4 Levels of Focus in My Work and CII’s

The four main focuses of my work for the last 40 years have been co-intelligence, wholeness, wise democracy and citizen councils. For many people, these seem like totally different topics. So here I present a framework which relates them all to each other, hopefully in a way that will be understandable, interesting and useful for you. – Tom

People hear me talking about co-intelligence, wholeness, wise democracy and citizen councils — and they can’t quite make sense of how these all fit together. With the help of my colleague Andy Paice, I developed the graphic above as a simple framework for putting those key pieces into one picture.

Check it out – and, if you’re interested, read below more about what’s going on in each of the parts in that illustration.



Wholeness – in its many manifestations – is a quality or dimension of Reality. Wholeness is what’s going on. But what IS it?

In the co-intelligence worldview, wholeness is both central and not precisely defined. It is something to “get the feel of.” When we talk about “wholeness” or “the whole”, we are referring to deeper, broader aspects of reality that most of us usually overlook, ignore or neglect, such as:

  • “The big picture” beyond our limited, biased perspectives, information and narratives.
  • “The whole” group or community — all the players, dynamics and relationships in a system situation, or conflict.
  • Long-term realities, histories, and contexts.
  • The deeper dynamics, fuller meanings, and greater complexity, subtlety and ambiguity that lie beyond shallow appearances and symptoms.
  • The overall health, responsiveness, development, special gifts and potential — the unique aliveness — of each and every living being and system.
  • The humbling fact that “there’s always more to it”, leading to an appreciation of the limits and evolution of what we think we know.
  • The unity of spirit — and/or the commonality of story — that both underlie and transcend the diverse details and conflicts of life.
  • And there’s more to it….

Reality has many dimensions. Take a moment to reflect on what it would mean to engage with that aspect of reality – wholeness – that embraces all the above phenomena and qualities. Feel into it…


Co-intelligence covers how we relate to reality when we view it as characterized by wholeness, interconnections and co-creativity. When we see things through these lenses, we think differently, we feel differently, we behave differently.

But before I delve into that, I want to highlight a common misunderstanding – that co-intelligence is another name for collective intelligence. In fact co-intelligence is much bigger. Here are some ways it includes and goes beyond collective intelligence:

Since we’re concerned here with wholeness, interconnections and co-creativity, we notice that intelligence can manifest at collective and systemic levels that include and transcend individual minds. So that’s the collective intelligence insight. We start there.

But then we notice that intelligence can manifest in many different forms — as different WAYS of knowing – head, heart, intuition, narrative, and so on. We can learn how these different forms can relate to each other to generate fuller – more whole – ways of knowing. The fact that different people tend to specialize in or prefer different ways of knowing means that this multimodal approach to knowing can be augmented by including it in our efforts to generate collective intelligence.

The co-intelligence perspective also draws us into bigger picture applications of our intelligence – into longer term, more inclusive, deeper realms of concern than those normally addressed by everyday intelligence (as we noted in our discussion of wholeness, above). We find co-intelligence embraces resonance and cooperation as fundamental dynamics, since we no longer see ourselves – and everything – as fundamentally separate. Furthermore, co-intelligence stretches us beyond human intelligence into the vast intelligences of nature and spirit.

And all this co-intelligence is embedded in the Wholeness realm since it involves ways of encountering, knowing and engaging with the fundamental wholeness of reality represented by the largest oval in our image above.


It may be clear from the foregoing that there are MANY realms in which and to which we can apply the co-intelligence worldview, its philosophy and its ways of dealing with the world. One of those realms, of course, embraces democracy, politics and governance.

But why do I FOCUS so much on that realm?

To answer that, I need to take you on a little detour into my personal perspective and history.

I was raised in a socially conscious activist family to feel a personal relation to what’s happening in the world – a sense that events and conditions have something to do with me – and a sense of participation, agency and obligation towards what needs to change. That sensibility has shaped every major step in my life.

But there’s a bigger picture and calling at work here. It has been clear to me since my early teens (at least) that humanity – and to a large extent the world we are dominating – is teetering at the edge of an existential cliff. Our progress is – in so many ways! – tied to the degradation of living systems within, among and around us. Fundamental change is therefore urgent.

As a typical social change activist, I started out focusing on issues – first of war and peace and then on environmental and economic issues. But in the 1980s I became increasingly aware of our movements’ failures to make sufficient sustained progress to meet the urgent challenges of our times.

So in the 1990s I found myself shifting my focus away from issues, per se, to the WAYS WE HANDLE ISSUES. This led me to focus on politics, governance and our collective cognitive systems. How do “we” — as groups, communities, and societies — attempt to address our collective challenges, solve our collective problems, resolve our collective conflicts, and make progress towards our collective aspirations?

That concern became the inquiry that generated theories, visions and resources to develop “wise democracy”. My central question was: What would democracy look like if it used co-intelligence to generate wise (whole-serving) policies, collective behaviors and political systems?

It turns out there are MANY ways to answer that question, including almost a hundred of which I highlight in my wise democracy pattern language. There were so many approaches to this, that I went looking for a point of “leverage” which, if I focused on it, could change many of the other factors in positive directions. That inquiry led me to….


During the 1990s I was exploring the power of co-creative conversations to generate healthy shared understandings, possibilities and relationships, So as the 21st century unfolded, I began to explore how such conversations might be organized as democratic practices for the generation of collective wisdom. It turned out there were already prototypes – citizen juries, citizen assemblies, citizen councils, consensus councils, etc., mostly randomly selected deliberative bodies of various sizes – so my research focused on them.

These innovations already existed and have been spreading — but they are largely based on traditional models of citizen participation and deliberation rather than on the generation of collective wisdom that can be applied to all social domains to result in more life-serving outcomes. I decided this shift provided the leverage I’d been looking for. So I’ve been exploring what modifications and innovations in these “citizen deliberative councils” (or “minipublics”) are needed to enhance their power to fulfill that wisdom-generating need.

Along the way I’ve discovered unexpected new dimensions of possibility in response to this challenge, such as brilliant new digital innovations like Polis and the whole field of engaging full spectrum stakeholder collaborations. This latter promises to provide an empowering complement to citizen-based engagements, offering a parallel version of “the whole”. In this two-part democratic vision, the whole we want to engage in wisdom-generating conversations would made up of the whole community (citizens of a place) and the whole pool of actors already co-creating whatever is happening in each issue domain (stakeholders in an issue).

I’ll stop there for now, allowing this last paragraph to provide a taste of some of my emerging new directions. For the purposes of this blog post, though, I hope all these sections serve to put some meat on the bones of the model above, enabling you to make better sense of the different dimensions of my work and the work of the Co-Intelligence Institute.

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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

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