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Our story:
Thirteen breakthroughs ... & counting

The story below summarizes our progress so far via 13 “shifts or breakthroughs. Also included are natural reactions against these breakthroughs ...i.e. “heresy alerts.”

This part of the story begins in 1990 when Jim Rough started teaching seminars on “
Dynamic Facilitation," a way to facilitate people to face impossible-seeming problems, think creatively together, experience breakthrough progress, and achieve group unity.

In each seminar, participants would often practice the new skills of Dynamic Facilitation in small groups by selecting and addressing impossible-seeming issues from society, like homelessness, wars, taxes, the education system, traffic, male-female relations, the health care system, environmental degradation, etc. Curiously, no matter what issue was chosen, these groups often experienced the same breakthrough insight, that this problem isn’t caused so much by human nature. It’s caused by Our System.

Breakthrough #1: Society's big impossible-seeming problems are natural outcomes of “The System.
(Heresy alert! Are you saying individual choices don’t matter? That each of us can’t change and do something about these problems?)

Most people assume that this discovery about role our System plays in our lives will prove disempowering; that people will feel like there’s nothing they can do. After all “what can one person, or a few people, do to change the System?” But it turns out that in the context of the seminar and the quest for the truth, this recognition was empowering. Even though the chosen impossible-seeming issue has now become bigger, people felt a new excitement about what could be done.

Breakthrough #1 led to questions like, "What is The System?" ... “How does it influence people?" … "How did it come into being?" ... "What's wrong with it?" …. "How can we fix it?" ... Later in one of the seminars, many of these questions were answered with another breakthrough:

Breakthrough #2: The U.S. Constitution “is” our System.
Heresy alert! The U.S. Constitution only applies to the U.S., not the world. It’s one of the greatest documents ever written. To fix things, we need to get back to what the Founders intended, not to denigrate what they came up with.)

Over 200 years ago on the North American continent there was a symbolic gathering of "We the People,” who met and designed a constitutional, market-oriented, representative, rule of law, due process, voting System. This System structured how we talk, think and make collective decisions ... and the kinds of decisions we make. Actually, of course, this wasn’t really “We the People” because it wasn’t all the people. Slaves, Native Americans, women, non property holders, etc., were excluded. But nevertheless, this was a giant leap forward. The Constitutional Convention set up the “rules of the game” and in the process established a game-like competition as the basis of our society. And this competitive organizing principle has spread throughout the world.

However, now the competitive structure is causing problems. Increasingly we are facing problems that require collaboration. So it seemed like our System needed to be changed in some way. In 1995 Jim and a friend, Gus Jaccaci, convened a conference in Port Townsend WA, titled “An American Constitutional IN-vention.” We intended to explore how to adjust the underlying structure of our society to support greater collaboration. In this conference a question emerged.

Breakthrough #3: The question was ... “What one Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would safely shift the basis of our System from competition to collaboration, so all these impossible-seeming problems could start going away?”
(Heresy alert! How does an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution transform the global System? And forget it ... It’s impossible to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.)

Jim began to think about this question building on his experience as a consultant in organizations and in teaching the seminars. He had an idea for what the Amendment should look like ... to have a random group of citizens gather each year, be dynamically facilitated to face big issues, reach unity, and present this unity to the whole nation as a kind of State of the Union message from the people to the people. It seemed safe and beneficial, but at the time Jim didn’t see that it would make the needed difference. Then on the night of May 9, 1993, there was an epiphany ... It would transform the system altogether!

Breakthrough #4: Enacting this simple, safe Amendment (now called “the Wise Democracy Amendment”) would transform our System.
(Heresy Alert! How could one small group of random citizens spark a transformation of our political and economic system from a basis in competition to a basis in collaboration? How could people not have seen this already? This seems top-down ... how would it spark “We the People?” Why does it need to be an amendment?)

The core of the Wise Democracy Amendment is the "
Wisdom Council process,” which doesn’t seem threatening in any way. It just gathers 24 random people who give a talk and go away. What’s the big deal?

Jim wanted to explain how this could work to transform society. He flew to Washington, DC to talk to Congressional representatives and gave a talk in the Capital Building, convened a conference on "Innovations in Democracy," wrote articles, started a TV show, gave presentations and began supporting demonstration projects. But there was little traction.

In 2002, Jim and Jean Rough, together with DeAnna Martin,

Jean RoughDeAnna Martin
co-founded the Center for Wise Democracy to encourage experiments with the Wisdom Council. Also that year, Jim published his book Society's Breakthrough! Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People, describing the Amendment and how it could work.

