The agoras – the vital centers of the Ancient Greek city-states, with their outdoor markets and convention halls – were the hubs of the exchange of ideas and the birthplace of democracy. The Institute for 21st Century Agoras practices dialogue in a new paradigm. Co-laboratories are an adaptation of the Interactive Management (IM) system, which has been employed over the last 20 years in hundreds of successful applications around the world (see map) for projects ranging from FDA drug approval policy and WHO global partnerships to corporate and philanthropic endeavors.
The Global Agoras’ core sociotechnology is structured dialogic designSM (SDD) – a computer-assisted 21st century version of the consensus-based decision-making that was characteristic of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. As we scale SDD up for use by global groups, we can, in a sense, return to the form of governance that was characteristic of human communities during the bulk of our human history.
Constructing Agoras of the Global Village
We have seen an extraordinary surge of renewed interest in what we call social innovation, the cooperative design of integrated services and systems to address social concerns. Yet the world’s NGO and non-profit communities are hard pressed in times of economic distress. We know from our own experience volunteering and on boards – with fewer financial resources and an ever-increasing mandate from the communities served, we rarely have the opportunity to work and articulate systemically and reflectively. People in service organizations are inspired to serve, and often work harder at what they know when problems become truly complex and interdependent.
Leaders and members put in hard hours to advance their goals, having some success, but often failing to produce the impact they desire. With each organizations focused on a single mission, by charter if not by self-definition, a systems view of deeply interconnected social concerns cannot be envisioned.
Member and mission-led organizations generally lack for adequate funding and focus on core services. We know we must concentrate efforts on key leverage points and build working coalitions with similar-minded groups. Unfortunately, we often lack time for strategic reflection. As a result, scarce resources are often expended on activities that lack long-term impact.
The 47th annual conference of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS) examined reasons why well-meaning and committed people have difficulty building livable, democratic, life-enhancing communities on the planet. We did so under the theme “Constructing Agoras of the Global Village,” and identified four basic activities that would vastly improve the agora-building success rate:
- Provide methodology and facilities to continuously support the construction and sustainability of global agoras.
- Organize planetary networks.
- Identify stakeholders who may not identify themselves as stakeholders.
- Link to an established entity that has the capacity to initiate agora construction activity.
The Institute for 21st Century Agoras is equipped to serve those needs. We seek both partners and funders to further enable us to promote the construction of agoras in the world.
The Institute for 21st Century Agoras exists to serve the design and efficiency of progressive non-profit organizations. It assists their efforts to construct livable communities on the planet. The organizations often lack significant funding. As a result they need to concentrate their efforts where they will have the greatest effect and they need to work in coalition with like-minded organizations. 21st Century Agoras helps these organizations locate their key leverage points and act on them in cooperation with other organizations.