Innovations in Democracy

Innovations in Democracy

Innovations in Democracy

toward wiser democracies that work for all


Innovations in Democracy aims to make available hundreds of innovative practices, ideas, experiments, organizations and references useful for building wiser democracies that work for all.

"Wiser democracies" are systems of politics and governance, of citizenship and activism, which creatively engage more of our human capacities -- not only to better address today's pressing social and environmental problems, but to help us build more desirable futures for ourselves and all the generations after us.



The Innovations in Democracy Draft Platform 

v. 1.1  April 30, 2001


We face growing problems at local, state, national and global levels. Their size, their complexity, their "messiness," their ramifications, the number of people they affect, the knowledge and wisdom they demand of us -- all these factors are increasing rapidly.

Even at its best, our democracy is ill equipped to deal with the new technological, interconnected, chaotic global century in which we find ourselves. And most of us are painfully aware that our democracy is not "at its best". Its deep flaws grow more visible with each election, with each issue, with each day's headlines.

For one thing, the problems and issues we face are so interconnected they often seem unsolvable.  Activists, public interest organizations and concerned citizens find themselves wrestling with issues whose resolution requires the resolution of some other issues -- issues that are themselves bound up with still other issues....  But if activists stretch their focus to include the bigger picture, they risk becoming overwhelmed or dispersed.

In this Draft Platform, we offer some points of leverage to helps citizens, interest groups and political parties deal with the seeming intractability of social problems. It is based on the observation that one thing every issue has in common is that our current political and governmental systems don't deal well with any of them. Our systems lack the ability to take widely divergent interests and information and weave them into solutions that are widely recognized as wise, doable, and right.

Many people don't even believe such solutions are possible. All they see is the battle among opposing interests, with victory going to the most savvy, rich or unprincipled -- except where there's a compromise that doesn't please anyone. While there is great truth in this cynical "realpolitick" view, there are now enough examples of successful alternatives to justify efforts to transform the entire field of politics.

In this spirit, what is offered here as a point of leverage is simply to improve our culture's collective capacity to address ALL social issues.  To the extent we are successful in this, ALL social issues -- including all those most dear to each of us -- will be addressed more effectively, intelligently and wisely. For this reason,

we urge activists, citizens, interest groups and political parties to use at least some of their resources to promote innovations for creating a healthier, wiser democracy.  Even more importantly, we suggest that this be part of any coalition-building effort.

To provide a solid foundation, we offer the following Draft Platform for Innovations in Democracy. It contains what we see as the highest-leverage innovations for creating a healthy, wiser democracy.  More items could be added -- including many listed on -- as well as many others that you may know of.  However, to make this Platform most useful, we want to keep our list down to about 15-20 innovations.  As we come across better items for our list, we will revise the list.

You can pick as many or as few as you wish to promote.  Learn about them; pull together study circles.  If there are existing organizations advocating your favorite innovation(s), support those organizations.  Talk about the innovations and how they could make a difference. Tell your friends about them. Write letters to editors and officials.  Mention them whenever a social or environmental issue is being discussed -- because all of them apply to every issue.  Organize demonstrations or discussion groups or other creative actions around them. If you are involved with a public interest group, advocacy group or political party, urge them to advocate and support such innovations and to include them in their own platforms.

Even one of these innovations, seriously instituted, would have a profound effect. Together -- established in ways that support each other -- they could give us political and governmental systems capable of generating the wise decisions we so sorely need.

If you feel that an innovation you're familiar with is MORE important than an item listed here, tell us what it is and why you feel that way. We may well revise our list to include it. Just email your comments to If you want to start your own list of high-leverage democracy innovations to compete with ours, by all means do so.  The more creativity and activity there is in this realm, the better it will be for all of us.

Section ONE -- Citizen Deliberative Councils


How do we enhance the capacity of whole societies to reflect on what's happening in and around them, and to come to wiser understanding about what to do about it?

Representative institutions and elections have their place -- and offer a significant advance over monarchies and dictatorships -- but they also have serious limitations, especially when elected officials don't think, feel, look or act anything like the population they were elected to represent -- and when the system requires they spend half their time soliciting bribes (i.e., campaign contributions).

An innovative way around these problems is to officially bring together citizens chosen at random (or in some other unbiased way to embody the actual diversity of their city, state or country) and provide them with powerful processes and information to come up with real community wisdom that's understandable and usable by everyone else. This basic model can be used in a variety of ways, from advising the government or the citizenry, to actually making laws.

