Twelve breakthroughs (& still counting)
In 1990, Jim Rough began teaching seminars on “Dynamic Facilitation,” a way for people to face difficult issues, be creative together and come together in unity through shifts and breakthroughs. The following story summarizes our journey, including 12 “breakthroughs” so far. Also included are examples of natural reactions against each breakthrough, what is described as a "heresy alert!”.
In the seminars, participants practice Dynamic Facilitation in small groups. Often, groups worked to solve impossible-seeming issues from society, like homelessness, wars, taxes, the education system, traffic, health care, environmental degradation, etc. Curiously, no matter what issue was chosen, these groups often experienced the same insight: that this problem is not caused by bad leadership or competitive human nature. More fundamentally, it is caused by our System, how we’ve chosen to organize ourselves.
Breakthrough #1: Society's big impossible-seeming problems are natural outcomes of “The System.”
(Heresy alert! Are you saying individual choices don’t matter? That each of us can’t do anything about these problems?)
Most people assume that this breakthrough will prove disempowering to people; that individuals will feel like their actions won’t matter; or that the problem will feel even more unsolvable. After all, “what can one person, or a few people, do about changing the System?” But this breakthrough, by itself, is empowering. Even though the chosen issue has seemingly become bigger, this opens a door of possibility with new energy for change. Now, we just need to research a little about what this means.
Breakthrough #1 led to questions like, "What is ‘The System'?" ... "What is its influence on people?" … "How did it come into being?" ... "What's wrong with it?" …. "How can we fix it?" Later in one of the seminars, many of these questions were answered with another breakthrough:
Breakthrough #2: The U.S. Constitution “is” our System.
(Heresy alert! The U.S. Constitution only applies to the U.S. And it is one of the greatest documents ever written. It is the solution, not a source of problems. Actually, to fix things, we need to get back to what the Founders intended.)
Over 200 years ago on the North American continent there was a symbolic gathering of "We the People,” who met and designed a constitutional, market-oriented, representative, voting System that determines the quality of talking, thinking and collective decisions in a democracy. Actually, of course, there were no slaves, Native Americans, women, non property holders, etc. But even so it was a giant leap forward in history. That meeting set up the "rules of the game” and also the idea that we would have a game-like system. Our political and economic and justice systems would operate via competition. Today this organizing principle has spread throughout the world.
However, now in society we are becoming ever more inter-dependent, so the competitive process is breaking down. While our system continues to promote the pursuit of self-interest as primary, we encounter ever greater collective problems for which collaboration is called for.
With help from a friend, Gus Jaccaci, Jim convened a mini-conference, titled “An American Constitutional IN-vention," with the intent of exploring ways to adjust the underlying system of our society. From this conference emerged a breakthrough, taking the form of a question:
Breakthrough #3: The question is ... “What one Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would safely shift the basis of our System from competition to collaboration, where all these impossible-seeming problems could just go away?”
(Heresy alert! Changing the Constitution seems like top-down, not bottom-up. And besides, it’s practically impossible to pass an amendment. This is a non-starter.)
Jim began to formulate a particular Constitutional Amendment based on his experience in facilitating large systems change as a consultant. The idea was simple ... for a random group of citizens to gather each year, be dynamically facilitated, reach unity, and present this unity to the nation as a kind of State of the Union message from the people to the people. This seemed like a safe design that would certainly lead to many positive benefits, but he didn’t see how it could transform the system. Then on the night of May 9, 1993, Jim had an epiphany ... It would work!
Breakthrough # 4: Society’s Breakthrough is the Wise Democracy Amendment, by which we can transform our system ...
(Heresy Alert! How could one small group of random citizens spark a transformation of the system? How could this group spark all of us to come together as “We the People”? )
In that sudden realization, Jim saw how this Amendment could spark all people into a legitimate “We the People,” the all-powerful entity at the core of democracy. This innocuous Amendment was trans-partisan and risk-free. And in time it would transform politics, economics, the justice system, and ourselves in the U.S. ... and possibly the world.
The core of the Wise Democracy Amendment is the "Wisdom Council process.” This process provides for the random selection of ten to twenty-four citizens every four months or so. They meet for less than a week, choose issues, co-create unanimous perspectives, report these perspectives back to the general population, and disband. All citizens are invited to hear the results and talk about them, and then respond in face-to-face gatherings and through the web. This process doesn’t change anything directly. It merely adds a new conversation to what we already have. But this is the kind of conversation we are missing, where we talk respectfully, consider the big issues of the day, and creatively determine what works for all.
Jim flew to Washington, DC to explain the suggested Amendment to Congressional representatives. He gave a talk in the Capital Building, convened a conference on "Innovations in Democracy," wrote articles, and gave presentations. But there was little traction.
In 2002, Jim and Jean Rough, together with DeAnna Martin,
Then in November 2003 after a public radio interview with Jeff Golden (see Immense Possibilities) three listeners from the Rogue Valley of Oregon (David Wick, Karen Gossetti and Lance Bisaccia) called to express interest in trying a Wisdom Council in their area (see the Wisdom Council in the Rogue Valley, OR).
