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Co-Intelligence Institute Newsletters - December 2003 to June 2005

excerpts, from Tom Atlee and the CII Board

JUNE 2005


In April 2005, the Co-Intelligence Institute took a weekend board retreat to reflect upon our work and recent experience. We sought to clarify our unique contribution to the emergence of an evolving wisdom society.

We see the Co-Intelligence Institute as a catalyst of sustainable systemic change that enables the ongoing conscious evolution and collective learning of society. With co-intelligence, the challenges of the coming century become a stimulant for this evolution and learning.

Our unique gift is to call attention to this societal capacity for co-intelligence and wise decision-making, and to invite transformational agents to join in developing that capacity. So we are choosing to focus our efforts on bringing this gift -- the co-intelligence worldview -- to the many diverse efforts already underway around the world to build a sustainable, wise culture.


We have been active along these lines for months:

  • In the last month, Tom presented a co-intelligence workshop at the invitational Evolutionary Salon in California. He gave a speech on "Generating Citizen-Based Collective Intelligence" at the Innovation in Community Engagement conference in Perth, Australia, to 300 practitioners and public officials. He will be doing more presentations over the summer. Earlier he spoke with Unitarians in Portland, OR; to audiences in Austin, TX, and East Lansing, MI (including state agency staff), and several radio interviews.
  • He played significant roles in the planning and ultimate success of the Evolutionary Salon and the Innovation in Community Engagement conference, both of which were transformational, inspiring experiences for influential participants.
  • His new weblog now ranks among the top five percent of blogs (1099 of 22,448) listed at -- a leading blog subscription site -- and has tripled the number of subscriptions in the last two months. (If you want to boost its rating even higher, you can subscribe to blog posting announcements in the right-hand column of the blog.)
  • Board member Heather Tischbein has been engaged with Make Democracy Work, a group in Vancouver, WA, that includes elected state officials and other leaders. She also brought the co-intelligence worldview to an invitational Deep Democracy conference last month in New York.
  • Board member Adin Rogovin is working to catalyze Co-Intelligent democratic process in Portland and Lake Oswego, OR. In Portland he is working with several community groups and the Mayor's staff on deepening public involvement. One path is to develop a demonstration project integrating several inclusive dialogue processes with city institutions. In Lake Oswego he is working through the Lake Oswego Neighborhood Action Coalition (LONAC) which is well established with the city. Adin is also supporting the Interra Project Portland organizing team, supporting the development of local economics.

DECEMBER 2004 - Report from Tom Atlee


The four-day National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD) Conference in October exemplified convenor Sandy Heierbacher's dream of weaving together the full range of dialogue and deliberation practitioners. I support her view that the more we in this field can learn about each other's work and wisdom, the more effectively we'll be able to midwife the birth of "a culture of dialogue," where ordinary people will be able to create a world that works for all.

At the NCDD conference we had Open Space and World Cafe experiences, playback theater (which does powerful extemporaneous skits based on real-life stories from the audience), conflict resolution teams, dialogue graphic artists -- and dozens of workshops on spiritual dialogue, crafting questions, visions for the future, dozens of methods and approaches, and breath-taking dialogue programs from around the world.

For example, Janette Hartz-Karp's multi-faceted public deliberation program, which has been going on for four years in Western Australia (a state which takes up a third of Australia's territory), really knocked me out. It not only involves thousands of people -- but does so in forms that range from giant public forums to TV specials to grade-school essay contests to detailed newspaper descriptions of the issues under consideration. And this program has the full support of the Minister of Planning and Infrastructure, who takes the results very seriously. It accesses and increases the community's energy and intelligence over years in ways that I so often envision but so rarely encounter. I was delighted when she invited me to come to Australia next year to explore how they might institutionalize some of these community deliberations.

Another NCDD highlight was an eye-opening all-day training about the National Issues Forums. NIF sponsors some of the most widespread quality deliberations in the United States. I was drawn to the workshop by Hawaii State Senator Les Ihara -- the only public official so far to sign the Co-Intelligence Institute's "Listen to the People Pledge". I was fascinated to discover NIF's brilliant method of "framing an issue" in ways that can help to free people from polarization and open them to alternatives. At this workshop I also met a number of remarkable people, including Taylor Willingham (of the LBJ Library's Texas Forums) and Diane Miller, leading organizers of one of the most impressive collections of community dialogues in the U.S., going on in and around Austin, Texas (see here and here).

