The butterfly of citizen deliberative democracy is emerging around the world…

Powerful elite think tanks and mainstream media are beginning to favorably notice citizen deliberative initiatives that continue to rapidly emerge and evolve under the clouded mainstream radar.  Here’s an intro this remarkable phenomenon, followed by a LOT of resources to swim around in….

I was surprised to find the remarkable article “A New Wave of Deliberative Democracy”
published on the website of the Carnegie Europe Foundation, the European branch of the elite Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, one of the oldest and most influential think tanks in the world.

The essay is a fascinating review focused on dozens of examples of “deliberative mini-publics” (randomly selected citizen panels) being convened around the world – locally, regionally, nationally and transnationally – including six that are being institutionalized as official parts of government. The main innovation featured is a permanent 24-member Citizens’ Council in a Belgium community developed to complement their locally elected parliament.  And that’s only the tip of a proverbial iceberg (see the resources below for a greatly expanded view…).

What I find remarkable about this is that the article is from an elite institution that apparently views this trend of empowered citizen deliberation quite favorably, with no sense of needing it to be corralled.

The presence of this particular article in this context suggests to me the likely value of further reflection about how citizen deliberations can augment, work with, and even oversee existing government institutions, especially in ways that enhance the desire and capacity of the full citizenry for self-governance.

Such exploration can, of course, parallel the development of – and even set the stage for – more radical versions and visions of empowered, wisdom-generating citizen and stakeholder deliberation as the primary source of governance at all levels of whole-system self-organization – a perspective fleshed out in the wise democracy project.

(I sense a needed extension of Sherry Ornstein’s famous “Ladder of Citizen Participation” and the International Association for Public Participation’s later version, “Spectrum of Public Engagement”.)

I see signs of this emergence in other places, as well.  For example, George Monbiot, a columnist for The Guardian – a major news outlet in the UK – recently wrote two very intriguing commentaries along these lines: “Why ‘the will of the people’ is a myth in British democracy” and “Rewilding Politics”.

Monbiot’s tirades against top-down government correctly note that “complex systems are highly dynamic and adaptive – evolving, when allowed, in emergent and unpredictable ways” and that attempts at controlling such systems – whether natural or human – tend to fail.  In “Rewilding Politics” he reflects on the upsurge of right-wing totalitarian impulses in a growing number of countries, and appeals to progressives to get out of the top-down government business altogether and start creatively turning over power to ordinary people.

I see the idea of totally “rewilding politics” as a radical pendulum swing that, in a discombobulating world with vast populations, mass alienation, unfulfillable material aspirations, and technologies capable of mass destruction, is probably ill-advised.

Yet in Manbiot’s writings I can sense him almost – but not quite – glimpsing the possibility of yet another approach, one based on participatory, respectful, humble, wise – dare I say co-intelligent – partnership and reciprocity with each other and nature – including work with existing institutions.  That approach involves us learning how living systems function and what they need to thrive and evolve and then helping them achieve that – with all of us as conscious participants in their life processes.

This could happen.  As so much around us gets “worse and worse”, so much else is getting “better and better” in creative response.  Even as most political and economic commanders and media outlets focus on the bad parts, the rest of us can join each other in advancing the good parts.

We are not guaranteed success, of course, but we CAN be confident that the domineering approaches will not be sustained.  In such a complex, rapidly changing world they simply can’t be.  So there is a chance that our good work in the realms of collaboration and reciprocity COULD develop to a point of explosive growth as the dominant top-down approaches collapse and/or shift in co-intelligent directions, as hinted by the Carnegie and Monbiot articles above and the materials below….


For a heady blast of possibilities, take a look at these remarkable reviews and resources:

1.  INVOLVE – UK’s leading public participation charity

13 of their favorite examples of citizens being at the heart of decision-making
58 methods they’ve studied for doing democracy differently

2.  NESTA (UK’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) – Supporting innovation for the common good across multiple sectors, angles, and methods

Six Pioneering Innovations in Digital Democracy
and their more detailed study of
Digital Democracy Tools that are Transforming Political Engagement

3.  Participedia – A global community sharing knowledge and stories about public participation and democratic innovations

Their whole database
Their 1392 case studies!
Their 308 methods!

And I have a hunch that even these just scratch the surface of what’s emerging on our vast and complex Earth. . .

Our Winter 2019-2020 Fundraiser note: Our target is $20,000 – and so far 34 people have sent us $6120. We’re so grateful to them! We think it is still possible to reach our target before the end of January – with your help.. Please donate now. It will make a huge difference. Thanks! – Tom

PS: Any donation to us is fully tax-deductible in the U.S.


Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute, POB 493, Eugene, OR 97440

Evoking and engaging the wisdom and resourcefulness of the whole on behalf of the whole

*** Visit the Wise Democracy Pattern Language Project ***
*** Buy a Wise Democracy Pattern Card Deck ***


Please support our work. Your donations are fully tax-deductible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.