Then in November 2003 after a public radio interview with Jeff Golden (see
Immense Possibilities) three listeners from the Rogue Valley of Oregon (David Wick, Karen Gossetti and Lance Bisaccia) called to express interest in trying a Wisdom Council in their area (see the Wisdom Council in the Rogue Valley, OR).
David, Karen, Lance
With the help of democracy pioneers like Tom Atlee (Author of The Tao of Democracy), Adin Rogovin (Board member of the Co-Intelligence Institute), Joseph McCormick (founder of Reuniting America), and Elliot Shuford (Board member of Healthy Democracy Oregon), we set up a local public Wisdom Council experiment so people could see how this works. ... The experiment worked more powerfully than we could imagine or explain. This led to a breakthrough realization:

Breakthrough #5: To transform our national and global System we don’t need an Amendment to the Constitution. The Wisdom Council process by itself is powerful enough.
(Heresy alert! How can just a few people, un-appointed by anyone in power and unchartered by the U.S. Constitution, spark a legitimate "We the People" into being? How could just a few people spark a transformation of the national (or global) System in a way that causes many of the biggest impossible-seeming problems to go away?)

Rogue Valley Wisdom Council was a small time experiment where many things went wrong ... like only seven random people showed up to be on the Wisdom Council instead of 14; No elected officials came; The media didn’t cover the event; etc. The intent was educational—to show people how it could work at a national scale. But by itself, it worked. The 100 or so citizens who showed up for the community meeting felt empowered to affect the town charter, the makeup of the city council and the overall spirit of community.

Breakthrough #6: The “magic sauce” for transforming society is not a U.S. Constitutional Amendment but the shift to particular kind of thinking ... what we call “choice-creating.”
Heresy alert! Why haven't I heard of choice-creating? Isn't it just a form of discussion, dialogue, deliberation, negotiation or decision-making? If it’s so good why not just do it?)

The Wisdom Council process looks like other citizen-involvement processes like the Citizens Jury, Citizens Panel, Citizens Assembly, Deliberative Poll, and various
citizens deliberative councils. These also involve randomly selecting citizens tackling a problem and presenting their results.

the Wisdom Council is fundamentally different. These other processes are “deliberative” in nature. Fundamentally they are about leaning about options in detail, weighing them and voting in the hope that this vote will influence decision-makers. But the Wisdom Council is given a huge, messy problem. They co-create a shared perspective, which includes defining both the problem and the solution. They present the story of their progress to the general public.

Policy is affected but that is not the intent. More importantly the Wisdom Council sparks a new “We the People” public conversation.

This discovery about the importance of choice-creating led to the next breakthrough:

Breakthrough #7: Dynamic Facilitation is essential to the Wisdom Council process and to transforming society because it reliably evokes choice-creating.
(Heresy alert! Who cares how the group reaches unity, or what facilitation method is used?)

Originally, it didn’t seem to matter what facilitation process was used. But as we have grown in our experience with the Wisdom Council, it has become clear that choice-creating is the “magic sauce.” (See
chart comparing decision-making and choice-creating) And that Dynamic Facilitation is vital to reliably evoke choice creating. (See the chart comparing traditional facilitation vs. Dynamic Facilitation.)

In 2006, a citizen group in Victoria, BC, Canada, spearheaded by George Sranko and Caspar Davis, established a series of
three Wisdom Councils. Each one worked wonderfully well for the audience that attended but the process didn't gain traction in the whole population. The second and third Wisdom Councils essentially repeated the experience of the first.

Of course, this wouldn't be a problem if the process was set in motion by an Amendment to the Constitution. But now the question arose, "How can the Wisdom Council gain resonance in a large system of people when the process is begun by just an ordinary group of citizens, and not everyone is paying attention?” More experiments provided the answer:

Breakthrough #8: When the Wisdom Council presents its perspective they must tell the story of how they achieved their unity. It’s the story that sparks resonance throughout the system of people.
(Heresy alert! Why does this matter? Isn’t it all about the results? How can a Wisdom Council have only one story to tell, anyway?)

The Wisdom Council members share three things in the community gathering: 1) Each person introduces him/herself. 2) The Wisdom Council tells its collective story -- where they started, where they got stuck, where they experienced shifts of thinking, and where they ended up. 3) And then they tell their final conclusions. The story is most important for sparking resonance in the larger population and helping the new conversation proceed in the spirit of choice-creating.

Our next breakthroughs resulted from the experience of the Austrians.

Breakthrough #9: The Wisdom Council process works (even better) when the issue is given to them beforehand.
(Heresy alert! If the Wisdom Council is a symbol of ‘We the People’ what higher authority exists to tell them what to talk about? If Dynamic Facilitation depends on people's heart-felt energy, how can we expect randomly selected people to care about topics chosen by others, topics that they might need education to even know about?)

Originally there was one inviolable principle of the Wisdom Council: it must chose its own issue because it represented “We the People,” highest authority in the land. However, experiments proved otherwise. Dr
. Manfred Hellrigl, the director of the Office of Future Related Issues (OFRI) for the state of Vorarlberg in Austria, is an expert on engaging and empowering citizens.
Over the years, his office employed many different citizen involvement strategies. In 2006 they started helping mayors in different cities use the Wisdom Council Process to involve citizens and solve problems.

