Has anyone read Tom Atlee’s Empowering Public Wisdom: A Practical Vision of Citizen-Led Politics? Chapter 5 is called “Citizenship and Randomly Selected Ad Hoc Mini-Publics.”
Tom’s been an advocate of sortition for decades and it seems there hasn’t yet been a discussion of his thought on Equality by Lot. Beyond being a long-time advocate of “Citizen Deliberative Councils” and other sorts of minipublics, he has deep insights into group dynamics—the conditions under which groups go beyond simple bargaining and reach something closer to creative wisdom.
In my humble opinion, there’s an inadvertent academic bias on this blog that leaves out significant work from activists and non-academic writers like Tom. I think it would serve us well to do otherwise.
To that end I will list some brilliant ideas I’ve gleaned from his latest book, Empowering Public Wisdom (2012), and from reading some of his blog.
What are the kinds of conversations desirable within minipublics? What is the proper size of the group? Does the answer to these depend on the type of minipublic and its function, how? What type of facilitation is necessary in them? How do we get participants to buy in emotionally? How do we achieve a “group synergy” that makes strides on sticky issues?
There is a kind of collective voice (as opposed to opposing voices) that can be achieved when the best kinds of conversations occur. In a nutshell, Tom Atlee—and many or all of us would agree—facilitation is a key issue for minipublics. He says “public wisdom is not mass participation,” but something much more. This is in effect zooming in on deliberation and understanding the crucial social psychology factors at play. [Keith has brought up this concern, but the zooming hasn’t yet occurred.]
“Power-with” comes from agreement and synergy as distinct from “power-over” which comes from control. Some types of conversation (and facilitation) can help find legitimate interests and ways to satisfy them. Participants feel fully heard and their most pressing needs met. “Power-with” is the minimal aim of allotted bodies serving a social or political role. This is Rousseau’s general will made practical, if you wish.
“Power-from-within” happens when the best kind of deliberation brings out leverages people’s passions and natural capacities. It creates a kind of “group flow” where everyone feels not only truly, fully heard but everyone is able to bring out their best—and where true breakthroughs occur. This is the highest aim of minipublics that could probably only happen in small groups.
Tom attaches new meanings to dialogue, deliberation, and solution creation, to highlight what he means by group wisdom. Dialogue is speaking truly and hearing truly everyone’s interests and concerns. Deliberation means learning and exploring possibilities (not arguing) towards solutions. Choice creating occurs when each participant steps outside of her/his role and position to find “collective voice” or “general will.” This, he adds, happens when everyone “feels the integrity of the process in their bones.”
What kind of conversations generate public wisdom?
They take in a full spectrum of both knowledge and perspectives.
They creatively engage different forms of intelligence.
They productively engage with differences and disturbances.
They reveal the true complexity of the situation to all participants.
They go deeper than majority rule because they are truly inclusive.
Is it possible for us (or anyone) to model this type of deliberation in an online forum? I invite your thoughts on the above questions and ideas.