Our story:
Twelve breakthroughs (& still counting)


In 1990, Jim Rough began teaching seminars on “Dynamic Facilitation,” a way for people to face impossible-seeming issues, be creative and achieve unity on what to do through shifts and breakthroughs. The story below summarizes our journey, including 13 “breakthroughs” so far. Also included are examples of “heresy alerts,” natural reactions against each breakthrough.

In the seminars, participants practice Dynamic Facilitation in small groups, often addressing impossible-seeming issues from society, like homelessness, wars, taxes, the education system, traffic, health care, environmental degradation, etc. Curiously, no matter what issue was chosen, these groups regularly experienced the same insight: that this problem is 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 do anything about these problems?)

Most people assume that this breakthrough insight will prove disempowering to people; that they will feel like there’s nothing they can do. After all, “what can one person, or a few people, do about changing the System?” But it turns out that this breakthrough is usually empowering. Even though the chosen issue has become bigger people feel a new excitement about how one action can solve the chosen issue, plus many more.

Breakthrough #1 led to questions like, "What is ‘The System'?" ... "What is its influence on 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. Actually, to fix things, we need to get back to what the Founders intended.)

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, voting System. This System structured how we talk, think and make collective decisions ... and what 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 for its time, this was a giant leap forward. The Constitutional Convention set up a game-like competitive process for politics, economics, justice, etc. Today this competitive organizing principle has spread throughout the world.

However, now in society we are becoming more inter-dependent. So the competitive process is causing problems. While our system promotes the pursuit of self-interest more and more our collective problems require collaboration.

In 1995 with help from a friend, Gus Jaccaci, Jim convened a mini-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. From this conference emerged a breakthrough, which took the form of a question.

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 go away?”
(Heresy alert! Changing the Constitution seems top-down, not bottom-up. And besides, it’s practically impossible to pass an amendment.)

Jim began to formulate a particular Constitutional Amendment based on his experience as a consultant facilitating change in large organizations. The idea for the Amendment was simple ... for a random group of citizens to 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. This seemed like a safe design that would lead to many positive benefits, but Jim didn’t see how it would work to transform the System. Then on the night of May 9, 1993, there was an epiphany ... It would work!


Breakthrough # 4: Society’s Breakthrough is the Wise Democracy Amendment, by which we can transform our system ...
(Heresy Alert! How could one small group of random citizens spark a transformation of the system from a basis in competition to a basis in collaboration? How could this group spark all of us to come together as “We the People”? )

This innocuous Amendment is trans-partisan and risk-free. It’s just gathering randomly chosen people, like a lottery. They pick an issue, address it creatively and collaboratively, reach unity. And present their unity in a national ceremony. But because this process is set in motion by an Amendment to the Constitution (We the People speaking) this group is anointed to be a legitimate symbol of “We the People” when it speaks. So it’s a way to interject the voice of a thoughtful, inclusive “We the People,” in a way that cuts short the usual partisan battle.

The core of the Wise Democracy Amendment is the "
Wisdom Council process,” where ten to twenty-four citizens are randomly selected every four months or so. They meet for less than a week, choose issues, co-create unanimous perspectives, report these perspectives back to the general population, and disband. All citizens are invited to hear the results in a new national ceremony and talk about them. This process doesn’t change anything directly. It merely adds a new “We the People” conversation to what we already have. So here’s a way to transcend the usual political battle, which is dominated by money. It’s how we can start a new process of figuring out what works for all.

Jim flew to Washington, DC to explain this idea to Congressional representatives. He gave a talk in the Capital Building, convened a conference on "Innovations in Democracy," wrote articles, started a TV show, and gave presentations. 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 Wisdom Council experiment giving people the opportunity to experience this process. The idea was to demonstrate how it might, as a U.S. Constitutional Amendment, transform society. But the experiment worked way more powerfully than we could explain. This led to the next breakthrough:

Breakthrough #5: To transform our system ... we don’t need an Amendment to the Constitution. The Wisdom Council process by itself is powerful enough to spark a legitimate "We the People" into being.
(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 can just an ordinary group of 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?)

The
Rogue Valley Wisdom Council was a small time experiment where many things went wrong ... like only seven random people instead of 14 showed up to be on the Wisdom Council. But it worked anyway. 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.

Wondering why this process worked so well led to the next realization:

Breakthrough #6: The “magic sauce” for transforming society is a 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, and decision-making? What about elected officials? If it’s so good why don’t they do it?)

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

But,
the Wisdom Council is fundamentally different because of the quality of thinking. Choice-creating is the kind of thinking that happens when people “step back” to think deeply about an issue. It’s the kind of thinking required for “We the People” to exist.

Randomly selected participants symbolize the whole population. They are facilitated to be creative, not judgmental. For instance, they do not weigh options and vote. Instead, they co-create a shared perspective ... unity ... with a strategy that everyone supports.

And the point is not to influence “decision makers” about policy. New policy may arise but more importantly the Wisdom Council presents its unity to the whole population and then disbands. Their purpose is to spark the new “We the People” public conversation.