They experimented with variations of the Wisdom Council, like using it in conjunction with
dialogue, with the World Café, with Open Space Technology, and with Art of Hosting. One experiment was to convene Wisdom Councils on a predetermined issue chosen by governmental leaders. At first we were concerned this strategy might not be so transformational, maybe that it should be called by a different name, the Creative Insight Council (CIC). But in time these fears disappeared. In choice-creating participants redefine, reshape, and change the issue anyway, while giving them an issue generates more interest among the larger public and saves time in the Wisdom Council.

Now, we reserve the term,
Creative Insight Council (CIC), for situations where the transformational potential of the Wisdom Council is threatened ... like when the random sampling isn’t fully random or when the Wisdom Council presents to decision-makers rather than to the people.

Experiments in Austria have led to many other realizations including this big one:

Breakthrough #10: Elected representatives like the Wisdom Council Process!
(Heresy alert! Won’t elected representatives resist this process, since it places “We the People” at a higher level than themselves?)

All along in the development of Wisdom Council, critics have assured us that those currently in power would resist them. But in the Austrian State of Vorarlberg, elected legislators witnessed the Wisdom Council being used in towns and communities. They saw it as a nonthreatening way to involve and educate mainstream citizens and to spark bi-partisan action on issues. They essentially said, “We want this process at the state level as well.” Now every six months there is at least one government sponsored Wisdom Council at the state level. They take a Friday afternoon off to meet around tables in the foyer of their building and listen to a Wisdom Council present its perspective. Then they engage one another in a more creative, collaborative conversation about the issue.

The Wisdom Council provides legislators with a clear sense of the “will of the people”. This is much better than where each legislator sells his/her own view, saying it’s what the people want. Also, it provides better information than an expensive survey where pollsters describe how X% per cent of the people “mostly agree” with some carefully crafted proposition. Instead, this cheaper alternative provides a symbolic voice of the people speaking with clarity, intelligence and leadership on some difficult issue, helping everyone else think more deeply. One legislator said after the Wisdom Council spoke on the refugee issue, “No legislator could have said that.” And another said, “The Wisdom Council is like wind at my back.”

This new approach has worked so well that each party of the Legislature unanimously voted to include it in the state constitution. And other states of Austria are buying in as well.

Breakthrough #11: Huge leap for true democracy: Ordinary citizens can also choose the issue for a state sponsored Wisdom Council.

In Vorarlberg elected officials and staff modified the Wisdom Council Process to be even more democratic, adding a way that ordinary citizens can convene a Wisdom Council. By gaining just 1000 signatures one citizen can call for a state-wide Wisdom Council on an issue that she or he feels to be important. So if you are part of a minority and you feel discriminated against, for instance, here’s a way to convene a thoughtful state-wide conversation on that issue, where We the People reach wise conclusions.

In the same way...

Breakthrough #12: A few of us can convene a thoughtful “We the People” public conversation to solve impossible-seeming public issues at the global level.
(Heresy alert! Why wouldn’t it be easier to convene lots of Wisdom Councils at the local level and build up to a set of global actions? How can a truly random selection of people be gathered from the world? What about repressive governments that keep people from participating? How to handle language and cultural difficulties? How can this random group exert any real power? How could this approach promise to transform the global socio-political-economic system? Isn’t it idealistic to think that the people of the world can work together? or even pay attention? etc.)

Yes, there are lots of difficulties in setting up a global Wisdom Council Process, evoking a “We the People of planet earth,” and solving impossible-seeming issues like wars and poverty. But the difficulties are surmountable. The real questions are: “will this process work to help solve issues like war and climate change?” ... “What is the risk and cost?” ... The evidence says “yes!” this can be done. It will help us
spark breakthrough progress on impossible-seeming issues There’s little cost or risk. See the essay The ToBe Project: How to Facilitate a Global We the People. (Also see how to save the world fast and easy or How to make our society sustainable.)

Breakthrough #13: ToBe-ism: A global Wisdom Council Process promises to spark a new kind of socio-political-economic system into being.
(Heresy alert! If this is just talking, how can it be a new economic system? Is it socialism? Those in power, the capitalists, will never allow a new economic system.)

As we reach the limits of planetary resources we become more inter-dependent. As this happens all of us need to start talking together. We can’t design systems that assume we are all independent ... like where we just need to add up the votes. Instead, we need to co-develop our social contract and keep modifying it. This would be a new system of governance. And it would also be a new system of economics. It’s not a currently known form of economics ... like capitalism, socialism, feudalism, communism, etc. It’s adding collective consciousness to what we have, requiring a new name.

We are calling it “ToBe-ism.” This socio-political-economic system is where “We the People of planet earth” consciously think through what we want and start working together to make it happen.

At the
Center for Wise Democracy, we hope you will become involved and help create the twelfth breakthrough. Please support us in any way you can.