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  • Reforming State-level politics ... e.g. funding education in Washington State

The situation ... Public education in Washington State needs a funding scheme that reflects the values and priorities of our citizenry. Achieving this has been a struggle because ... how do you have a state-wide conversation where those values become clear? How can “the people” develop the outlines of an equitable funding scheme and communicate their views? At the Center for Wise Democracy we’ve developed a set of “new-paradigm” tools by which the citizens of Washington State can do this. These tools can be set in motion by governments (as they have been in Europe) or by citizen groups.

Recently the Seattle Times convened a Dynamically Facilitated session on “Fully Funding Education” with 10 prominent panel members sitting in a fishbowl format, where they were dynamically facilitated. A similar perspective seemed to emerge. See the 4 minute summary video:

The solution ... For government and citizen groups to convene a public conversation among Washington citizens using the Wisdom Council process. This facilitates the citizens to face this issue in respect, create a win/win strategy, and as “We the People” support legislators, parents, teachers, etc. toward a shared vision with a shared strategy.

How can we do this? ...Three social innovations originally developed in Washington State are now used in Central Europe to facilitate similar whole-system public conversations on difficult issues.

    Example ... Vorarlberg is the Western-most state of Austria. It recently used the Wisdom Council to address the hot issue of “influx of refugees.” Twenty-three citizens were randomly selected to the Wisdom Council. They met for a day and a half in the spirit of choice-creating and largely experienced a change of heart ... from fear to compassion. When they described their experience and their recommended strategy to legislators public fears were also alleviated, allowing a more fulfilling public conversation. This process won a national award. (See

    How might we proceed? ... In Europe the sponsors of the Wisdom Council are often local, state and national governments. However in the U.S. a media outlet and/or citizen group of “conveners” could be the main actors. Below is a six-step strategy for how a few people might involve all citizens in a new creative, collaborative public conversation on the issue of “Funding Education,” yielding thoughtful supermajority conclusions. Steps 1-3 by themselves can start the process. Steps 4-6 can be added in time.

    Step 1 ... The Convening team ... First, gather people interested in learning this new paradigm approach and in helping to facilitate the new all-inclusive state-wide conversation. In a seminar the “conveners” learn how these new-paradigm tools work, devise a plan including media support, and choose how and whether or not to go ahead.

    Step 2 ... The Wisdom Council ...The conveners use a true random process to gather 12 to 24 citizens from voter registration rolls and bring them together for two days. They are paid a small stipend, plus transportation and lodging costs. They briefly hear about the situation, options, and opposing views ... all in less than two hours. Then the door is closed and they are dynamically facilitated to reach unity.

    Step 3 ... The Community Cafe ... Many citizens, community leaders and elected officials gather to hear the results. The Wisdom Council walks on stage and in a half hour or so shares three elements: 1) personal introductions; 2) the story of how the group progressed; and 3) the conclusions of the group on the issue so far. Then they disband until another Wisdom Council picks up the issue next time.
    The live audience and those watching in remote locations gather in small groups to talk about the results. Generally, those present support the conclusions of the Wisdom Council. And in their conversations they reflect the spirit of choice-creating.

    Step 4 ... Responder Meeting ... A few weeks after the Wisdom Council presentation, educators, administrators, elected officials, experts and people from education-related non-profit organizations, unions, and philanthropies gather in an Open Space Meeting to consider the Wisdom Council results and prepare a coordinated response.

    Step 5 ... Chautauqua’s ... The story of citizen-led progress on this issue is taken to different parts of the state in community gatherings. Citizens watch a short video of the Wisdom Council’s presentation and talk in small groups. Elected leaders may lead this conversation.

    Step 6 ... Asynchronous Public Conversation ... An official website is provided for citizens to meet virtually. Using this web tool it’s harder to establish the spirit of choice-creating but the quality of state-wide conversation is much improved on this issue.

    It’s ongoing ... Wisdom Councils should be an ongoing process, meeting on this issue a number of times. It’s important to sustain and evolve the public conversation forward. Then after the issue of “funding education” is resolved, another issue may be chosen by the conveners or by gathering signatures. Every few months then a group of random citizens meet for two days, present their results and disband. Each successive Wisdom Council involves ever-more citizens into a new kind of creative public conversation, which builds the spirit of “We the People” and provides responsible direction to elected officials.

    Addressing concerns ... When people first hear about this strategy they doubt a random group can reach unity on difficult issues. They are worried that these people won’t be smart enough, or won’t have adequate information, and the results won’t be meaningful. They worry that this Council will somehow replace elected officials and expert judgments. Or that just 12 to 24 will be too small to involve the rest of us, or that the process will exclude minorities and disenfranchised people. They fear that special interests will undermine the process.

    The Wisdom Council process is the solution to many of the concerns expressed above. For instance, here is a viable way to include the disenfranchised, to educate people about issues, to free up elected officials, to face the real issues and take commonsense actions, and to overcome the raw power of special interests. And in practice these concerns have largely been laid to rest.

    Remember the Wisdom Council is just a new conversation added to what we already have. Twelve to 24 random voters are gathered. They are dynamically facilitated for two days. They present their perspective in a public setting. Then they disband. That’s it. They have no official power. ... But have symbolic power. They represent all of us in a creative collaborative conversation about issues that really matter. And others naturally resonate.

    Benefits ... This process can begin in many ways ... through the legislature, executive order, a media source, a community foundation, a non profit organization, a group of citizens or a network of all. It educates ordinary citizens to understand, address and solve issues they care about. It overcomes the current dominance of special interest battling with a strong movement toward the public interest. And overcomes the current lose/lose gridlock with win/win collaboration.

    Many good proposals already exist for issues like funding education. Here’s a way to give them an adequate hearing. And here’s a way to support elected officials in serving the public interest. One elected official in Austria expressed enthusiasm for the Wisdom Council saying, “It’s like wind at my back.”

    Also, this process models the kind of thinking and problem-solving we want our children to learn as part of their education.


    For more information on this process and on how the state of Vorarlberg, Austria is using it see the website for our nonprofit organization, The Center for Wise Democracy at