Breakthrough #5: It turns out that to transform our system ... we don’t need an Amendment to the Constitution. The Wisdom Council process by itself is powerful enough to spark a legitimate "We the People" into existence.
(Heresy alert! How can just a few people, un-appointed by anyone in power and unchartered by the U.S. Constitution, spark a legitimate "We the People" into being. How can just an ordinary group of people spark a transformation of the global System in a way that causes many the biggest most impossible-seeming problems to go away?)
The Rogue Valley Wisdom Council rocked our theory of understanding. It was a small time experiment where many things went wrong ... like only seven random people showed up to be on the Wisdom Council ... but it worked anyway. The 100 or so citizens who showed up for the public presentation felt empowered to affect the town charter, the makeup of the city council and the overall spirit of community.
Thinking about this experience, wondering why it felt so powerful ... led to the next realization:
Breakthrough #6: The “magic sauce” for transforming society is a particular kind of thinking called ... “choice-creating.”
(Heresy alert! Why haven't I heard of choice-creating? Isn't it just a form of discussion, dialogue, deliberation, and decision-making? What about elected officials? If it’s so good why don’t they do it?)
The Wisdom Council process looks like other citizen-involvement processes ... the Citizens Jury, Citizens Panel, Citizens Assembly, Deliberative Poll, or citizens deliberative councils. These also involve randomly selecting citizens to take on a problem and who present their results back in a large community gathering.
But, the Wisdom Council is fundamentally different in the quality of thinking it sparks. Randomly selected participants are facilitated to be creative, not judgmental. They do not weigh options and vote. They co-create a shared perspective and a solution strategy that feels best in the situation.
They do not try to suppress their feelings or try to be rational. Instead, they are helped to just be themselves and speak authentically. Through Dynamic Facilitation we facilitate them so that they are heard and participate in the joint conclusions.
They do not seek to influence “decision makers” around new policy. New policy may arise but more importantly, they aim toward sharing their story of progress with the general public. This helps the whole system of people to get involved and be part of the evolving story.
This discovery about choice-creating led to the next realization:
Breakthrough #7: Dynamic Facilitation is essential to the Wisdom Council process and to Society’s Breakthrough because it reliably evokes choice-creating.
(Heresy alert! Who cares how the group reaches unity, or what facilitation method is used?)
Before this realization it didn’t seem to matter what facilitation process was used. But as we have grown in our experience with the Wisdom Council, it has become clear that choice-creating is key. And that Dynamic Facilitation is vital because it reliably evokes choice creating, even with random people who are facing conflicted issues. Using it we help people who are angry, frustrated, or stuck in their views to feel valued as members of the Council; turn their energy of conflict and frustration into empowerment, and achieve unity in the results.
In 2006, a citizen group in Victoria, BC, Canada, spearheaded by George Sranko and Caspar Davis, established a series of three Wisdom Councils. Each one worked wonderfully well within itself and for the audience who came to hear. But the process didn't gain traction in the community. The results didn't spread to the larger population.The second and third Wisdom Councils essentially repeated the experience of the first one.
Of course, this wouldn't be a problem if the process were set in motion by an Amendment to the Constitution. Then everyone would have been plugged into the conversation, knowing what happened last time. The media would cover every aspect of the conclusions and each successive Wisdom Council would take the conversation another step forward. But since this was just a group of citizens starting three Wisdom Councils, there was no way to gain traction and each successive Wisdom Council essentially started over.
The question arose, "How can a Wisdom Council gain resonance in a large system of people when “We the People” did not charter the process into being, and not everyone is paying attention? More experiments provided an answer:
Breakthrough #8: Most important to helping the Wisdom Council conclusions achieve whole-system resonance is for the Wisdom Council to tell the story of how they reached unity.
(Heresy alert! Why does this matter? Isn’t it all about the results? How can a Wisdom Council have only one story to tell?)
Wisdom Council members always share a little bit of his/her personal story of being on the Council. Key is to tell their collective story as well -- where they started, where they shifted, and where they ended up. This sharing builds resonance among the listeners community, so that they carry forward in a similar manner ... and the next Wisdom Council can start where the last contribution left off. This is also a way that others in the community can rapidly catch up and join the conversation.
Our next breakthrough resulted from experiments with the Wisdom Council in Austria:
Breakthrough #9: The Wisdom Council process works ... even better when the issue is given to them beforehand.
(Heresy alert! If Dynamic Facilitation depends on people's heart-felt energy, how can we expect randomly selected people to care about topics chosen by others, topics that they might need some education to even know about?)
Originally one inviolable principle of the Wisdom Council was that it choose its own issue to address. It was thought then that ... if the Wisdom Council was to symbolize the all-powerful “We the People,” “We” must take the lead and choose our own issue.
However, experiments in Europe proved otherwise. Dr. Manfred Hellrigl, the director of the Office of Future Related Issues (OFRI) for the state of Vorarlberg in Austria, is an expert on engaging and empowering citizens.
