Heraklion DEMOSCOPIO: A vision for democracy, cooperation and dialogue

The municipality of Heraklion in Crete, Greece will soon open the Heraklion Demoskopio, a new institution that will engage the stakeholders of the city in open and focused dialogues. It will be a public space for eliciting citizen concerns, hosting their dialogues, and posting those concerns and results on its walls and windows of the town’s citizens.

It will host open and structured dialogues to cooperatively define and resolve complex issues. The concerns, on account of the deliberations, the definitions, and the selected course of action are posted on its wall and are open for examination by all citizens.

It is expected that citizens, researchers, entrepreneurs, scientists, educational institutions, collective bodies, the opportunity to collaborate effectively in designing innovative solutions to a variety of challenges facing the city leadership. (See also the decision of the City Council here:  

https://yperdiavgeia.gr/c64f0986b9b2442 da65f555c7ac2d643

Dimoskopio_ Heraklion) 

Read also the original idea as formulated and submitted to the Municipality of Heraklion by the Social Systems Design Professor, Dr. A lexander N. Christakis, and the independent journalist Maria Kakoulaki here:

More specifically, the Demoscopio, as indicated in the decision of the City Council, aims at listening to citizens and entrepreneurs, whose voices are never heard on issues that concern them, so that they will be able to converse on equal terms with other actors in society, and to share opinions, proposals, visions for the future of the city. Also groups of students who have creative ideas and want to turn them into viable businesses or products, or to improve the social environment, can display and promote their plans through the Demoskopio capability and facility. Furthermore, it will provide support to volunteer groups, educational and research institutions wishing to codesign practices and innovations, as well as exhibits and museum spaces.

According to officials of the municipality, the economic crisis Greece is experiencing today, is affecting Greek cities dramatically, reducing the available financial resources and manpower, and increasing social security and support needs. This crisis has particularly affected young people, with unemployment rates have soared sharply from 2007 onwards.

The Municipality of Heraklion intends to contribute to addressing this reality through the institution of the Demoskopio, which encourages and develops a culture of social dialogue, cooperation, development, innovation, and entrepreneurship, particularly among young people. It has been observed that in recent years a wave of young people with talents and skills, that exploit new technologies for services and products, need support in translating their ideas into viable businesses. The Demoskopio will act as a node in a social network for generating ideas, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

The Demoskopio will provide three main types of services. The first category concerns the application of Structured Democratic Dialogue (SDD) for the design and promotion of social and business cooperation, consensus and networking with the wide involvement and participation of all perspectives. The second category concerns the business interconnection services, which include the participation of young people in innovation competitions, entrepreneurship and mentoring workshop. The third category concerns business acceleration consulting and support services.

[Official publication of the decision in the “stepfather” newspaper, 01.02.15] 
http://www.patris.gr/articles/294026?PHPSESSID =#.VvmyX8eMAcg

A Digital Approach to Democratic Dialogue

The essence of a democratic act is the co-construction of a coherent understanding of a shared circumstance. All else flows from this constructed understanding. It has never been easy, and today may be much more difficult that it has been in the past. This is frustratingly ironic to many who turn to the Internet as mankind’s last best shot at a democratic global future.

As I see it, here is the rub. Modern internet technology makes gathering voices straight forward … if and only if the channel for expressing one’s voice is broadly shared. This means that a central URL (a universal resource locator) is needed which will provide a strong and sustainable forum or venue for democratic exchange. This wing of the problem is well within current reach, but not without its problems. As we feel our way forward toward a more perfect digital platform for democratic practice, we will see frictions among alternative efforts as they become constrained in an earnest traffic jam rushing toward a single destination. The best of intentions will collide. And in the race to recruit voices from the public, the reservoir of public bandwidth will be sucked dry. This is because the public has a finite capacity of energy to invest in democratic practice, and efforts to engage the public places pressure upon public attention – resulting in a form of dialogue fatigue. Unless the venue through which the public is created energizes the public in meaningful ways, that venue risks teaching the public to ignore urgent calls for collective engagement. The hunger for meaning that people instinctively feel as a sentient species will become satiated by stories that will be crafted without an inclusive voice – and delivered on plates that are ideal for swallowing stories easily.

The second wing that will lift democratic deliberations aloft is a cycling three-fold means of listening to all of the responding voices, recruiting unresponsive voices, and assembling a coherent picture of the understanding that links all respondents in a sense of common situation. These requirements for inclusive understanding have to be met before efforts to nominate or prescribe specific remedial actions are initiated. We cannot hope to collectively fix a situation if we do not first have a shared understanding of that situation.