With six Co-Intelligence Institute board members and friends in attendance and strategizing together, we managed to cover many of the sessions we were most passionate about, and then share our experiences and learnings with each other. My conversations with NCDD colleagues new and old spilled over schedules and often went long into the night. I left Denver breathless with stimulating ideas and contacts. I suspect most of the rest of the 300 attendees were as affected as I was, in ways that will positively impact our increasingly coherent field for years to come.


Since last summer, one part of my work has grown quite unexpectedly -- co-convening and participating in conversations designed to make a significant difference for the world. Such "strategic conversations" explore "Who needs to talk with whom about what to transform a situation?" They seek to make connections that could lead to breakthroughs. These conversations might take the form of anything from email correspondence to conference calls to major face-to-face conferences.

When I returned home from the NCDD conference, I picked up where I'd left off with three separate collaborations that are planning three intriguing strategic conversations. One is about evolution. The second is about collective intelligence. And the third is exploring how to combine computer networks and face-to-face dialogue to create a powerful, inclusive voice of We the People.

EVOLUTION: My collaboration to create a strategic conversation on evolution emerged from my friendship with Michael Dowd. Michael, who loves the co-intelligence work, is a preacher of the Great Story of Evolution and Evolutionary Christianity. At present, he and his science writer wife, Connie Barlow, are traveling the U.S. doing dramatic evolution presentations (at which, incidentally, they have sold a couple of hundred copies of The Tao of Democracy).

With Russ and Cheryl Genet -- who have convened many retreats for leading scientists to debate scientific questions -- they decided to convene a four-day gathering of thirty experts on social, biological and cosmic evolution at a retreat center in California next May. Michael invited me to participate and help create the invitation, choose a diverse group of invitees, and plan the event's dialogue process.

One of our main inquiries at this Evolutionary Salon will be: "How can we work with evolution instead of being merely subject to it or blindly playing out destructive roles?" Therefore, we will be seeking new insights into evolutionary dynamics. Although most people think that Darwinian evolution is about a competitive and often deadly struggle to survive, recent research suggests that cooperation is at least as important. So we will explore how cooperation arises from, supports or suffers from competition and other stressors like natural cataclysm, war, economic conditions and technological innovations.

Leading evolutionary academics and authors have agreed to participate, along with evolution-oriented experts in organizational development, spirituality, psychology, education, business, sustainability, politics, computer networking, telecommunications and other fields.

COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE (the intelligence of a group, society, etc.): The strategic conversation on collective intelligence that I'm involved with has much the same inspiration as NCDD: Bringing together diverse practitioners. There are many diverse forms of collective intelligence-- from dialogic to spiritual to systemic -- but most collective intelligence practitioners and scholars know little of the work outside their own branch of the field.

One of the most "big picture" practitioners in this field is George Por, a colleague of mine for over a decade who moderates a leading collective intelligence weblog and who was working in this field long before I came along. George picked up on ideas I mentioned in his blog and asked me to help pull together a global learning community dedicated to bringing diverse experts together to generate socially useful breakthroughs in this critical field.

With a handful of others, we've crafted a founding statement and are planning an initial 4-day gathering to be followed by network building and possibly a major conference. We don't know what will happen, of course. But with some of the leading lights in the field bringing both content and process expertise, this effort has the potential to catalyze an important movement.

WE THE PEOPLE: The third strategic conversation gathering force is nick-named "The Tao of Extreme Democracy" after a September 2004 Silicon Valley panel in which I participated. The name combines my book's title -- The Tao of Democracy-- with the title of an online book, Extreme Democracy about how to use computers to enhance democracy, which is being written by visionaries from the world of geeks, network theorists and software wizards. In the Silicon Valley "Future Salon" panel, I explained citizen deliberative councils to an audience of about 50 high tech folks. I then invited them into an inquiry at my own leading edge: "How might we integrate the distributed intelligence capacities of self-organized computer networking and 'social software' with the democratic wisdom-generating capacities of high quality face-to-face deliberation? How can we use what you techies know -- and what I and 'dialogue and deliberation' people like me know -- to create and empower a grassroots, inclusive, legitimate voice for We the People."