The Innovations in Democracy Project believes there is no one innovation with greater potential for improving democratic systems. Below are three applications of this idea.


a)  Wisdom Councils. Every 3-12 months -- with great fanfare -- one or two dozen people are chosen at random from the population of a city, state or nation, and are convened into a 'citizens wisdom council.' For several days these very diverse citizens delve into their combined individual experience, seeking to understand what The People want and what The People think should be done. Using a powerfully creative process -- dynamic facilitation -- they find themselves stumbling into insights they didn't have before and seeing possibilties that excite them all. They announce their discoveries to the whole population to explore further and take action on. Then they disband. (For a national experiment with the same purpose, but using a different process, see the Maclean's Experiment.)

b)  Danish Citizen Technology Panels (aka Consensus Conferences) - About once a year, the Danish government convenes an official panel of ordinary citizens to investigate some controversial technical issue, cross-examine experts, and come to consensus about policy recommendations for their parliament and their fellow citizens.  The whole process engages people from across the spectrum of opinion, so that no one can legitimately claim it was unfair.  Although the method is most urgently needed for dangerous technologies, it could be used to facilitate wise public judgment on any complex social issue.

c)  Philadelphia II/ Direct Democracy.  Former Alaska US Senator Mike Gravel believes America's citizens can simply take back their power to rule themselves, without asking anyone's permission -- and offers this ambitious, sophisticated plan to do just that.  Philadelphia II proposes a national referenda/initiative process through which The People can propose solutions to their collective problems, evaluate and qualify those proposals, collectively reflect on them -- using public hearings, randomly selected citizen "deliberative committees", public information campaigns and even an advisory vote by Congress -- and then decide on them by a national vote.  This process could greatly reduce collective stupidity and special-interest manipulation in a broad range of issues.


Section TWO -- Wise Guiding Lights


It is one thing to have power, or even to generate agreement among citizens. It is another thing for democratic decisions to be truly wise. We need decisions reflecting elegantly broad perspectives that honor what is best in people and highest in life, while being grounded in the very real world we live in together.

Shared wisdom can be especially elusive in cultures where people have no shared spiritual tradition and no shared access to the wisdom of ancestors, spirit guides and the long experience of stable communities. Which is the kind of culture most of us live in.

So the wisdom of modern democratic societies has to arise from the insights of diverse students of life, integrated in ways that are widely viewed as common sense. A number of these sources of wisdom are offered below, to provide guidance to the democratic deliberations of citizens.


a)  Quality of Life Statistics. Citizens need statistics to monitor how their community or country is doing so they can take appropriate action. Monetary statistics like Gross Domestic Product tell us little -- and often mislead us -- about our actual quality of life. Communities around the world have developed local statistics to measure their collective well-being. Redefining Progress tracks such innovations and has also developed a national measure of quality of life. The Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators, edited by Hazel Henderson, Jon Lickerman, and Patrice Flynn, details sensible ways to measure a dozen diverse aspects of our national well-being. Changing our culture's measures of success is one of the highest forms of leverage available to us.

b) The Earth Charter is a people's charter of enduring fundamental principles widely shared by people of all races, cultures and religions. It is intended to serve as a universal code of conduct for citizens, educators, business executives, scientists, professional associations, religious and spiritual leaders, civil society organisations, and national councils for sustainable development. It was produced over a decade by thousands of people from all over the world -- experts, officials and ordinary citizens -- who engaged in intense negotiations with each other over critical wording. It was "the most open and participatory consultation process ever conducted in connection with the drafting of an international document," according to Steven Rockefeller, its drafting committee chair. It counsels respectful nurturance for the diverse community of life; democratic societies that are just, participatory, sustainable, and peaceful; and the replacement of poverty and oppression with the promotion of equitable human development, individual and cultural integrity, and universal access to education, health care, and economic opportunity. It includes insights from two other wise innovations to which we want to draw your attention:

Those involved with religious and spiritual communitities may also want to promote the sacred counterpart of the secular Earth Charter, Towards a Global Ethic, crafted by the Parliament of the World's Religions. This initial statement of rules for living on which the world's religions agree, was produced through a two-year consultation among more than two hundred scholars and theologians representing all the world's major faiths.


Section THREE -- Common Sense Election Reform


Large numbers of citizens are dissatisfied with their electoral systems.  Even in the year 2000 US presidential election a third of the eligible voters didn't even vote, and many who did vote didn't like the choices they were given.

How can we get better candidates and proposals to vote on -- and better information on the impact they would have in our lives?  How can elections be so engaging that nearly everybody wants to participate in them?  