Creating a shared, coherent view of a complex situation is a process that struggles toward an end-point. The end-point is an ideal destination, and the human effort is a pragmatic step toward that ideal destination. We cannot expect to get to 100% closure on a complex view of the future – however, we can hope to get full closure on a coherent statement of where the preferred future will be found. In other words, we can come to agree upon what we do feel we know, and at the same time recognize that there are important things that we can be watchful for but cannot yet fully know.

Before taking on a mechanic’s view of how to find closure on an incomplete yet coherent view, and how to translate that view into collective action, one might well ask if an effort to force a shared understanding is worthy of our time when we recognize from the start that any such understanding will necessarily be incomplete. The short answer is “yes” – most profoundly and urgently “yes.”

Agreeing upon a way to move through a jungle of uncertainty is essential when it is impossible to point to the one true direction out of that jungle with certainty. If we can agree how to meaningfully explore together, we can agree how to learn from our explorations together; and if we agree how to learn from our shared explorations, we can agree to find the best possible options for our futures. Now we all should realize that it was not too long ago when such a string of logic would be held to be absurd – and we should all also realize that in many parts of the world today this same logic is still reviled as foolishness. The singular authority of hierarchical leadership can and will ordain directions for others to follow. With near-term horizons, this is natural and proper … if we are to put out a fire that is roaring around us, we need a command-and-control response. If we are seeing the fire upon the horizon – even as that horizon draws ever closer – we are capable of more than a reliance upon hierarchical, authoritarian leadership. Hierarchical decision makers do rightly fear becoming bogged down in a quagmire of irreconcilable differences. Traditional leadership often lack experience where vastly differing positions are efficiently and powerfully intertwined into a coherent basis for action. Hierarchical process needs experience applying democratic process for dealing with diffuse and far-horizon action – just as democratic process needs skillful application of hierarchical process for dealing with management of focused and near-horizon action. Democratic process is not at odds with autocratic hierarchies. Autocrats have their advisors – the democratic urge is to include among those advisers equal voice from “all” perspectives of the governed.

Now for a mechanic’s view of assuring a shared construction of a coherent vision of a situation – as a prelude to a shared construction of a coherent imagining of real options for responding to the situation: v First, collect a large set of (unique) ideas that express matters of concern from an inclusively diverse pubic audiences regarding a specific situation. v Second, get a preliminary view of the specific ideas that the public broadly feels to be of most “highly important” to keep in mind when trying to understand the situation. v Third, begin exploring relationships among this set of highly important concerns in a pair wise fashion – searching for ideas which are judged to strongly influence the successful resolution of other ideas. v Fourth, display a model which will reveal the initial pattern of influence across the system of highly important matters of concern. v Fifth, use this initial pattern to search through other expressed matters of concern which might take up positions of still deeper and greater influence upon the emerging system pattern. v Six, reflect on the patter of influence for the situation being explored, and seek out additional concerns with even more deeply influence the successful resolution of the system of concerns. v Seventh, overlay ideas about possible actions which could address each of the concerns contained within the influence map of the situation. v Eight, in groups which self-nominate themselves as desiring to collaborate on resolving the situation, craft action scenarios that draw upon the action options overlaid upon the influence map of the situation. v Ninth, compare alternative scenarios and first identify actions which are common across all scenarios. v Tenth, engage reflection upon action options which are progressively unique to specific action scenarios, asking for clarity on why one specific course of action is advantageous with respective to an alternative (on possibly in combination with an alternative) action of a specific item of concern in the influence map of the situation. v Eleven, converge upon a small set of real alternatives for action, and develop narratives for the preferred action alternatives which will feature both their commonalities and their differences.

The mechanical process for constructing a coherent view from a multitude of individual concerns will be reduced to digital mechanism through iterations over time. The work has begun already and is largely nearing completion. Yet while two wings will lift democracy into flight, democracy requires one additional element to come to roost. Democratic initiatives need to be reflected broadly in the public dialogue. This will involve bringing the digital back into the first person world. Extending the mechanic’s view, three additional activities are needed to curate, survey and enact democratic decision making. v Mechanical step twelve places into a public venue both a complete, transparent, and (where possible) illustrated record of ideas of concern, patterns of influence among ideas, options for acting upon ideas, and a resolved set of real options for action. v Mechanical step thirteen captures (unique) statements in response to the public communication of the democratic process, and incorporates those public statements into the retained public communication of the democratic process. v And mechanical step fourteen calls for an informed electorate to express the will of the people through public vote.

