Our story:
Thirteen 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. This progress is achieved through shifts and breakthroughs. The story below summarizes our journey so far, including 13 “breakthroughs”. Also included are the natural reactions against these breakthroughs, which we call “heresy alerts.”

In each seminar, participants practiced 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 often experienced the same breakthrough insight: that our System is causing this problem.

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 discovery about the overarching control the system has over us 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 about changing the System?” But it turns out that in the context of the seminar and this quest for the truth, this recognition is empowering. Even though the chosen issue has now become bigger people feel a new excitement about the possibility for solving many issues at once.

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. 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, rule of law, 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 for its time, this was a giant leap forward. The Constitutional Convention set up a game-like competition in politics, economics, justice, etc. And this competitive organizing principle has spread throughout the world.

However, now in society we are becoming more inter-dependent. So the competitive structure is causing problems. While our system promotes the pursuit of self-interest we are increasingly facing joint problems that require collaboration.

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 breakthrough 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 bring think about a Constitutional Amendment based on his experience as a consultant facilitating change in large organizations. But for a number of months it was clear this idea wouldn’t work. The idea for the Amendment was simple ... 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 like a safe design that would lead to many positive benefits, but Jim didn’t see how it would transform the System. Then on the night of May 9, 1993, there was an epiphany ... It would work!

Breakthrough # 4: Using the Wise Democracy Amendment we can 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 this group spark all of us to come together as “We the People” so we can rethink our underlying structure? )

This innocuous Amendment is trans-partisan and seemingly risk-free. It’s just gathering 24 randomly chosen people. They pick an issue, address it creatively and collaboratively, reach unity. And present their unity in a national ceremony. At this stage of our understanding it was key that this process be set in motion by an Amendment to the Constitution. That way the Constitution can anoint this body to be a legitimate symbol of “We the People.”

The core of the Wise Democracy Amendment is the "
Wisdom Council process,” which doesn’t change anything directly. It merely adds a new conversation to what we already have.

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, 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. But the experiment worked more powerfully than we could imagine or explain. This led to a breakthrough realization that has been developing forward ever since:

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 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. 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. That is ... this can work anyway, even without a Constitutional Amendment.

Breakthrough #6: The “magic sauce” for transforming society is not to rely on the existing system but to 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, and decision-making? What about getting to elected officials for making change? If it’s so good why don’t we 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 where they tackle a problem and present their results.

the Wisdom Council is fundamentally different. These other processes are “deliberative” in nature. Fundamentally, they weigh specific options, discuss them and vote. And then present their results to the decision-makers. It’s a process that supports “decision-making.” But the Wisdom Council is gathered, they identify a huge, messy problems where there is no viable option. And they create a shared perspective. This is “choice-creating” instead of “decision-making.” Deliberation is not a part of this process.

New policy from decision-makers may arise but more importantly the purpose of the Wisdom Council 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 transforming society 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. (See
chart comparing decision-making and choice-creating) And that Dynamic Facilitation is vital because it reliably evokes choice creating, even when random people face a highly conflicted issue. (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. 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.

Of course, this wouldn't be a problem if an Amendment to the Constitution set the process in motion. But now we know it’s not needed. But we still need people to pay attention. We still need for the whole population to be and feel part of the new conversation.

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 one important part of the answer:

Breakthrough #8: When the Wisdom Council presents its perspective key is for them to tell the story of how they achieved 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?)

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, 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 resonance in the larger population and helps the new conversation proceed in the spirit of choice-creating. In this way we create a heroic story where a symbol of all the people tackles an impossible a problem that we all care about deeply. They overcome their differences to achieve miraculous progress. And pretty much we’re going along with them because we also care about this issue. And we think their progress is good. It’s the way we should go in society. And it seems like pretty much everyone is coming together around this approach. ... And like in a TV serial, only this is real, we can tune in for the next step in three months. In the meantime we can talk with others about this progress ... and we can talk “across the aisle” about it. Because this conversation is co-creative not adversarial.

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 one inviolable principle of the Wisdom Council was that it must chose 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 in choice-creating the participants redefine, reshape, and change the issue anyway. Yet, while giving them an issue generates more interest among the public, saves time 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 threatened ... 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 have led to many important 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 overturns their power?)

All along in the development of the Wisdom Council, critics have assured us that those currently 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 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, saying it’s 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, helping the people 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 are buying in as well.

Breakthrough #11: Bottom up Wisdom Council: The state can sponsor a Wisdom Council and let ordinary citizens choose the issue through an initiative (or voting) process.

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 a citizen can call for a state-wide Wisdom Council, paid for by the state, 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 some 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. It’s just a question of “will the process work?” ... and the evidence is “yes!”
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: We can use a regular global Wisdom Council Process to spark ToBe-ism, a new socio-political-economic system.
(Heresy alert! This seems like socialism. Those in power, the capitalists, will never allow a changed economic system. Why do we need a new name?)

There are many different systems of economics and politics including democracy, neoliberalism, socialism, capitalism, feudalism, communism, etc. None of these can work into the future. We need a totally new kind of socio-political-economic system. And a global Wisdom Council Process can evoke this new system, based on a new level of global enlightenment.

As we reach the limits of our common planetary resources and increasing
inter-dependency no social contract can work. Nor do we want some global authority managing us. With a few millions of dollars and media partners, we can facilitate all of humanity to come together, face our problems, co-create solutions, and structure thoughtful dynamic institutions.

ToBe-ism, the new system of of economics, governance, culture, etc. is achieved by structuring an ongoing, whole-system, choice-creating conversation where “We” become conscious as “We the People of planet earth,” capable of thoughtful collective action. It’s not so much about changing as adding a collective process of self-reflection.

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.