Evidence suggests that if people are given good information and a real chance to make a real difference, they will get involved. Here are some ways to move strongly in that direction.


a) A Voter's Bill of Rights. A broad coalition of over 100 groups calling itself the Pro-Democracy Campaign is advocating a platform of ten electoral reforms:

Since this electoral reform initiative already has considerable momentum, the Co-Intelligence Institute's Innovations in Democracy Project is endorsing it (and your organization can, too). We'd like to note that among these ten proposals, we most strongly support the following two democratic innovations:

b)  Better information on candidates and proposals. Open candidate debates (which is also part of the Voters' Bill of Rights) allow citizens to hear all credible candidates views so they can judge whether to vote for them. To provide stimulation and promote public dialogue, candidate debates should include all qualified contenders, including at least the most popular Third Party candidates. Alternatively (or additionally) Plan for a Healthy Democracy synergistically combines two randomly-selected citizen deliberative bodies -- a Citizens Panel of 12-24 citizens and a "Televote" audience of 600 people -- to pass informed public judgment on an issue, a ballot initiative, a slate of candidates, or the performance of elected officials.  In virtually any election at any level, it is easy to see how a number of these public deliberations could usefully clarify controversial issues, proposals and candidates.  Finally, one of the most informative existing organizations is Project Vote Smart -- a one-stop database for candidates' positions and links to advocacy organizations from across the political spectrum working in 56 different public issue-areas. (As a footnote, we feel the Destination Democracy website mentioned above is one excellent model for how to provide the public with engaging, useful information about a public issue.)


Section FOUR -- Reduced Global Corporate Influence


The innovations in the three previous sections would go a long way to limiting the power of corporations to manipulate democracy and shape life in our communities and countries. But corporate power now stretches around the globe and ultimately must be addressed at the that level. Here are some promising opportunities to do exactly that.


a) Democratize Globalization. Global trade agreements are perhaps the greatest threat to the sovereignty of democratic communities and societies.  Trade decisions by unelected officials behind closed doors can repeal all sorts of laws, regulations and practices designed to protect citizens, communities and environments. "WTO: Shrink or Sink: The Turn-Around Agenda" is an international campaign that's already underway, and we endorse it. Among its eleven demands is one for "Democratic Decision-Making," which notes that "decision-making processes in negotiations and enforcement at international commercial bodies be democratic, transparent and inclusive." Given the manipulatable nature of modern democracies, the Innovations in Democracy Project strongly suggests that this demand require that all regional and global trade agreements -- and their decisions -- be approved by citizen deliberative councils such as those in Section One, above, representing the concerned populations.  The complexity of global trade issues has been used as a barrier to informed public judgment by citizens or even elected representatives (many of whom have never read the trade agreements they vote on).  The unbiased, difficult to manipulate, information-rich Danish-style citizen panels (1b, above) could deal well with this issue, allowing citizens' concerns and values to enter trade talks on an equal footing with the concerns of corporations and bureaucrats.

b) Globalize Healthy Democracy. Although resisting the establishment of elite global governance through trade agreements must be done as a holding action, it won't give us a robust global democracy. The UN, while important, is limited as a democratic body by the fact that it represents countries (many of which are barely democratic), rather than people. Some people such as the World Democracy Campaign, advocate establishing an elected global legislature. However, given the way existing elections are manipulated, we wonder how global elections could provide us with better governance than we have nationally. Again, we in the Innovations in Democracy Project find ourselves drawn to the idea of citizen deliberative councils. We suspect this approach offers more leverage -- although a combination of citizen councils and legislatures may be best (as in the Philadelphia II/ Direct Democracy model). Financing a global democracy is a challenge, but there are good ideas for addressing it. A Tobin Tax (named after Yale Nobel-laureate economist James Tobin) is a proposed international excise tax on cross-border currency transactions. Such taxes could help tame currency market volatility and restore national economic sovereignty. The billions of dollars raised could finance not only global environmental and human needs, but also -- and we believe most importantly -- democratic innovations like the ones mentioned in this Draft Platform.  As we suggested earlier: Civil society would get particularly high leverage in globalizing democracy by internationally financing the establishment of official citizen deliberative councils for each country (and holding unofficial ones where countries won't create official ones). The results of all such councils could be posted on an international website for citizens worldwide to see what other citizens are thinking and creating. Out of this effort, regional and international citizen deliberative councils would naturally grow.  

c) The Simultaneous Policy is not so much a policy as a strategy to engage activists and organizations in every country to agree on a set of policies and laws which, if passed simultaneously in nearly every country in the world, would effectively limit global corporate power. It is based on the logic that local or national attempts to regulate corporate power simply result in (a) corporations moving to more receptive areas and/or (b) direct economic punishment of the society issuing the regulations, for example, through the machinery of the World Trade Organization. Many of the proposals in this Draft Platform could be included in such simultaneous initiatives, as well as pursued nationally or locally.