The practice of democracy is more than a human right alone: it is also a human responsibility, and along with all sets of responsibilities come some rules of process. The mechanic’s tour of democratic process lays out a sequence of activities all of which must be substantially complete before the next task is engaged. For example, the democracy platform must segment “situation exploration” from “situation resolution” activities so that respondents can be assure that actions will be contemplated with, and only with, a shared understanding of the situation that calls for resolution. Orchestrating the construction of coherence from a multitude of highly different individual perspectives, traditions and beliefs is going to be difficult. In many ways, the way that we think is who we are. We self-identify with our approach to making sense out of the world, and we define our communities through our traditions for including or excluding others in our thought processes.

Today, as we straddle the physical world and the digital universe, we are developing new traditions through which we will come to know the community of mankind. Our digital technology can either liberate us or constrain us. The way that we choose to use this technology is within our hands. It is up to us to imagine together how we will implement digital democracy.

Systemic Barriers to Effective Societal Response to Terrorism

“Organizational learning must concern itself not with static entities called organizations, but with an active process of organizing which is, at root, a cognitive enterprise. Individual members are continually engaged in attempting to know the organization, and to know themselves in the context of the organization. At the same time, their continuing efforts to know and to test their knowledge represent the object of their inquiry. Organizing is reflexive inquiry.” (Argyris & Schön, 1978, 16–17).

Systems Thinkers Toronto turned out a dozen people last week for a demonstration the new SDD dialogue management software and a discussion of dialogic design practice, which can be seen as an embodiment of organizational and social system cognitive organizing.  I teach a basic form of the methodology in my Systemic Design course in OCAD University’s Strategic Foresight and Innovation graduate program. As a core practice of the Institute for 21st Century Agoras these methods have been developed from Christakis and Warfield’s Interactive Management over the last decade. The formal events are recognized and certified as Co-laboratories of Democracy).

The unique contribution of the software is in guiding a group of stakeholders to map out the influence relationships among structured statements in a dialogue. The logosofia system (and the new Cogniscope 3) are slowly replacing the aging CSII software. However, learning the software is not a path to practice, its merely an embodiment of the method which is learned in the course of performance in the Arena (Christakis’ term for convening Co-labs in high-stakes, multi-stakeholder engagements.)  While it usually takes years and mentorship to become a lead facilitator, we are making the engagements themselves more affordable and accessible. Between the Future Worlds Center and the Agoras Institute, we are designing and convening streamlined hybrid sessions that are more accessible to everyday citizens and civic groups. Such a hybrid design-led approach is shown in this opening presentation for an engagement in Berlin.

In our Toronto-based Systems Thinking community of practice we held a walkthrough of the software in a simulation, but holding a real dialogue on the barriers to effective action on global terrorism. Walking through the process of a Dialogic Design Co-laboratory with a dozen participants, we hosted the question of “What barriers do we anticipate that, if addressed in the next 5 years, will most effectively resolve issues of global terrorism?” 

We quickly ran through the following steps in simulation:

  • Triggering question (TQ) formation
  • Nominal group – responses to TQ
  • Entering responses into logosofia
  • Clarifubg statements upon entry
  • Selection of highest priority challenges
  • Structuring – Voting on relative influence
  • Mapping and final dialogue

I wanted to share the kind of deeply-thought responses that emerge when we take a more systemic approach to structured dialogue and attempt to focus attention on sources and motivations rather than manifestations and grievances:

• Attention to terrorist acts is disproportionate to the impact.
• Youth lacking healthy source of epic meaning.
• Psychological force of prior harms unreconciled.
• Inhibition within liberal democratic culture to take necessary steps to effectively eradicate perpetrators.
• Cultural ignorance of the roots of colonialism.
• Disappearing state monopoly over public values & communication.
• (Dictionary of definitions) Lack of agreement of definitions acts of terrorism
• Isolation of moderate groups of same ethnicity or faiths
• Cultural or political compulsions to escalate retribution
• Inequitable access to systems of education (polarization)
• Degrowth process of global economic forces (inequitable dist of wealth)
• Lack of true globalization (arbitrary geographic identities)


As you can see its a shallow map, as we didn’t have the time to include and map out all responses – this was a trial run, and the first round of responses. But the seriousness of the setting and the clarity of process in SDD reinforces a more thoughtful approach that brings forth group attempts to reach source issues that are also personally meaningful to the author proposing the issue.