While I still believe that citizen deliberative councils are our most potent tool for generating community wisdom, I've wanted them to be put in place and given real power quickly -- and haven't known how to do that. So I've begun analyzing what is special about them and how to achieve their special contribution using different forms, like face-to-face deliberative groups of diverse citizens connected through the Web. Furthermore, the 2004 election year demonstrated the power of online activities like, DeanSpace and blogs (web logs). I want to see that kind of online power helping to mobilize support for common-sense proposals generated by inclusive networks of diverse deliberators.

A number of the high tech folks -- including Co-Intelligence Institute Associate John Abbe who arranged my participation in the panel -- are now interested in continuing the conversation in a longer, more focused way. When I spoke of this vision with people at the NCDD conference, they suggested weaving libraries and institutions of higher learning into the mix. Recently I posted my thoughts on this topic on the NCDD Wiki (participatory website) so others could explore and tweak it.

This strategic conversation could come up with inexpensive, easily replicable ways to bring a thoughtful, dynamic, inclusive We the People to life.


The polarization articles I wrote this summer turned out to be very timely, and the most popular ones I've written this year. Several were reprinted in a number of online and in-print journals, including Turning Wheel: The Journal of Socially Engaged Buddhism.

I made the "We the People" agreement, that came out of that remarkable Fetzer gathering on "de-polarizing" liberals and conservatives, into an online petition which you can sign. You might enjoy some of the other signers' comments there, as well; they are very heartful.

I'm also exploring involvement with some ingenious anti-polarization initiatives coming out of the Mainstream Media project, particularly the Both/And Project.


Co-intelligence ideas have been spreading rapidly over the last five months, through a number of channels:

PRINT MEDIA: My articles have appeared in a variety of publications (10+) that include: Utne and What is Enlightenment? magazines; Turning Wheel: The Journal of Socially Engaged Buddhism; Group Facilitation: A Research and Applications Journal of the International Association of Facilitators; The Systems Thinker, a Pegasus Communications journal; and The Bridging Tree, the Lifebridge Foundation newsletter. I want to especially note two of them:

  • The Sept-Oct 2004 Utne magazine wrote up the co-intelligence democracy work as part of an article on "the radical middle" of U.S. politics. This is one of the largest circulation magazines to mention co-intelligence.
  • A big special edition of the International Association of Facilitators' peer-reviewed Group Facilitation journal tells the story of AmericaSpeaks' "Listening to the City Project." Thousands of New Yorkers met face-to-face to recommend what should be built on the Trade Center site destroyed on 9-11. The journal's 21 articles paint a fascinating multiple-viewpoint picture of one of the more remarkable public participation exercises ever done in the U.S. Among them is my article, "Collective Intelligence and Approaches to Public Participation," a major study of the conditional relationship between collective intelligence and public participation, using the New York event as a case study.

ONLINE MEDIA: Over 25,000 visitors come to the co-intelligence websites each month. And Google reports that the word "co-intelligence" now appears on at least 12,300 pages (of which less than 800 are ours).

In addition to the polarization articles that were picked up online, two online journals now regularly carry co-intelligence articles -- The Orcular Tree and OmPlace Altwire Newsletter.

Following Utne's print coverage, Mark Satin of The Radical Middle newsletter and I were invited guests on the online Utne Cafe for ten days, discussing the radical middle discussing the radical middle.

INTERVIEWS: I did a major interview for a Connecticut radio station, and two interviews for online classes -- one for facilitators and one for librarians.

IN-PERSON: In addition to those mentioned elsewhere, I offered workshops and presentations in Seattle (in lieu of the cancelled NW Social Forum) and Eugene (for the Annual Northwest Permaculture Gathering and post-election reflections on holistic democracy for the general public).

MISCELLANEOUS: My other engagements with co-intelligence-spreading have run quite a gamut -- from critiquing book manuscripts, new websites and curricula to partnering new visionaries and seeding group dialogues.


