The Co-Intelligence Institute CII home // CIPolitics home

The Challenge of Technology in a Democracy



Situation: The rapid growth of technology presents an unprecedented problem for democracy: How do we exercise our citizenship intelligently? Decision-making in a technological society requires a level of expertise simply unavailable to us common citizens who are supposed to make the decisions.  The best solution currently available to us is to align with advocacy groups (the AMA, the Sierra Club) whose perspective seems to fit most closely with our own, and who do research to bolster their views.  But these interest groups only address problems by battling in the political arena, leaving our country with deep divisions, constantly shifting policies, and a thoroughly confused populace.

This page gives a number of essays about the problem and some solutions, as well as some references. It also offers some links to sites which explore teledemocracy, the positive uses of telecommunications in democracy. See also "Groupware and other 'Electronic Co-Intelligence'"


Are we awake yet?: Science, economics and democracy by Tom Atlee explores how to monitor our hell-bent technological development. Includes "A Tale of Two Botanies" by Amory B. Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins and Bill Joy's amazing article in the April 2000 WIRED magazine.

Societal intelligence faces technological issues by Tom Atlee describes the nature of societal intelligence, and how collective and collaborative intelligence are impacted by our approaches to technology.

Experts and citizens by Tom Atlee explores the roles of citizenship and expertise in an increasingly complex and technical society.

Michael M. Crow's and Daniel Sarewitz' Nanotechnology and Societal Transformation

Jumping from the Hot Pot: Notes on Democracy in a Technological Age is a critique of exceedingly risky scientific and technological developments, with suggestions about how co-intelligent political approaches could monitor them to avoid catastrophe. Includes:

Doug Carmichael and Jan Wyllie on Democracy and Technology explores how democracy handles technological crises.

Democracy and the Precautionary Principle: An Introduction by Maria B. Pellerano and Peter Montague describes ways communities can address all their common issues, including technological ones. Describes 13 specific methodologies.

A Toolbox of Processes for Community Work lists more than a dozen processes through which stakeholders and citizens can be engaged in co-intelligent exploration and decision-making on public issues. The most applicable process for technical issues is the citizen technology panel first held in Denmark.

Town Meetings on Technology by Richard E. Sclove describes Danish Consensus Conferences (aka Danish Technology Panels) and Democratic Politics of Technology by Richard E. Sclove describes European Scenario Workshops as well as principles to guide democratic engagement with technological issues.

There are ways in which telecommunications technology can enhance democracy, an approach called teledemocracy. One experiment in a small town is described in E-Democracy Thrives in Winona, Minnesota.



Democracy and Technology, by Richard Sclove (Guilford, 1995). Shows how technologies support and undermine democracy, and asks: "What role should democracy have in the development of technology?"

The Double Helix: Technology and Democracy in the American Future by E. Wenk (Ablex,1999). Describes the threats to democracy from technological innovation, focusing on those that require a political rather than technological solution.

Teledemocracy sites


Ted Becker's site at

Steven Clift's site at - He has a great free "Democracies Online Newswire" you can subscribe to by emailing: with the message body: SUB DO-WIRE .

And then the more generic, cautious site on the relationships between technology and democracy:

The Loka Institute at


Y2K-related articles about co-intelligence, technology and democracy

(applicable to most other issues)

Y2K Public Participation Proposal by Tom Atlee suggested to Congress how to use co-intelligent processes to engage the public in serious discussion of a technical issue that had potential for great impact on their lives.

Y2K is a Door that Looks Like a Wall by Tom Atlee suggests the kinds of conversations that could have happened about Y2K -- and could still happen -- that would have a profoundly positive effect on our relationship to technology.


"What we should have is a plenitude of alternatives and lots of conversation."

-- Douglass Carmichael