Finally, the discussion yielded by the dialogic design trial brought serious reflection to the fore.  Here the predominant reasoning was that “terrorist acts” are the means to achieve other strategies. They have little to do with Islamic ideology, but leverage the fear factor associated with the unknown of cultures and “the other,” keeping the press at work reinforcing our notions of the fearsome other. The deepest drivers in the relational network, even in this quick run, show that unreconciled prior harms (blowback) and our own “cultural ignorance of the roots of colonialism” have deep causality with a deeply alienated young demographic in the originating cultures. If such a tool could be used for serious policy design, we might stand a chance of recovering our cosmopolitan values of an evolving human civilization.

The Irony of the Predicament of Detroit

In a recent blog titled “Detroit and the Temptation of Ruin,” Tufts University civics scholar Peter Levine speaks of art, poverty and hopes for renewal. The story, as Levine notes, is tragic in the Aristotelian sense – local art and architecture documents a rise to power, a celebrated era, and a collapse to “700,000 people who live amid the empty shells of its industrial past, while the nation looks away.”

There is a rather contemporary irony in the decline of Detroit, for its uncertain future was foreshadowed in the minds of its local champions a half century prior to its demise. Human artifacts persist as statements made in powerful moments – they are aspects of an extracorporeal memory that is interpreted anew by each generation if not by each new observer. When the wind blows from the right direction, whispers from history breathe depth into the newfound meaning.

In 1965 a decision had been made to conduct a 5-year study of the Detroit area with the objective of anticipating needs for sustainable growth and a high quality of life. The research was intended to link perspectives on the economic, social, cultural and physical problems facing man in communities like the Urban Detroit Area.  The effort was championed by the Chairman of the Board of The Detroit Edison Company.

To lead the research efforts, Constantinos Doxiadis – a then world renowned philosophical architect and urban planner who had served as Minister of Housing and Reconstruction during the challenging post-war recovery in Greece – was engaged to apply the emerging science of complex human settlements (“ekistics”).  Doxiadis worked alongside researchers at Wayne State University, and for generations the implemented designs were celebrated.

The back story is that during this period even within Doxiadis’ close circle of researchers a gnawing truth was cutting its teeth.  Design which is catalyzed, led and owned by the elite layer of a society – regardless of how well intentioned – will be unbalanced unless specific provisions are made to include all distinct community perspectives in authentic participation with the designers.

Doxiadis Detroit Plan

I am not making the point that greater citizen input might have foreseen the way with which Detroit collapsed, but rather that greater representation of the future from those of us who live life upon the sidewalks that we travel may have called for greater resiliency in the plan. It is, of course, unfair to kick or criticize a man or a community when it is down. All of the then understood precautions were taken to assure that the best of available thinking was drawn into the design of the urban area.

In the short term, good things happened in Detroit, and from within Doxiadis’ team at that time emerged one of the founding members of the Club of Rome who subsequently developed and validated an approach that now does allow individuals of all levels of skill to participate equitably and fully in complex civic planning. This individual —- Dr. Alexander (Aleco) Christakis, left the Club of Rome when it found itself unwilling to deal with the challenge of broad-scale citizen engagement in its newly adopted design practice. Aleco subsequently founded the Institute for 21st Century Agoras.

The Greeks today may still glorify some of the ruins of the past – however, like citizens of Detroit, they also are obliged to take up the struggle to discover new futures. As a statement of hope for the human condition, we might recognize that the experiences gathered during the golden age of Detroit do continue to influence the future even as the city struggles to rediscover itself.

Detroit’s artifacts might well be seen as glorified ruins in a poet’s maudlin and peripatetic eyes, yet in at least this one case the wisdom that flowed through and beyond those specific artifacts is alive and evolving.




US EPA Taking Democratic Steps Toward Community Involvement

The Institute for 21st Century Agoras presented a technology poster at the EPA’s 13th Community Involvement Training Conference in Boston on July 30 – August 1.

EPA Community Involvement Training Conference 2013Our poster is entitled A Democratic Approach for Sustainable Futures, with a more lengthy sub-title “Framing Consensus Views for Collective Action: The Sociotechnology of Interpretive Structural Modeling Embedded within Structured Dialogic Design.”