We have some new Co-Intelligence Institute Associates -- and we invite you to join them at We've been liaising with Associates on a number of their projects including:

  • teaching dialogue
  • integrating inner, interpersonal, group, and community work
  • establishing Citizen Councils
  • writing visionary books and essays
  • organizing conferences
  • and more.

Some Associates are organizing among themselves for more collaborations with each other.

And we'd like to introduce our two new board members.

Heather Christine Tischbein of Vancouver, Washington, brings three decades of experience working with community and environmental groups (specializing in sustainable agriculture and forestry). She has served as a mediator, negotiator, executive director -- and as a board member of three nonprofit organizations. For the last five years she has been board chair of the Cold Spring Conservancy, managing hundreds of thousands of dollars and a multi-stakeholder planning team. She has also done volunteer coordination and special education work for the Vancouver and Battle Ground (WA) public school districts.

Elliot Shuford, a long-time associate of Tom's, became an excellent dynamic facilitator after years as a student activist. This summer he completed his Masters in Planning, Public Policy and Management with a thesis on the Rogue Valley Wisdom Council (which the Institute helped organize). Elliot, who recently moved to Portland, now works for Oregon's state Government Accounting Office evaluating programs for quality.

Even before they formally joined the board, both Elliot and Heather worked hard with the rest of us to update basic statements of the Institute's goals and operations, develop programs to build community wisdom in Washington and Oregon, and begin a well-grounded fundraising effort.


We have been building networks for dialogue and deliberation in Eugene and Portland (OR) and Vancouver (WA), tabling at events and conferring with local activists and officials.

Over the past year Adin and Tom have done workshops and presentations with community groups in Portland. Adin is leading the development of the Portland project to demonstrate how a system of varied and integrated dialogue processes can empower a voice of We the People in the community (see Community Resources from the Co-Intelligence Institute). Elliot is working on the research and evaluation design along with faculty members Tod Sloan from Lewis & Clark University (Portland) and Carol Chetkovich from Harvard University, JFK School of Government (Cambridge, MA).

In Eugene, Susan and Tom have led events that Susan organized with city officials and staff as well as for the general public. As a result, a number of citizens and local organizations have asked to participate in the initiation of citizen deliberative councils and other community dialogue processes in Eugene and Lane County. Susan is beginning to meet with Eugene area folks to initiate dialogue processes there.

Heather is creating opportunities to seed co-intelligence projects in Vancouver by hosting Let's Talk America conversation cafes and serving on the advisory board of a large Make Democracy Work project sponsored by the Regional Library, while exploring opportunities for dialogue in public affairs programming on her local cable tv station.

JULY 2004


Early this year Tom gave a speech to a conference of reform-minded intelligence agents, spent an intense day of dialogue at a community of spiritual revolutionaries, and just recently engaged in three days of bridge-building conversations with leading voices on the Right. The CII as a whole is engaging more diverse audiences, and talking more with citizen groups and public officials in Oregon, Massachusetts and California. In Portland, Oregon, board member Adin Rogovin is rapidly weaving together over a dozen community groups for coordinated community dialogues. Board member Susan Edwards is sparking interest in Eugene, our home base. We're designing a project to enhance the collective intelligence of whole communities -- and we are collaborating with the Center for Wise Democracy, the Lets Talk America project and Democracy In America to build powerful and widespread conversations across the U.S.A. about America and the state of its democracy.


Many of these conversations are being designed to build bridges across the polarized divides of Liberal and Conservative, Left and Right. The polarization in the U.S. -- and between the U.S. and the rest of the world -- is rapidly eroding our capacity to generate collective intelligence by normal means. So we are seeking to understand and counter the powerful polarizing forces in and around us. Tom has written consistently about this issue during the last six months, including his mailings "Terrorism, Co-Intelligence and Thought Control" (Feb), "Forgiveness, 'The Passion' and a World that Works for All" (Mar), "Extremism in Social Health and Democratic Evolution" (Mar), "Resources for People-Empowered Politics" (Apr); and "From PARTisanship to Conversations of the WHOLE Society" (May). In June he attended a powerful conversation at the Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with people from across the political spectrum. He has described his experience and the lessons he learned in a number of articles and a radio show. Tom also advised CII Associate Sharda Miller who had two Christian fundamentalists join her mostly liberal class on methods of dialogue.


