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A Collaborative Democracy Network


One of a series of complementary New Democracy Projects


Resources and innovations currently exist out of which a new political / governmental order could grow, based on collaboration, holism and understanding of living systems. These resources and innovations need to be woven into a movement. Creating a Collaborative Democracy Network is one strategy for weaving that movement.



There exists a diverse field of innovators and innovations which share important assumptions such as these:

1) Differences are a resource for the generation of wisdom, solutions and possibilities.

2) Tapping the richness of diversity requires good attention to process.

3) People who care about something are a special resource for handling it.

4) Properly facilitated dialogue among diverse stakeholders can produce understandings and programs on which they can all agree.

5) A small group (1-5 dozen people) selected (randomly or scientifically; not politically) to represent the diversity of a larger population can, through appropriately facilitated deliberation, generate real wisdom about complex issues on behalf of that larger population.

6) Those who will be affected by a decision should be able to play an informed and appropriate role in shaping that decision.

7) The systems we live in (cultures, institutions, media, power relations, infrastructures, etc.) are among the most profound influences on our consciousness and behavior. Efforts to change a society's consciousness and behavior require changes in systems.

8) The political and governmental systems we have now are not working. In fact, they play a significant role in generating our growing collective problems (even catastrophes).

9) Any positive evolution of democracy will be grounded in collaboration, our common humanity, respect for diversity, and/or our understanding of holism and living systems theory.

10) Such evolution of democracy is of the highest importance. Without it, our circumstances will likely grow increasingly dire. With it, every other public issue will be more readily resolved. This is where the leverage is.

Many innovations operate on most of these assumptions -- and most of the innovators don't know about most of the other innovators in this area. Any one of their innovations, if instituted broadly, would have a profound effect on our public life and collective prospects.

Each innovator or advocate knows this about their own favorite innovation(s); that is why they promote them so energetically. Their passion is a resource -- but it is also an obstacle to collaboration among their various approaches. Among innovators of collaboration, continuing failure to collaborate is particularly poignant -- not only because "they should know better" but because the world needs them very badly right now. All of them. Together.



A broad review of this area of innovation can rapidly lead to several conclusions:

a) Many of these innovations together suggest a coherent pattern -- a fully differentiated and powerful governmental/political gestalt -- a potentially complete replacement for the dysfunctional system we currently suffer under, which could be built right now in the midst of what exists.

b) There is a field of study and practice here -- and a rich collection of resources and tools -- that seem to add up to a nascent movement that could be on the verge of coherent self-awareness.

c) No other movement in history has been as (potentially!) capable of benefiting from its own diversity and taking charge of its own collective evolution -- because that is what this movement is all about. It has just never applied its expertise TO ITSELF. If it were to do so, one would expect it to develop ever-more-advanced versions of itself as a movement and of its political vision and potential.

Collaborative practitioners have (theoretically) the capacity to make themselves, as a movement, into the world they've dreamed of. If they can't do it, then they have no business telling anyone else that such things are possible.



What would it mean to convene dialogues to explore this larger possible gestalt implied by (a)-(c) above -- this elusive new system of which these different innovations are precursors or potential elements? What might be needed for these people to get underway as a conscious movement?

Here are some thoughts:


I] GATHERINGS - These folks need to get together and talk







1) Establish a website where innovations in democracy can be gathered together and promoted together. (For example, see the webpage plan on the Innovations in Democracy and Beyond Project webpage.)

2) Convene a small group (perhaps a dozen people) to generate a vision statement or manifesto of collaborative politics and governance (perhaps under the rubric of COMMON SENSE 2000, after Tom Paine's famous revolutionary tract). (See the "Call" below.)

3) Convene a meeting of 30-200 people, probably mostly in "open space" process, in which the full dimensions of this movement's prospects could be explored.

4) Raise funds to create an organization to start promoting all the above functions (I-III).


A call to a "Common Sense 2000" Dialogue


Dear colleagues exploring new forms of governance and politics:

There are thousands of us thinking creatively about politics and governance. There are other thousands of us creating and practicing powerful processes for conflict resolution, collaboration, consensus, organizational learning and self-organization. I suspect that only a few hundred of us are part of both networks, trying to envision and bring into being a new politics and governance based on new understandings of the dynamics of collaboration and living systems.