Dr. Hellrigl’s department experimented with many variations of the Wisdom Council, like using it in conjunction with dialogue, with the World Café, with Open Space Technology, and with Art of Hosting. One experiment was to convene Wisdom Councils with a predetermined issue chosen by government leaders. At first we were concerned this strategy might not be so transformational, that it should be called by a different name, the Creative Insight Council (CIC). But in time these fears disappeared. It turns out that the Wisdom Council process works because Dynamic Facilitation reliably evokes choice-creating. ... This issue-oriented Wisdom Council saved time, generated more citizen interest, and sparked better conclusions. Now, we use the term, Creative Insight Council (CIC), for situations where the transformational potential of the Wisdom Council is reduced, like when participants are educated first about complex issues, or when the random sampling isn’t fully random, or when the presentation is more like a focus group to decision-makers than to the people.
The experiments in Austria led to many more realizations including:
Breakthrough #10: Elected representatives don’t resist the Wisdom Council. They like it!
(Heresy alert! Won’t elected representatives resist this process, since it overturns their power?)
All along in the development of the Wisdom Council, critics have assured us that those in power would resist this approach. But in the Austrian State of Vorarlberg, elected legislators witnessed the Wisdom Council being used in towns and communities. Their initial resistance was washed away by its powerful, safe results. So now every six months, the legislature suggests an issue for a state-wide Wisdom Council. They take a Friday afternoon to meet around tables in the foyer of their building and listen to the Wisdom Council present its perspective. Then they engage one another in a conversation about that issue, only this time they bridge the partisan divide, and talk more thoughtfully about what is needed.
The Wisdom Council provides the legislators with a clear sense of the “will of the people”. This is new. It is not what usually happens, where each legislator says he knows what the people want. Nor is it a survey where 55% per cent of people say, “I agree somewhat” to some suggested option. Instead, this symbolic voice of the people speaks with clarity and intelligence. The process has worked so well, the Governor and each party of the Legislature unanimously voted to modify the state constitution so the process happens regularly.
Today in general, there is an overarching need for people in democracies to put aside special interests and come together in the general interest. Choice-creating is key to being able to do this at all levels ... even at the global level. Many major issues in society, like climate change, world hunger, and species extinction require a global Wisdom Council process. This understanding led to the next realization:
Breakthrough #11: A few of us (with enough resources) can set Society’s Breakthrough in motion by convening a global Wisdom Council process.
(Heresy alert! Why wouldn’t it be lots easier to convene smaller versions and build up? How can a truly random selection of people be gathered from the world? There is no listing of all the world's people. What about repressive governments that keep people from participating? And what about language and cultural difficulties? And how can this group exert any real power? What is the global social-political-economic system anyway? ... and how could it all be changed? etc. etc.)
Yes, there are lots of difficulties in setting up a planetary Wisdom Council. But notice ... these are all surmountable. Still, probably most people naturally think, “it is idealistic to believe the world’s peoples can come together and accomplish something important.” But actually it’s more idealistic to think our current socio-political-economic system, based on ever-growing consumption, competition and power struggles, is sustainable. That’s not going to work. Ultimately, we all must come together in coordinated action. And here is a viable, safe way to do it.
One strategy for sparking a global Wisdom Council is to “turn on” a global media giant like CNN, or The Guardian, or MSNBC to start the process (see the cartoon video). First, we gather twelve to twenty-four random planetary citizens, bring them together and take their picture. This picture could momentous by itself, like the first pictures of earth from outer space. This is a chance for the rest of us begin to “get” that we are all members of one species, dependent on the well-being of this planet.
Ultimately however, this project should be chartered by a network of global foundations, the United Nations, interfaith organizations, non profit organizations, etc. But we can just begin. We don’t need anyone’s permission. We just enough money to start and enough people who “get” what is needed. Once we have that, we can just go ahead. (See how to save the world fast and easy or How to make our society sustainable.)
Breakthrough #12: Society’s Breakthrough promises a new kind of global system called “ToBE-ism,” something beyond “true democracy,” “neoliberalism,” “socialism,” “capitalism,” “feudalism,” etc.
(Heresy alert! Who cares what it’s called?)
“To be or not to be? That is the question.” ... Sure, we know what it means “to be,” as an individual maybe. It’s a higher level of consciousness than normal stimulus-response living, where we are conscious of our identity and our situation, and we make responsible choices. But collectively, there is no “being.” Collectively, no matter what the system, we are just individuals structured to interact differently ... like through voting, representatives, free market, etc.
Society’s Breakthrough sets up an ongoing self-reflective process, where “We” work together more effectively in creating collective choices ... AND where We become conscious of ourselves as a new entity on planet earth, “We the People.”
This represents an evolutionary leap, where we are all part of “We the People,” which is also conscious of itself. This by itself is a new form of economics, governance, culture, etc. How do we have wars, for instance, if we are all part of a We.
At the Center for Wise Democracy, we hope you will become involved and help create the twelfth breakthrough. Please support us in any way you can.
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