Being more advocates for democracy and co-intelligence than partisans in the election-year battle, we have spoken out strongly about how dangerously dysfunctional the existing U.S. electoral process is. We have urged citizens to invest energy in changing that, if not before the current election, then afterwards. In particular, we spoke out early and strongly about the dangers of voting machines that leave no paper trail -- a subject that has now been picked up by mainstream media and spokespeople. In May we promoted major electoral reforms, including alternative voting systems (instant runoff voting, proportional representation, and others) and clean money elections, as well as citizen deliberative councils to interview and evaluate candidates in depth. The money currently financing negative campaign ads could change America's electoral system so that negative campaign ads would be irrelevant. The CII is also about to launch a campaign to get politicians and public officials to pledge to attend to the voice of We the People when that voice speaks through properly convened citizen councils.


In the last six months we have collaborated in the creation of two remarkable resource initiatives. The first is the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation's wiki -- a fully participatory website -- spearheaded by Tom and CII Associates John Abbe and Sandy Heierbacher and others. Already up and running with the most comprehensive list of collaborative, participatory practices on the web, this resource will soon include extensive information about all these practices, as well as theory, visions and conversations exploring all forms of dialogue and deliberation. The second resource, The Cairns Project of New York Law School, is currently being designed as a powerful co-created web database to allow democratic practitioners in public, private and social sectors to easily share and find information about each other's participatory programs. In May we traveled to Boston to participate in a one-day invitational design workshop with Cairns organizer Beth Simone Noveck, who sent us "HUGE thanks" for our contributions.


In the last six months we have catalyzed a nascent movement to integrate all the dispersed forms of "collective intelligence." Tom had intensive conversations with the publishers of What is Enlightenment? magazine, whose May-July issue reviews the entire field, featuring the remarkable spiritual and transformational dimensions. In May, Tom developed the first inclusive typology of the field, listing eight forms of collective intelligence. He is working with others to co-convene one or more conferences on this subject. While promoting the whole field to itself and the world, the Co-Intelligence Institute is also the leading advocate -- within the field -- for building democratic institutions that can generate collective intelligence for politics and governance. Tom's message on these challenging opportunities was enthusiastically received in a radio interview, in two talks at the Foundation for Global Community in Palo Alto, and to a group of fifty facilitators in San Francisco.


Co-intelligence materials have recently been used in college courses in Oregon, Canada and Australia. Tom's essays are carried by several online journals and are regularly picked up by countless blogs and listservs. People in at least sixteen countries have ordered The Tao of Democracy. More than 20,000 visitors come to co-intelligence websites every month. Behind the scenes, invisible to most of us, Tom continues his theoretical work with colleagues, including in depth peer reviews of writings by numerous co-intelligence researchers like The Cultural Creatives author Paul Ray, deliberative communications researcher Jane Macoubrie and The Wisdom of Crowds author James Surowiecki.

December 2003


We have just completed the first wave of a major overhaul of the Co-Intelligence Institute website. Take a look -- even a quick peek will do. We're sure you'll find it far more appealing, useful and informative than it has ever been. Over 100 of the top level pages have been reworked to make the site far easier to understand and navigate. Dozens of new and never-before released articles have been added to fill out important subject areas. Summary paragraphs have been written. Choices have been made about the best articles. This has been a major part of our work since our fundraiser in September. Your continued support will help us complete this upgrade, expand the site's offerings, and then complete the upgrade of the Innovations in Democracy site, already well underway. Through these websites, we will make a major contribution to the upcoming election-year conversations about democracy.


Just one month ago, we helped the world's first county-wide citizens' Wisdom Council become a grassroots success. The story reads like make-believe.

Months earlier a member of this list got Tom on a local talk radio show. One person who heard him then convinced the host to interview Wisdom Council innovator Jim Rough, as well. That second interview inspired three listeners to form the Rogue Valley Wisdom Council (RVWC) project and to call on the CII and Jim's Center for Wise Democratic Processes (CWDP) for advice.

