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Wisdom Council


Note: The wisdom council is one form of citizen consensus council.


For a detailed vision and plan for a national Wisdom Council, read Jim Rough's
Society's Breakthrough!
Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People

Developed by organizational development consultant Jim Rough, a wisdom council is a one-time, randomly-selected group of stakeholders who, through special facilitation, produce a consensus statement which is made available to the larger population for further dialogue and action. For an example see "A High School Wisdom Council" on this site.

As a tool for collective intelligence, wisdom councils are most powerful when they are done periodically (e.g., for a week or two every year, each time with a different membership) as a function of ongoing community dialogue. Each wisdom council generates a quantum leap in shared insight which, when fed back into the community dialogue, raises the quality of subsequent collective reflection. Then, after a period of broad dialogue in which everyone's understanding matures further, another random handful of people are selected to do another wisdom council, thus generating another boost for the community wisdom, and so on. Thus, when established as a political/governmental institution, Wisdom Councils are chartered to be held at regular intervals.

The fact that a wisdom council is facilitated towards consensus makes it especially powerful, because it helps non-participants vicariously work through issues that they may not be able to work through in personal dialogues because they lack such skilled facilitation. On the other hand, the wisdom council's findings must be digested and modified by the community in widespread dialogue before those findings qualify as usable collective wisdom. The more dialogue the larger group undertakes before and after the wisdom council's deliberations, the more powerful the resulting collective wisdom will be.

Rough envisions using wisdom councils at the level of national governance. He proposes a Citizen Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He says: "Adding the following amendment to the U.S. Constitution would facilitate us, We the People, to solve the underlying systemic problem we face. The Citizens' Amendment proposes that:

"Each year 24 registered voters will be randomly selected in a lotto drawing and form a Citizens' Wisdom Council. The Wisdom Council will act as a microcosm of the people of the United States. It will meet for a week to consider issues it chooses and to determine consensus statements. At the end of the week, the Wisdom Council will present these statements to all of The People in a new State of the Union message. The Citizens' Wisdom Council will then disband permanently and the next year a new Wisdom Council will be randomly selected. The Citizens' Wisdom Council will be facilitated to assure a creative conversation and unanimity."

Rough comments: "That's it. There's no risk. There is no coercion. In fact, there is no change to the current mechanisms of government. This small group of people only present a statement and then they disband." Leaving everything the same, and everything totally different. Over the years such an public proxy might start to have a significant impact on all other governmental and civic activities.

As Rough explains: "The Citizens' Amendment provides each living generation with a way to manage its affairs responsibly. It is not a liberal nor conservative approach. It doesn't even change the game. Instead, it provides a way for We the People to call 'time out' once a year, so we can think together about what is happening, what we are doing, and who we really are."

For more information on Wisdom Council see or read Jim Rough's book Society's Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People (1stBooks, 2002).

You can read about a one-time precursor of such a nation-wide approach in "Canadian Adversaries Take A Break to Dream."


Note: The Co-Intelligence Institute has a Wisdom Council Project
          to promote this democratic innovation.

"Dynamic Facilitation"

Although I often wonder how many different kinds of facilitation could be used successfully in a Wisdom Council, I have now taken Jim Rough's dynamic facilitation workshop in which he teaches the sort of facilitation that he designed the Wisdom Council to use. In fact, the idea for the Wisdom Council was born in one of his workshops years ago. I have to admit that I now see why he loves it so much. Any other facilitation style is going to have to work hard to keep up with this one. Here's what I wrote after the workshop. -- Tom


A key feature of dynamic facilitation is the use of four chart pads -- one for various statements of the problem at hand, another for ideas regarding solutions, a third for concerns, and a final one for data. Off to the side is another one, reserved for any decisions the group makes. But the first four are key to the process, because the facilitator uses them to catch thoughts and responses out of the group on an ongoing basis -- not as a record, but simply to let people know that what they said was heard and is welcomed into the dialogue. And that dialogue changes as the process unfolds: people end up speaking less with each other (in cross-talk) and more in interaction with the evolving collective picture of what they are discovering as it takes shape up in the "shared space" being held by the facilitator and the chart pads. When this process is flowing, it is quite remarkable to witness.

One important thing I learned in the process was that the objections we have to each others' ideas can be framed as concerns -- to be acknowledged, understood, and placed in public view for all to consider.  We can each learn to do this on our own, and I'm personally trying to do it more, myself.  (e.g., "I am concerned that the World Trade Organization makes it harder for societies and communities to care for their own well-being and the well-being of their world.")  We CAN monitor our own communication in this way.  But, even more importantly, facilitators can help groups translate group conflicts into concerns.  In Jim's workshop I experienced a novice facilitator instantly plucking up my objection at the first signs of argument, saying "So what is your concern here?  Give it to ME.  Let's get it written up here....  Good.  So, tell me what you think should be done, instead.  Let's get that written up here, too....  So, now, who else has an idea for a solution to this...."  With Jim's aptly named dynamic facilitation the facilitator keeps the group moving ahead with their creative imaginings of how they might approach (or even reframe) the situation they're working on -- until the most remarkable solutions begin to crop up and everyone in the group starts exclaiming, "Wow!  Look at what we're coming up with!!!" 

Never before have I seen so much creativity.  Jim and a couple of the particularly quick student facilitators deftly channeled each budding argument into a blossoming of useful information, greatly enhancing our ability to explore together.  There was a dynamic forward motion to the group process which -- miraculously -- enhanced thoughtful reflection rather than steamrolling over it.  Every voice was heard, and each one of us had a chance to say more of what we had to offer (without blocking other offerings) than in any other process I've experienced.  The group energy was very high, with great comradeship despite considerable diversity. 

I will probably write more about this in the future, but for now I'm happy to say I truly believe that this process -- in the hands of a competent facilitator -- definitely does have the power to generate group wisdom and deep, creative consensus.  And I think THAT is a powerful resource to help us address our collective problems.

Dec 1999




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