The technology of Structured Dialogic Design is well placed among other topics in the poster session assembled for this year’s theme … “The Next Generation of Community Involvement.” Dozens of conference attendees stopped by our table to check out our approach.

Among fellow presenters, several topics stood our for us. First is Crowdbrite.com “Crowdsourcing for Better Communities.” Crowdbrite could act as a gathering tool for observations as a front end into the CogniSystem.   Their presenter was very, very interested to hear of the mobile SDD application that the Cyprus group is developing.

The second technology of interest is DASEES: Decision Analysis for a Sustainable Environment, Economy and Society. This is an experimental system being developed by the EPA in conjunction with Neptune and Company. DASEES integrates guidance and decision support tools to implement a five step Bayesian decision process: 1) Understand the Context, 2) Define Objectives, 3) Develop Options, 4) Evaluate Options, and 5) Take Action (Implement and monitor). The opportunity for SDD is as a front end to Steps 1-3.

The third opportunity exists in the model that is provided by the Jefferson Center for New Democratic Processes in St.Paul, Minnesota who engage rural communities in building resilience for climate change. This relates to ongoing interests we have for coastal communities in New England.

Beyond posters, participants were offered seminars, workshops, demonstrations, tours, and the essential mixing bowl of networking opportunities.  As is true of all such conferences, considerable energy is invested in rediscovering friendships and in affirming that that what is being done is being done well.  In any community, and perhaps even more so in academic and scientific communities, opening paths for learning something truly new is challenging.  Most innovations in life are incremental improvements.  Enhancements extend along trajectories that have been in place for years.  Every now and then, a long-sought “game changer” comes along and opens up new trajectories.

The best ways of sensing the early presence of game changers is through the reactions that they evoke.  When a game changing idea is presented, players will be surprised, concerned, defensive for the status quo, or supportive of the shift – which is to say that players will be anything except unmoved by the prospect of a radical innovation.  This is as it should be.  Alberto Rodríguez makes this point with the title of his seminar: “Is Meaningful Community Involvement Radical?”  In the civic arena, the community involvement “game” evolves through incremental innovation and takes a quantum leap only through radical (and frequently disruptive) change.  What struck us, as a team providing a demonstration of a sociotechnology for managing large-group collaborative design, is that participants at the 13th Community Involvement Training Conference who did tour the demonstration sessions seemed hungry for a game changer.

Folks with whom we discussed Structured Dialogic Design were quick to acknowledge problems with sustaining iterative deliberations in the face of rising “dialogue fatigue.”  Where citizen participation was an important element of community involvement, folks felt it was important to have a some means of explicitly considering cognition along with intuition about complex situations and uncertain outcomes.  And people who we spoke to appreciated practices which provided real-time documents of citizens’ statements and clarifications to help sustain focus and momentum when dealing with complex understandings.  The idea of using “an engineering” approach based on an exhaustive (but not exhausting) exploration of interdependencies across a matrix of citizen concerns and understandings was well received by technical audiences.  And everyone we spoke to seemed to value graphic representations of complex deliberation that can help communities grasp the essence of strong community agreement, and then also provide a language tool for extending the deliberations.

We feel that those searching for a game changer seriously considered the impact that might come from an integrated package that transparently combines focused input of cognitive and intuitive understandings, and that presents those understandings to citizens who then collaboratively fashion them in to a systems view of their situation with an easily communicated and easily updated graphic output.  Rode mapping, as a product, is indeed part of planning traditions, but putting the mapping activity itself in the collective hands of diversified group citizens, regulators, and developers can result in a planning model with game changing power.

Policy is more than a product of process; policy is process itself

The London School of Economics and Political Science blog site carries an evocative – if not provocative – post from a Senior Researcher at the Centre for European Studies, at the University of Oslo.  The post is nine months old, and hasn’t drawn much response – however, the commentary does beg for an audience.  Plato indeed may have set the Western tradition innocently in search of philosopher kings, and technocracy may have now quite fully co-opted Plato’s intentions for inquiry with proclamations from elite-led multilateral economic institutions.  It may be time to begin again.