One way I have of summarizing this new political/governmental vision is this:

We want to speed our democracy's evolution


individuals and groups
competing for power
in a mass culture
controlled largely by money


individuals, groups and communities
collaborating to solve their common problems,
to share their stories and dreams,
and to co-create their collective lives


a healthy living system
consciously learning, evolving and self-organizing its way
into an increasingly co-creative, co-intelligent and wise
partnership with the world around it.


I don't know if you find that vision fully comfortable. You may well have problems with it, or want to tweak it, revise it, or thoroughly rework it or start over from scratch. I'd be delighted if you did. And yet my question is less how you feel about the statement, itself, and more if you resonate with the inarticulable vision out of which it comes, and if you intuitively feel we are part of the same inquiry/passion/mission.

If you do feel that, then I would like to invite you to join others of us who feel this way. I would like us to meet for a few days, using some form of consensus-evoking process, to see if we can
a) articulate the simple core of this vision we share,
b) develop a sense of the sorts of political/governmental forms that would embody that vision and
c) clarify what strategies, tactics, actions we might take that would further the realization of this vision.

My tentative approach to (a) is given above. As a tentative foray into (b) I would offer the following:

1) Various initiatives using citizen consensus panels or councils -- especially in their national applications -- could help bypass and dilute the control of government by special interests, making it more responsive to public needs and values and "the general welfare." For example:

A 1991 Macleans magazine experiment creating consensus
among 12 citizens chosen to represent 12 major Canadian public
opinion cohorts, facilitated by Roger Fisher of the Harvard
Negotiation Project.

The Danish quasi-official citizen panels convened to study
a technological issue, interview experts and get facilitated to
consensus policy recommendations, which they pass on to the
press and government. Several countries have experimented
with this, including the US (thanks to Amherst's Loka Institute).

Consultant Jim Rough's proposal for a constitutional amendment
establishing an annual "wisdom council" through which a group
of randomly selected U.S. citizens would be facilitated to a
consensus articulation of the state of the Union.

2) The National Commons - a proposal integrating a wide variety of collaborative approaches (including Search for Common Ground and the Public Conversation Project) through which gatherings of diverse people most influential in, wise about and/or affected by specific national problem are facilitated to consensus plans for handling those problems, which they proceed to implement. This problem-centered approach can operate with or without the participation of official government entities.

3) Process tools for local community self-organization, group functioning, and shared inquiry -- including open space conferencing, future search, world cafe, asset-based community development, local exchange systems, circles, dialogue, scenario work, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Human Dynamics, etc. These bring collaborative competence to community self-reliance efforts. Governance should be devolving not to the private sector, but to competent communities... But that competence needs to be developed.

So, for "the sorts of political/governmental forms that would embody that vision" we might (tentatively, clumsily) imagine the wisdom of national citizen panels (like those described in [1], above) guiding our country as a whole, wherein a National Commons process (like that described in [2], above) would shape the actions of those involved in social problems which, in turn, would reach down into vibrant, operational communities that were collaborating and learning together using process tools like those in (3), above.

Hopefully what I've written so far gives you a sense of what I mean by "a vision and the political/governmental forms that would embody that vision." I should emphasize that I offering these as neither a manifesto nor a proposal. They are simply examples of the kind of thing I'm thinking of, perhaps a working exploration.

As for the strategies, tactics, and actions needed to advance the realization of such a vision, a lot depends on how we each view the larger context in which we're working. I feel that our mounting social and environmental problems suggest a certain urgency, and the public response to recent electoral problems in the U.S. suggest that there may be a greater readiness to consider new ideas about democracy than there was previously.

I believe there a new political/governance vision nascent, ready to be born among us. We are its midwives. It behooves us to not wait any longer to bring it out, to let it cry its first breath. If we came together for a few days with good facilitation, might we be able to invoke it and articulate it in a compelling way -- just as Tom Paine articulated the rationale for the American Revolution with his pamphlet COMMON SENSE? Might such an effort -- perhaps called COMMON SENSE 2000 -- become a watershed between our tired, dysfunctional democracy and a new form of democracy inspired by the latest insights and methodologies regarding collaboration, consensus, collective intelligence and self-organization?

In the next few months, can we gather together 10-20 people who have ideas, visions and methodologies relevant to creating such a new politics and governance? There would likely be funding available to support a low-key get-together of such people. If you would like to participate, let me know your schedule during the next few months. We will try to schedule the gathering when the most (and most key) participants can come. If you'd just like to be kept informed on this project, do let me know. And, of course, all comments and suggestions are welcome!

Please reply as soon as possible. More information will follow soon to those who reply.

Thank you for your time and ongoing good work.


Tom Atlee