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Wisdom Council

The Wisdom Council is a newly invented structural approach to achieving genuine democracy in cities, unions, associations, counties, or nations … and even in corporations. No matter how many people are in the system, it structures a creative, thoughtful, system-wide conversation about the most pressing issues. It facilitates everyone to form a unanimous “We the People” viewpoint.

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 two half-days. The group meets with a 'dynamic facilitator,' (see www.ToBE.net) identifies key issues, works on them creatively, and develops unamimous statements of what everyone feels or thinks. These 'Statements of the People' have no coercive authority, but are presented back to the whole system in a ceremony, like a 'State of the Union' message. Everyone is invited to hear the statements in person or through video or the media, to dialogue in small groups about them, and to report on their conclusions. These small groups usually report that they support both the statements and the process.

The issues selected by the Wisdom Council are the big issues that people care about, which may not seem solvable. The Wisdom Council statements are made in the name of everyone, as 'We the People.' All are interested in who is selected for the Council, what topics are selected and what is said. Even those who don't hear the results directly will hear about them and hopefully discuss them with others. They have the opportunity to feed back their views through the Internet, through letters to the editor in local papers, or through organized community dialogues. Since this process seeks system-wide consensus and the media is involved, any dissonant voice will draw people's attention.

In four months or so, a new Wisdom Council is randomly selected. This group may modify the Statements or make new ones. Successive Wisdom Councils evolve statements that almost everyone supports. Action happens voluntarily by individuals or through the elected government officials.

– The Twelve Features –

To achieve the promised system transformation, a Wisdom Council must have all, or most all, of the following twelve features:

1. The Wisdom Council must be chartered by We the People
This a paradox since without the Wisdom Council already in place there is no 'We the People.' Indications are that a Wisdom Council can be convened by just a few dedicated people to generate a tentative voice of We the People, which builds interest in a second Wisdom Council. Each successive Wisdom Council charters the next one until there is near-unanimous support for the process. We the People might then choose to make some symbolic gesture, like to vote on a Citizens Initiative, to officially charter the process.

2. 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.

3. 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 'We the People,' the Wisdom Council chooses the issues it will consider, frames them, and solve them.

4. 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.

5. 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 that can reach consensus.

6. It operates in a fishbowl
Once Wisdom Council members have been publicly selected, they are isolated from the influence of others, but there is adequate media involvement so everyone knows they are meeting.

7. It is facilitated dynamically
(See the comments on Choice-creating and Dynamic Facilitation below.)

8. 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.

9. The results are presented in a ceremony
When the Wisdom Council concludes its work, it immediately presents the final statements, plus individual stories of the experience, back to all the people. Everyone in the system is part of the extended audience.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. The process operates in parallel with normal governance structures
The Wisdom Council is non threatening. It merely adds a periodic short-term, small-group meeting and presentation. Follow-up actions happen through the existing structure.

– The Magic of Choice-creating –

The Wisdom Council's unique benefits are due in large measure to the 'magical' quality of talking and thinking it establishes among its members and throughout the larger population. This quality of talking, known as choice-creating, is different from normal political discussions where people agree and disagree on topics. It is similar to dialogue because it is a deep open-minded exploration of issues, and similar to deliberation because groups reach conclusions. But with choice-creating the emphasis is not on people carefully weighing different options and negotiating a settlement. It is oriented toward reaching unanimity via breakthroughs of head and heart.

Choice-creating is energy-driven, where people address an issue they really care about, more than being agenda-driven. It's where people are likely to follow their hearts. This style of thinking is like what happens naturally, when people pull together to creatively meet a seemingly impossible challenge. Individual uniqueness and diversity are assets rather than liabilities, and people freely choose to support the collective effort.

Dynamic Facilitation goes 'with the flow,' helping groups to find the 'zone' of high-quality talking. With a dynamic facilitator groups can tackle big, seemingly impossible-to-solve issues collaboratively and creatively, and reach unanimous positions.

– How is the Wisdom Council different? –
Jim Rough facilitating a session of the Rogue Valley Wisdom Council.
There are many new approaches for involving citizens in high quality conversation, like citizens' deliberative councils, citizen dialogue networks, deliberative polls, and e-democracy. The Wisdom Council is complementary to these methods, yet fundamentally different:

  • Different topics: Most approaches rely on some outside authority, like government or a non-profit agency, to select and frame the issues they address. The Wisdom Council, as a symbolic representation of We the People, selects and frames the issues. It can select, frame and assign specific issues for these other group approaches to address
  • Different thinking: The thinking process in the Wisdom Council is choice-creating rather than decision-making, deliberation, or dialogue. The facilitator is more active and reflective.
  • Different empowerment: The other approaches seek to involve and influence citizens and the authorities within the existing system. Although the Wisdom Council can do this, its main purpose is to reshape the power structure of the system. It is designed to create a legitimate We the People to gradually assert soverignty over the system.

An example might be, for example, to establish a national Wisdom Council to unanimously determine key issues, which are then investigated in a national 'day of dialogue.'

– Under what kinds of circumstances is the Wisdom Council most successful or appropriate? –

The Wisdom Council is best done in large systems which are suited to democracy, like unions, cities, or counties. It may also be used within corporations to help them become more participatively managed in a fast, inexpensive way.

The Wisdom Council is new and still in development. It has successfully passed a number of increasingly comprehensive tests, however, which indicate that it will be successful in transforming systems and people. One of tests is fairly well documented, among citizens in the Rogue Valley of Oregon (see www.RVWC.org). You are invited to apply the Wisdom Council in systems of which you are part, and to co-invent this process.

– The Center for Wise Democratic Processes –

The Wisdom Council can be used by anyone honoring the twelve aspects. Jim Rough, consultant and author, originated both the Wisdom Council and Dynamic Facilitation. In order to make these techniques widely available, Jim, DeAnna Martin and Jean Rough co-founded the Center for Wise Democratic Processes. The Center for Wise Democratic Processes is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting Wisdom Councils within the public sphere. It offers help in the form of handbooks, videos, trainings, plus a sharing of experience.

– Resources on the Wisdom Council –

The Center for Wise Democracy is the primary resource for citizens groups to help them initiate Wisdom Councils. (See www.WiseDemocracy.org)

The Rogue Valley Wisdom Council is an example of the Wisdom Council in action (See www.RVWC.org)

Jim Rough and Associates, Inc., offers consulting for organizations and regular seminars in Dynamic Facilitation Skills. Scholarships for activists are available. (See www.ToBE.net)

The book 'Society's Breakthrough! Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People' provides the theoretical underpinnings. (See www.SocietysBreakthrough.com)

The Wisdom Council Listserv invites you to talk about Wisdom Council-related issues – share updates on projects, ask questions and engage in conversation about how to implement them, and maintain our growing network. To subscribe, send an email to deanna@wisedemocracy.org with "subscribe" in the subject line

The Co-Intelligence Institute has a number of articles and comparisons to other methods. (See http://www.co-intelligence.org/P-wisdomcouncil.html)

This text was submitted to NCDD by Jim Rough and Associates, Inc. (www.ToBE.net).

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