During the first half of June, political activist and writer
Richard Moore was visiting
from Ireland and we turned these two weeks into a project to not only provide him with a deeper understanding of Switzerland's system of direct democracy but also attempt the rethinking of the workings of democracy, civil society and the economy, looking for a consensus on a new way forward.
First we traveled around Switzerland to meet with various people able to offer unique insights into the political system, and dug deep into the psyche of Swiss democracy to look for lessons learnt as well as new ideas to be applied to deepen democracy in Switzerland, Ireland and Europe.
The weekend of June 9-10, 2012 we hosted an intensive discussion on "Deepening Democracy", exploring the directions in which democracy may be evolved. The group of people that participated was comprised of people loosely related to the
project, people from the larger anarchist scene around St-Imier and people with an inherit interest in democracy living in the surrounding area.
All this resulted in the following diagrams and flip charts, and the emergence of the participants as the "beau-sejour" group founding a new organization that we named
with a mission to develop and search for conventions and best practices that allow civil society to better self-organize. These conventions should provide ways for different groups and organizations with an internal structure which allows them to reach consensus, to enter into a harmonization process with other organizations like that, in order to develop a larger whole system consensus. In other words, the outcome of this weekend session was that deeper democracy means democracy that relies much less on voting and instead focuses on consensus processes.
"Think for a moment of the complex reasoning this mama exhibited: first, she had memory memory of her four previous losses, in which bringing her new calf to the barn resulted in her never seeing him/her again (heartbreaking for any mammalian mother). Second, she could formulate and then execute a plan: if bringing a calf to the farmer meant that she would inevitably lose him/her, then she would keep her calf hidden, as deer do, by keeping her baby in the woods lying still till she returned. Third and I do not know what to make of this myself instead of hiding both, which would have aroused the farmers suspicion (pregnant cow leaves the barn in the evening, unpregnant cow comes back the next morning without offspring), she gave him one and kept one herself."
Approaches to change,
Andrea Gewessler describes what I see as finally gaining momentum for revolving our institutions to a truly bottom up approach. People are really starting to get this.
"[...] they intended to adopt the approach of looking at what was not working as well as they wanted so that they could learn from their mistakes and improve. At that opportune moment they stumbled across Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and investigated what was working already instead. One of the big revelations was that their communities are already self-organising and that this self-organisation is a powerful change agent. So what works is creating an enabling environment rather than one that imposes change from the top. As a result of this finding, they revisited their entire approach to change. Instead of going into communities with a project idea such as an energy campaign, they offered communities their support with their own concerns that they wanted to work on and find solutions for."
"[...] The main fear that politicians have is that citizens could come up with fanciful wishes that require abundant financial resources and that are just not do-able. However, experience has shown that the opposite is the case citizens generally recognise what is working and consider it their own responsibility to improve things further. Insights like this can only come from the people."
"[...] Another challenge is that once it is working, some politicians fear that their positions and roles become superfluous and again this is unfounded. [...]" ...Well, we'll see about that ;-)
A matter of democracy,
she goes on to give a nice description of the choice creating methodology in action:
"In a DF meeting participants sit in a semi-circle with four flipcharts and a trained facilitator in front of them. There is a flipchart each for problem-statements, solutions, data and concerns. The role of participants is to be authentic and bring their understanding of the problem, solutions, supporting data and concerns about the problem to the meeting at any time. There is no such thing as not relevant at this stage or can you hang on to this thought till later or even maybe at a different meeting. Every contribution is acknowledged and written down on the flipcharts. The facilitator sorts the contributions by putting them on the most appropriate flipchart, protects contributors and what they have said, asks questions to elicit further details and helps individuals to be brought into the conversation. It is tough work for the facilitator to keep the flame of a group of 8 to 12 people burning, whilst honouring each and every contribution and keeping the red thread going. This is challenging as participants can, with their words and contributions, be on any flipchart at any time. It is not the facilitatorʼs role to guide people to focus on solutions, problems, concerns or data but to get their contribution most meaningfully into the space. The group of participants goes through several phases usually starting off with what is referred to as a purge, the stage when all the feelings that have been stored up about the topic come out. This can be a very heated phase which because of its unloading function rarely reveals novel insights. However, once people have said whatever they needed to say a very productive stage is reached that often culminates in an insight for the whole group. Participants reach conclusions, reframe the problem and generate the energy to do something about it."
As well as a concise description of how that methodology is deployed in a political context:
"Wisdom Councils use Dynamic Facilitation with a group of about 12 randomly selected people within a community or organisation who come together for a day and a half, often a Friday afternoon and Saturday, to talk bout issues that matter to them. We are not talking about a topic pre-determined important by whoever is considered in charge but one that emerges from We The People, very often consisting of individuals who may not carry any formal authority within an organisation or community. Instead of taking decisions, which is a cutting-away, choice-creating delivers additionality. There is no voting on the best solution and no formal consensus but a working together till everyone feels it is quite clear what the intelligent responses to the issue at hand are. Participants bring the knowledge but also their feelings and experiences into the Wisdom Council.
After a day and half the randomly selected Wisdom Council then reports back its solutions and its thinking to a wider group, which in the case of large organisations may still only represent a small microcosm of the whole."
"[...] Wisdom Councils appeal because they want to work with this passion that people have for complex issues [...] These are the things that we often feel powerless to change. Wisdom Councils are a mechanism for organisations and society to reclaim that ability to influence and co-create."
Your email address:
The "Decentralize" Newsletter
Exchanging ideas for building a
decentralized fabric of society.
Making true democracy work on a larger
scale while decentralizing "everything",
benefiting from local diversity and
global synergies at the same time.