Then, almost like a story book, along came a documentary filmmaker seeking footage on a real Wisdom Council -- and he needed it soon. The RVWC folks -- who had never done anything like this before -- rose to the occasion and managed to get a Wisdom Council pulled together in just a few months. The results were phenomenal.

On Saturday and Sunday November 15-16 seven diverse strangers -- randomly chosen citizens of Jefferson County, Oregon -- found themselves immersed together in hours of thoughtful, heartful, and at times dramatic conversation (facilitated and videotaped), exploring their community's concerns. Much to our surprise, the conversation transformed them before our very eyes. They discovered a level of passionate, determined group citizenship they'd never experienced before. On Sunday afternoon we watched their enthusiasm infect a whole town meeting of local citizens gathered to hear them. Even the most colorful person on the Wisdom Council, a passionate, challenging man who had been repeatedly disappointed by earlier citizen boards and panels he'd been on, spoke with great energy about the power of the conversation he'd just experienced and about how it had rekindled the fire of "We the People" among them.

Tom was amazed. As visionary as he is, he had not anticipated the level of response he saw. "The energy in the room was like a populist political gathering -- except that it was all about US, the people. It was an awakening of the People, by the People and for the whole People. There wasn't a THEM anywhere in sight. I hadn't realized that watching We the People waking up would be such a powerful, moving experience."

Most of the Wisdom Council members and a significant number of the community audience signed up to help organize the next Rogue Valley Wisdom Council... The mayor of Santa Cruz was there and excited by what she saw... Our colleague Elliot Shuford did a research study of the whole event under the auspices of the University of Oregon... A video (now downloadable from the Rogue Valley Wisdom Council site) and organizing manual are now being made from the experience to help other communities create their own citizens' Wisdom Councils... And that's not all....


Interest in powerful, creative citizen deliberation and engagement is skyrocketing -- and the CII is among its leaders.

Just yesterday Tom checked Google for "citizen deliberation" and "deliberative democracy" webpages. He found both have more than doubled in 18 months! Furthermore, a page from our site was 13th of 12,100 pages on deliberative democracy -- and our main Citizen Deliberative Council page was 8th out of 506 pages on citizen deliberation. The Internet is vibrating with our messages...

There are other signs of shift. We just spent two days in an intensive CII/CWDP meeting envisioning citizen deliberation efforts nationally through the grassroots, through national media and through dozens of interested state legislators involved with the Kettering Foundation, the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Policy Consensus Initiative.
The interest is out there. Tom's trip to New England in October (part of which National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation's Sandy Heierbacher chronicled) included conversations with community organizers near Boston, several academics, a remarkable spiritual community, and some equally remarkable old friends and dialogue masters -- the Study Circle Resource Center and the Public Conversations Project. Every conversation was electric, and Tom returned inspired.


In another example of remarkable timing, Tom's research on processes for citizen dialogue and deliberation had a breakthrough just a week or so ago when Matthew Shapiro of Mary Parker Follett Foundation alerted him to the remarkable Citizen Science Toolbox of processes.

So we've asked for and received permission to put this database onto the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation website in the form of a Wiki -- a set of interconnected webpages which can be modified by anyone (see the grassroots encyclopedia Wikipedia for a great example). This will allow everyone with process knowledge or experience to put what they know into a co-created library of information about all processes.

A Wiki can be expanded endlessly with references, and it's easy for anyone to create hyperlinks. Those of us who are interested in the underlying dynamics of dialogue and deliberation, and who want to study how different processes can be coordinated for better results, will be able to use this process encyclopedia to point out dynamics and possibilities. And the whole project will be furthered by the results of new process research being undertaken simultaneously by many researchers, including Matthew Shapiro, John Gastil, and AmericaSpeaks.

So it seems that not only are We the People beginning to wake up, but the tools We need to think, feel and act with -- together, as collectively wise communities and countries -- are being brought into being at just the right time.


See also

Special Campaigns and Projects of the Co-Intelligence Institute

Highlights from our work in 2003

A fuller description of our activities, both actual and envisioned

What others say about Tom Atlee's work and the Co-Intelligence Institute


*  The co-intelligence materials on this site are about 2% of the total materials existing about co-intelligence at the Co-Intelligence Institute. Making more of this information available is a high priority, and your support is welcomed.


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