In the LSE blog post, the scholar argues against democratic process in deference to expert managed social systems, with the tacit assumption that the two are incompatible.  It is a sentiment that the Scandinavian scholar Jorgan Randers has voiced repeatedly in his lament over the global apathy toward the findings of the Club of Rome study on The Limits to Growth, which Randers co-authored.  At the core of Rander’s lament is the view that Western Society’s main institutions of “democracy and [capitalistic] economy are based on short-termism, resulting in a slow societal response to challenges, which need long-term solutions and investments.”  Capitalism and democracy are, in fact, distinct frameworks for seeing and interacting in the world, and linking them monolithically could lead us to “discard the baby with the bathwater.”  Catherine Holst challenges the need and efficacy of democracy itself from a policy perspective.

In responding to blog post of Holst’s argument, policy is more than a product of process; policy is the process itself.

Philosophical arguments and practical experience indeed can illustrate that “expertise without the people” and “people without the expertise” are both, in their extreme forms, fatal paths into the future. So it is easy to agree with the author when she asserts “The question is whether we must also include a basic fact of expertise alongside “the basic fact of pluralism” and other basic facts normative political theory must recognize.” The author, however, appears unaware of any method for achieving this end and therefore postulates “To deal with the new risks and hazards, the best available expertise must be mobilized and given the decision-making power needed, even if by doing so we are challenging familiar ideas of democracy and legitimacy.” This is a push to the extreme. And it is not necessary where a mechanism does exist to insert – and also to challenge — expert testimony within local deliberation.

Why stick to traditional ideas of “rule of the people” that may be irrelevant and even dangerous in a world that is in urgent need of decisions based on our best knowledge?”

This is not a rhetorical question. It is, however, contrived. Ideas and ideals of “rule of the people” are far from Western traditions. The modern notion that local acts have global impact shifts the focus from the fact that global systems of interaction and exchange have — and are today having — their decimating consequences at the local levels. It was not local decision making by the people that led to the construction of wobbly and self-serving global fiscal policies. The mega systems were devised by the experts, while the local economies have been colonized and enslaved into the global systems.

The author continues with “My contention is that ambitious democrats criticizing technocracy, juridification and elitism, in the EU and elsewhere, tend to underestimate what they are up against.” It is not clear that the underestimation is one-sided, though. The author asserts that the version that she presents is a “realistic argument” revealing the judgmental bias that counter arguments are unrealistic, and she tacitly enshrouds her claim to realism in the writings that accrue to institutional scholars. In doing this, she mistakes “thoughts” with “thinking” _ “institutions” with “process.” In a fanciful conjecture, the author wonders, “What if elite discussions among the informed and knowledgeable more often produce decisions that are in the enlightened, long-term interest of everyone, than democratic deliberation?” One might equally wonder what if the perspectives of the elite could be melded with the perspectives of the disenfranchised to present a balanced view of a preferred future. The challenge in finding a sustainable future points in the direction of a methodology for collectively envisioning a preferred future. This type of thinking must rely on more than the habits of the past practiced by experts gathered in the rarified halls.

The author calls upon one school of tradition to assert “ … the realist argument touches upon the classical debate on how to understand the relationship between “is” and “ought” (what does a de facto expertise-dependence imply for how we conceptualize political ideals?).” Herein rests a central point. If “is” is taken as essentially “right”, then it does imply “ought.” However, Hasan Ozbekhan asserted almost a half century ago that in planning preferred futures “can” implies “ought.” Extrapolations of the present into the future have limited, short-term relevance in a changing world – or in a world within which change is broadly accepted to be necessary.

To take the author’s side in the proposition, reliance on democracy as democracy has been practice in the past holds little promise for melding the hearts of the people with the minds of their wisest citizens. Democracy, itself, has become corrupt in many ways, and one of the underlying reasons for this is that the freedom to practice democracy has not been matched with the responsibility to practice democracy. The author will perhaps concede that within the expert community, where the circles have been drawn to distinguish anointed experts from non-experts, decision-making is, on balance, democratic. The real issue is who gets to sit at this table. If it is “the case that expertise interaction is more rational and deliberative than interaction among “most people” …” why is this so and what might be done about it? Focus groups, design charrettes, and community surveys all seek to harvest information that is subsequently interpreted by – and forced through the lens of – expert groups. The meaning and the sense of importance of such deliberations are the meanings and the senses that the experts carry with them from their experiences in life – experiences that they have accumulated as they have walked down pathways that have differentiated themselves from the non-experts in the community. This is why community decisions are too important to be left to the tender mercies of experts alone. History is witness to this finding.

When policy begins to focus on the way that all people can collectively make democratic decisions, we might next begin to focus on a policy that assures that all essential stakeholders are fully and transparently represented in civic sector design and decision-making discussions. To do this, policy scholars must see beyond what “is” to discover what “ought” to be. There are harbingers of the future struggling to emerge in the wake of current crisis.

