The city square (agora) of Athens is the reputed birthplace of democracy. Athenians participated in their government. They discussed issues, decided courses of action, and carried them out. Democracy made Athens a dynamic, creative force 2500 years ago. Even then, however, democracy was fragile, sometimes stupid, and short-lived. Plato held it in low esteem and Aristotle likened it to “mob rule.”
Why, then, do we want to create 21st Century Agoras. What we want to create are communities energized by vibrant participative democracy. In our Information Age as old hierarchies prove dysfunctional, it is imperative that human communities have flexible ways to tap their wisdom and power. We do not believe that unstructured discussion on the Athenian model is adequate for dealing with the complexities of the Information Age. It was not adequate even for the simpler (by an order of magnitude as determined by a metric called Situational Complexity Index) situations of that bygone age.
The Information Age challenges us to make participative democracy a liberating force in the world today. Research and proven methodology, aided by networked computing, has resolved at least one basic dilemma of democracy:
How can we hear perspectives of all the stakeholders, make collective sense of them, and reach decisions and act on pressing issues?
The approach that overcomes this dilemma and multiple other hindrances to dialogic democracy is called the Structured Dialogic Design (SDD). The Agoras Institute convenes these dialogues as Co-Laboratories of Democracy. This process is a fusion of the theory of Generic Design Science and the consultative practice of Interactive Management, both developed over the last 30 years by Dr. John Warfield and our founder, Aleco Christakis.
Co-Laboratories of Democracy: How People Harness Their Collective Wisdom and Power to Create the Future (2006, Information Age), explains this process in detail including its origins and the science behind it. This book the canon of the practice, the most concise formulation of the practice and its history.
Thomas Flanagan and Aleco Christakis recently published The Talking Point: Creating an Environment for Exploring Complex Meaning (2010). We provide a sample chapter online to encourage your understanding of our work.
1) Type A: Diagnosis of the Problematique _ complex primarily through vaguely defined and intensely interacting mega-trends
2) Type B: Reconnaissance _ complex primarily through unexplored situations and unexamined intentions
3) Type C: Long Range Action Scenario Construction _ complex primarily through uncertain futures
4) Type D: Futures – Creative _ complex primarily through unvoiced transformational hopes
5) Type E: Collaborative Action Agenda _ complex primarily through the number and diversity of essential collaborators