the People."
With Dynamic Facilitation, one facilitator can assure this choice-creating type of conversation, among any group who really cares about an issue, no matter how impossible-to-solve it may seem. Dynamic Facilitation is different than normal facilitation in that it is oriented to intrinsic factors like enthusiasm or frustration and follows the energy, orienting to extrinsic factors like goals, agendas, or guidelines and seeking to be rational. The dynamic facilitator trusts the irrational creative side of people to generate a shift or breakthrough. He or she uses four charts: Solutions, Data, Concerns, and Problem-statements to capture comments. This brings the spirit of listening, openness to new ideas, and regard for individual differences in everyone. Breakthroughs may occur either in the form of new ideas or in changes of heart.
How is it different?
There are many approaches for involving citizens which seem similar to the Wisdom Council, like Citizen Advisory Panels, education in the arts of citizenship, citizen dialogues, and computer-based "group-ware" networking. The Wisdom Council is fundamentally different because it is not for improving the current power structure but for creating a We the People to become the new power structure. You can*t say, for instance, "Oh, let*s have a Wisdom Council on that topic," because the Wisdom Council is the ultimate authority on what topics get chosen to be considered. With a Wisdom Council in place, these citizen involvement methods work more effectively.
Under what kinds of circumstances is the Wisdom Council most successful or appropriate?
The Wisdom Council is best done in a system that is naturally democratic, like a union, city or county. It may also be altered and used within corporations, for example, to help them become more participatively managed in a fast, inexpensive way. It's crucial for people to identify with the system and its problems, like being an American for instance, rather than being a customer of "such and such" brand tuna.
The Center for Wise Democratic Processes
The Wisdom Council can be used by anyone who honors the twelve aspects.
Both the Wisdom Council and Dynamic Facilitation were originated by Jim Rough. In order to make these techniques widely available at low cost, Jim co-founded the Center for Wise Democratic Processes with De Anna Martin and Jean Rough (http://www.WiseDemocracy.org ). The Center for Wise Democratic Processes is a non-profit organization dedicated supporting Wisdom Councils within the public arena. They offer help in the form of handbooks, videos, plus a sharing of their experience. The Center also teaches Dynamic Facilitation Skills.
Resources on the Wisdom Council and Dynamic Facilitation
The book Society*s Breakthrough! Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People provides the theoretical underpinnings. (See http://www.SocietysBreakthrough.com )
The book Dynamic Facilitation: A Manual and Reader by Rosa Zubizarreta and Jim Rough is available through Jim Rough and Associates, Inc.