Hyperpartisanism: a consequence of mismanaged complexity?

In an inaugural event in NYC last weekend, the NoLabels movement presented its view of a way to resolve the hyperpartisan crisis in America. “Legislators need to stop fighting and to start working together.”

It is unclear how and when legislators choose to fight. Newly seated legislators don’t come into office with aggressive intent. They typically come from cultures where collaboration has prevailed. Given this, one might suppose that there is either something about the working culture of Congress or about the process of dealing with the complexity of federal lawmaking that causes congressmen to cling too tightly to their parties.

What if our problem is the challenge of dealing with complexity? Compelling legislators to make decisions does not address the issue of the quality of decisions that are made. Do legislators sense that decision-making suffers from poorly shared understandings of what lies beneath the proposed laws? Do legislators believe the reasoning is clear and that philosophical differences are impossible to reconcile?

When legislators who support the NoLabels movement were asked last week if they felt that they had clear understandings of the situations that they faced, the reflex response was that all legislators have strong staffs who raise both the pros and cons of all issues. But what does this mean? Each legislator is a silo of learning, where internal staffers — many of whom have profound allegiance for the success of their formal political parties — frame problems in terms that are shaped by their partisan view of the world. If learning occurs largely or exclusively within such silos, the larger legislative arena becomes a battlefield for debate.

The virtue of debate is that it can soften positions by shattering strong convictions, but the vice of debate is that it can harden positions by defining adversaries. Redesigning complex understandings is a difficult and sometimes embarrassing business. Letting go of one sense of certainty before another sense of certainty is in hand requires an act of genuine courage. Without a realistic belief that a new and better certainty might emerge, we wisely will cling to our prior positions. Our only real hope for finding collaborative solutions rests in our ability to trust in each other and the quality of our design processes.

As an exercise of hope, NoLabels.org is issuing a rally cry to the youth in our communities to defend our democratic processes. NoLabels has foresworn setting any policy agenda other than a policy to continually improve the quality of legislative dialogue. They want us to talk with each other and advocate linking pay with performance; scheduling working sessions for essential interactions, and establishing a consolidated source of facts. Complexity aside, this three-fold focus on improving incentive, opportunity, and information is compelling. They are not trying to engineer agreements. They are trying to remove the barriers that can prevent agreements from emerging, and in doing this to fortify of our institutions of democracy themselves. The bill for this deferred maintenance is now painfully due.

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Elinor Ostrom’s Legacy of the Commons

At this time in history, 78 is still far too young an age to be swept into the future. For four decades, Elinor and her colleagues have been slaying a myth that was breathed into life by Ecologist Garrett Hardin‘s misunderstanding of the nature of “The Tragedy of the Commons.” The myth is that people cannot self-govern … and yet that, somehow, a higher mortal authority is imagined to have the elusive capacity to govern with humane wisdom.

This myth brings us to where we have come today. The upturned eyes of hope and blame are focused on national leaders and diverted away from our immediate neighbors. “We the people” was never intended as “They the people” – even in representative democracy. The lazy and simplistic dodge of abrogating citizen duties for understand complex issues has led to a situation in which even our elected representatives now no longer deliberate for purposes of shared understanding. Our elected representatives mirror us and they too dodge the duty to collectively understand situations — and in doing so they yield themselves and our futures up to the influence of forms of veiled thinking that speaks most loudly into their ears at the moment that decisions must be made.

Elinor’s life work teaches us all that things do not have to be this way. Her work tells us again and again that throughout the world, things are not run this way.

Elinor’s message to us is far, far too powerful to be interred into the archives of human thought simply because her living voice can no longer prick us. The story that she and her colleagues brought forward has the power to slay myths and to open up new vistas for humanity. We can self govern. The evidence is in. And yet there are prerequisites for effective self-governance. It is this exploration that should and must become the living legacy of Elinor’s work.

There are many facets to Elinor’s teaching that speak directly to the practice of participatory democracy. She is best known perhaps for her systems view of the ecological Commons, polycentricity (there are multiple centers of agency in governance), and design principles for institutional renewal. One that is of central concern to us is the necessity for people in a self-governing population to clearly see and deeply feel the necessity for working together to sustain themselves. It is a matter of local, community perception. In a culture that looks for top-down guidance, bailouts and salvation … and a culture that offers individual mobility and fosters community disinvestment … we who choose to once again feel an authentic connection to place have our work cut out for us.