Section FIVE -- Enhanced self-organization for grassroots movements


Grassroots energy is self-organizing energy.  

Many ways have been developed to help groups, organizations and communities self-organize more powerfully. One approach is to increase their coherence without decreasing their diversity -- for example, through more and better communication processes, shared identity, and shared resources.

The approaches given below could give new vitality and effectiveness to movements for a better world.

a) Organize powerful conversations with powerful processes such as dynamic facilitation, listening circles and open space conferences -- as well as dialogue, world cafe, consensus process, nonviolent communication, study circles, future search conferences, listening projects, and strategic questioning. Spread awareness of such processes. Make and show videos of them to help people who've never experienced them see how different they are from the low-quality conversations most people are used to. Where necessary (e.g., with dynamic facilitation and consensus process), get facilitators trained, or call in already trained facilitators who would like to make a difference in the world. (There are networks of open space, future search and other facilitators, contactable through their websites.) Many activists have never been part of a conversation where new insights and possibilities were discovered by everyone involved, and even fewer have been part of activities that self-organize through such conversations. We don't need to tolerate boring, frustrating or ineffective meetings and oppressive dynamics in our organizations and our work. Powerful conversations can create more effective organizations, better coalition efforts, more public engagement with movement issues, and -- out in the world -- a more effective, engaged democracy that's also fun to participate in and generates wise public understandings and policies. Above all, at this time, grassroots, life-serving groups need to organize sustained collective reflection on our movements' changing circumstances and our habitual ways of operating. We need to set aside time and resources for dedicated, creative exploration of new directions, new strategies, and new possibilities. The understandings, relationships and visions we create together can guide us into movement-wide coherence without needing any top-down bureaucracies or rigid ideologies.

b) Nurture a non-oppressive sense of common identity. There are many ways to say who "we" are. The Innovations in Democracy Project suggests that the most promising -- because it is so inclusive and already well developed -- is "The Cultural Creatives." This phrase refers to the 50 million people in the U.S. (and more around the world) -- liberal, conservative and beyond all political categories -- who are concerned about environmental and social issues, relationships, human potentials and human needs, nonviolence and fairness -- and who don't find much meaning in our materialist mass-consumer culture. Although the next wave of civilization is largely being invented by those folks (that is, by us), we are barely aware that we are all doing it together, or of how many of us there really are. When we wake up to these facts, there is a good chance that positive changes will start happening much more quickly....

c) Reconfigure transformational philanthropy.   Conservative foundations basically engineered our culture's drift to the right that we have experienced since the early 1980's.  We would do well to learn some strategic thinking from them. And some of the most powerful conversations (see [a] above) could take place between transformationally-oriented wealthy individuals and foundations, on the one hand and, on the other hand, change agents who need support for their work. What changes on both sides would make the biggest difference? What new ways of doing business might they co-create together? Most of today's philanthropic culture is too constrained in its perspective and bureaucratic machinery to deal well with rapid change, breakthrough opportunities, and out-of-the-box thinkers and projects -- which are the building-blocks of conscious cultural transformation. Members of the philanthropic community who are ready for change might try thinking the way venture capitalists think: gambling on potential big returns from innovative initiatives -- risks on behalf of high-leverage transformational impact. As Boomers inherit wealth and high-tech millionaires encounter social problems they want to help solve, the vast wealth concentrated at the top of our societies may become more available to fuel needed social transformation. Are we prepared to make the best of that? Can we creatively transform the field of philanthropy, itself, in time? Every group working on behalf of life has an interest in helping that happen... [If you wish to pursue this further, or have references or ideas to share about this, write to Tom Atlee at the Co-Intelligence Institute]

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

There's a lot here, but it is only a tiny piece of what could be done and what is already being done (see, for example, our Project web page). It is our sense that this is the cream of the crop. If you have wondered "What should I do?", then pick something here that you believe in, and run with it. As we said at the beginning:

Learn about it; pull together study circles.  If there are existing organizations advocating your favorite innovation(s), support those organizations.  Talk about these innovations and how they could make a difference. Tell your friends about them. Write letters to editors and officials.  Mention them whenever a social or environmental issue is being discussed -- because all of them apply to every issue.  Organize demonstrations or discussion groups or other creative actions around them. If you are involved with a public interest group, advocacy group or political party, urge them to advocate and support such innovations and to include them in their own platforms.

Taking time away from other issues to work on this is like getting out of our cars to remove obstacles from the road. The roadway of democracy is littered with junk. It's time for some of us to get out of our cars (or off of our bicycles), and clear the road. Once the road is cleared, all of us will get where we want to go much faster and easier than we ever dreamed possible.


-- Tom Atlee