This discovery about choice-creating led to the next realization:

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

Before this realization 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 key. And that Dynamic Facilitation is vital because it reliably evokes choice creating, even with random people facing conflicted issues. Using it we help people who are angry, frustrated, or stuck in their views to feel valued as participants in the Wisdom Council; turn their energy of conflict and frustration into empowerment, and achieve unity.

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 who came to hear. But the process didn't gain traction in the community. The results didn't spread to the larger population.The second and third Wisdom Councils essentially repeated the experience of the first one.

Of course, this wouldn't be a problem if the process were set in motion by an Amendment to the Constitution because then everyone would have known about the conversation and what happened last time. The media would cover every aspect of the conclusions and each successive Wisdom Council would take the conversation another step forward. But since this was just a group of citizens starting three Wisdom Councils, there was no way to gain traction. Each successive Wisdom Council essentially started over.

The question arose, "How can a Wisdom Council gain resonance in a large system of people when just an ordinary group of citizens starts the process, and not everyone is paying attention? More experiments provided an answer:

Breakthrough #8: When the Wisdom Council presents its perspective they need to tell the story of how they achieved unity. This is most important for sparking 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?)

In the Wisdom Council presentation members share three things: 1) Each person introduces him/herself. 2) The Wisdom Council tells its collective story -- where they started, where they got stuck, and where they experienced shifts of thinking, and where they ended up. 3) And then they tell their final conclusions. Most important is the story of progress because it sparks widespread engagement in the kind of conversation we seek, choice-creating. Here’s a symbol of all the people tackling a problem that seems impossible, that everyone cares about deeply. They take a hero’s journey overcoming their differences and achieving miraculous progress. This story is engaging. And it supports others to shift away from the normal agree/disagree discussion, to where people keep building on the ideas, which the Wisdom Council started.

Our next breakthroughs resulted from the experience of the Austrians.

Breakthrough #9: The Wisdom Council process works (even better) when the issue is determined 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 one inviolable principle of the Wisdom Council was that it choose its own issue. 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 many 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 with a predetermined issue chosen by government leaders. At first we were concerned this strategy might not be so transformational, that it should be called by a different name, the
Creative Insight Council (CIC). But in time these fears disappeared. It turns out that for most public issues this approach of picking the issue ahead of time works even better, largely because of how Dynamic Facilitation evokes choice-creating. It works better because it generates more interest among the public, saves time in the Wisdom Council and sparks better conclusions.

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

Experiments in Austria led to an important realization:

Breakthrough #10: Elected representatives like the Wisdom Council Process!
(Heresy alert! Won’t elected representatives resist this process, since it overturns their power?)

All along in the development of the Wisdom Council, critics have assured us that those in power would resist this approach. 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 same process at the state level as well.” Now every six months the legislature suggests an issue for a state-wide Wisdom Council. They take a Friday afternoon off to meet around tables in the foyer of their building where they 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 of what the people want. And it’s better than an expensive survey where pollsters describe how X% per cent of the people “mostly agree” with some carefully crafted proposition. Instead, this is a symbolic voice of the people speaking with clarity, intelligence and leadership on some issue, supporting the people to think more deeply.

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 are buying in as well.

Breakthrough #11: Ordinary people who are concerned about a difficult issue can initiate a state-wide public conversation on that issue through 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 start the process. With just 1000 signatures a group of concerned citizens can call for a state-wide Wisdom Council, paid for by the state. 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, even without government formally adopting the Wisdom Council Process ...

Breakthrough #12: A few of us can convene a thoughtful “We the People” public conversation to solve some impossible-seeming problem ... even 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 global version? 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? 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.
Besides sparking breakthrough progress on impossible-seeming issues See the essay in Spanda Journal by Jim Rough: The ToBe Project: How to Facilitate a Global We the People, published in June 2017. (Also see how to save the world fast and easy or How to make our society sustainable.)

Breakthrough #13: A widely accepted global Wisdom Council Process would spark a new socio-political-economic system into being. (We call it “ToBe-ism.”)
(Heresy alert! Who cares what it’s called?)

There are many different systems of economics and politics including democracy, neoliberalism, socialism, capitalism, feudalism, and communism. But all these systems start to have problems as we draw down the common resources of planet earth beyond its ability to refresh itself. Ultimately, a mechanistic system cannot work in this environment. Collective consciousness must arise. Nor do we want some global authority managing us.

To overcome our environmental crises planetary consciousness must come into being. And the Wisdom Council Process is a safe way to spark this collective consciousness enough that we can work together to face our problems, co-create solution strategies, and structure thoughtful institutions and systems.

A global Wisdom Council Process sets up a process of ongoing self-reflection. Using it “We” become conscious of ourselves as “We the People of planet earth.” This constitutes a new form of economics, governance, culture, etc. For example, it’s a way for us to transcend wars, terrorism, and poverty.



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.





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