It is through a connection to place – what Cynthia Nikitin of the Project for Public Spaces calls “Place Capital” — that we forge our social capital. And as Craig Lindell of the Institute for 21st Century Agoras says, ‘All fiscal capital comes from social capital.’ So, those of us who are worried about the future of our grand experiment in democracy and its twin experiment in capitalism need to reflect on what might be passing from us at this moment.

There are many who might still look at Elinor’s work and claim that she has studied exceptions that only serve to prove a larger rule. There are those who will look at self-organized democratic communities as somehow being quaint or maybe primitive. There are those who will simply resign themselves to the myth that direct democracy is not scalable, and that representative democracy – with all of its contemporary flaws – is the only way. Yet there also is much agreement that the bridge that we are crossing today is crumbling beneath our feet. Just recently, Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and Chairman of the conservative World Economic Forum, was reported to have conceded that “Capitalism in its current form has no place in the world around us.” This is a critically telling utterance because capitalism and its unbridled individual accumulation of wealth has done much to shape contemporary American democracy – and arguably has done even much more to distance governance from the efforts to control influence and corruption which inspired the invention of democracy by the ancient Athenians.

Elinor’s passing is a trumpet call to us all shouting that now is a critically important moment to attend to each other’s business — for the sake of the foundations of the future itself.

Planet under Pressure

Professor Ray Ison of the Institute for Sustainable Futures reports on a Planet under Pressure

We share Professor Ison’s concerns.  A split in systemic thinking erupted in the origins of the Club of Rome in 1970.  An original proposal by Hasan Ozbekhan and Aleco Christakis offered 49 Continuous Critical Problems (CCPs) and argued for a dialogical method for dealing with them.   This dialogue-based proposal was rejected in favor of an expert-design System Dynamics approach that resulted in the publication of  The Limits to Growth.  As a result of the report and parallel efforts, system dynamics became a dominating example of systemic thinking.

Meanwhile, a dialogical approach for dealing with systemic complexity was launched in the form of Interactive  Management through the efforts of Aleco and John Warfield.  In its further refinements IM has become Structured Dialogic Design (SDD).

Tom Flanagan and I have recently published a workbook that addresses the full human complexity of pressures on our planet using SDD.   One sure method of getting a group to agree on priorities for dealing with those pressures is to get them to spend a day focused on the 49 CCPs using SDD.  Perhaps some conference will have the courage to atte3mmpt this.  The book is A Democratic Approach to Sustainable Futures: A Workbook for Addressing the Global ProblematiqueIt is available either at Create Space or through Amazon.

Democracy as the Means to Discover the New Narratives for Sustainable Futures

Democracy is in the business of continually creating a new narrative … oral, textual, and graphic … that can move through and transform communities. While some voices within the Club of Rome have railed against the shortfalls of distorted democracy (and we can see their points), there are few alternative governance approaches which we feel can carry our faith through the changing cycles of national leadership.

A compassionate self-criticism of the Club of Rome’s reliance on the voice of its technological experts is well stated on the Club of Rome blog by Martin Palmer, Secretary General of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, a secular, non-governmental body founded in 1995 by HRH Prince Philip.

The largest sector of civil society is the religions of the world. And they do not deal in the world of data and economics that have dominated and to a great degree destroyed the potential that the Club of Rome report unleashed 40 years ago. They, like the rest of humanity, know that we are a story telling species. When you introduce yourself to someone new, you don’t tend to tell them the data of your life – how much you weighed when you were born, not even usually the date you were born; nor how tall you are or what size shoes you wear. You tell your stories.” … “The challenge therefore is to assist in the creation of new stories which together can shape the new narrative from which can arise the new values as well as preserve the best of the old.”

What many do not realize is that the quest to bring the voice of the people into the vision of the Club of Rome was one of the Club’s founding principles – however, for want of a technology of inclusive participation in crafting new narratives, the visionary intent was abandoned at the outset in favor of a focus on the voice of technical experts. At that time, the Club’s champions for the voice of the people detached themselves from the quest of the Club and took up the mission to cultivate sociotechnology — a means for understanding situations together which we call Demosophia — to extract new narratives from the wisdom of the people.

As the notion of inclusion rises within the Club of Rome, sociotechnology may now be rejoining physical technology as a means for understanding and interacting within our world.