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Sunday, November 23, 2003 - 11:14 AM

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Awareness ResearchThe evolution in "'Citizen Deliberative Councils' can and should be used in a wide variety of ways to increase the potency of our democracy. Citizen Deliberative Councils can increase both the power of "We the People" and the quality of the decisions made and implemented with that power." -Tom Atlee, Co-Intelligence Institute

Citizen Deliberative Councils (CDCs) are temporary, face-to-face councils of a dozen or more citizens whose diversity reflects the diversity of their community, state or country. Usually council members are selected at random, often with additional criteria to ensure gender, racial, socioeconomic and other diversity.

These diverse ordinary citizens convene for two to ten days to consider some public concern -- to learn about it (often by hearing and cross-examining diverse experts), to reflect on it together (usually with the help of a professional facilitator or moderator), and to craft a collective statement which they then announce to the public and/or relevant officials and agencies, often through a press conference.

After that they disband. In current democratic visions featuring CDCs, they have no permanent or official power except the power of legitimacy and widely-publicized common sense solutions to compelling public problems.

Hundreds of CDCs have been held worldwide. It is now well demonstrated that with this method ordinary citizens have a remarkable capacity to grapple with complex problems and come up with useful recommendations that serve the common good, thus realizing the elusive dream of democracy.

Yet most citizen deliberative councils have been convened as isolated events or sophisticated focus groups by organizations or agencies seeking input from the public. Only in Denmark are they official institutions convened by Parliament as a periodic function of government, giving them a position of significant influence.

This paper outlines how citizen deliberative councils could be much more broadly used to further the common good. It is hoped that this will help catalyze a movement to establish them at all levels of our barely democratic systems.


The broad citizenry could, if it chose, ensure that its general interests were well and dependably articulated through the use of randomly selected citizen deliberative councils. The quality of deliberation involved could replace or shape public opinion polls as an indicator of the public will and the general welfare. Their randomness and brief existence could make them at least as resistant to manipulation as juries. Well-monitored facilitation and information could help them produce sophisticated, common sense results. Their rootedness in community values could counter-balance the growing greed, power-hunger and shortsightedness rampant in both public and private sector decision-making.

CDCs are so flexible they can evaluate issues, proposals, legislation, candidates, public officials, and the general state of the community. In each case, the kind and quality of information and perspectives supplied by a CDC is unique -- and UNIQUELY VALUABLE.

A breakthrough insight is the realization that nowhere else do we have a trustworthy source of public judgment and community wisdom arising from high quality investigation by and dialogue among significantly diverse ordinary citizens deliberating together away from the shallow, one-sided PR manipulations of special interests.

Whatever issues, candidates or proposals most excite our passion, we can reflect on the fact that they must pass through the decision-making processes that are built into our systems of politics and government. Are these systems set up to make sensible decisions on behalf of the long-term common good? If not, we have CDCs as a tool to inject community wisdom and popular will into that decision-making. We can give that collective wisdom and will as much power as we choose.

These reforms should probably be started at local or state levels (e.g., evaluating local issues and mayoral or gubernatorial candidates) before they are tried at national levels (e.g., evaluating national issues and presidential or Congressional candidates). However, public servants at any level (including the national) could always convene CDCs to advise them (if they are politicians) or their agencies (if they are bureaucrats) -- or to influence their fellow public servants, other institutions (like corporations) or the public at large towards more wisely democratic policies and behaviors.

Underlying all these details about citizen deliberative councils is a larger purpose: To bring about the urgently needed next great step in the evolution of democracy, itself. It is desirable and likely that regular use of CDCs can help transform "We the People" from a patriotic myth to a highly conscious and intelligently coherent political force. It can help bring real vitality to this ultimate democratic authority that is currently fragmented, entranced and unable to act clearly and consistently on its own behalf.

The (r)evolution in decision-making that Citizen Deliberative Councils offer us is of comparable magnitude to the revolution in decision-making created centuries ago by the idea of majority vote. It can be applied virtually anywhere, and it could make all the difference in the world.

Tom Atlee is founder and co-director of the non-profit Co-Intelligence Institute. Recently his work has focused on developing our capacity to function as a wise democracy, so we can turn our social and environmental challenges into positive developments for our society. His social change vision is based on new understandings of wholeness which recognize the value of diversity, unity, relationship, context, uniqueness and the spirit inside each of us and the world. Co-intelligence is a form of intelligence grounded in that kind of wholeness. It has collaborative and collective dimensions, which we see clearly in higher forms of politics and governance, the central focus of the Co-Intelligence Institute. Co-intelligence theory also acknowledges many facets of intelligence (like head and heart), wisdom, and the higher forms of intelligence (natural and sacred) that move through and beyond us. Although Tom and the Institute focus on very practical issues of group, social and political dynamics, co-intelligence has many esoteric dimensions as well.

The goal of The Co-Intelligence Institute is the conscious evolution of culture in harmony with nature and with the highest human potentials.

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