Good Mainstream View, Not Enough, Out of Touch With Alternative Models
February 28, 2011
I have spent eleven years being mentored on the topic of public co-intelligence and citizen wisdom by Tom Atlee, author of The Tao of Democracy: Using co-intelligence to create a world that works for all and Reflections on Evolutionary Activism: Essays, poems and prayers from an emerging field of sacred social change; by Jim Rough, author of Society's Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People; by Peggy Holman, author of The Change Handbook: The Definitive Resource on Today's Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems and the more recent Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity; and many others whose works I have reviewed here at Amazon, with a special nod toward Harrison Owen, with whom I lunch regularly to keep my sanity, he is the author of a number of books, including Open Space Technology: A User's Guide and more recently, Wave Rider: Leadership for High Performance in a Self-Organizing World.
It is in that context that I recommend this book as a superb example of mainstream thinking, while also respectfully observing that this approach is both inadequate, and out of touch with the alternative Epoch B bottom-up models that have been proven not only recently, but centuries ago within indigenous societies, as documented by, among others, Charles Mann in 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.
For this review, I decided to consult my mentors, and with their permission, offer two of their comments as a collective review–wisdom of the very crowds the authors of this book think they can help be wiser.
My feeling too. Where have they been?
I think the authors ask a legitimate question like, “is it possible for the public to move faster toward collaborative, sustainable resolutions of urgent conflicts ranging from education reform, energy and climate change on through to the foreign policy that affects the U.S. role and standing in the world?” But then they unnecessarily orient themselves to the distinct fields of Dialogue and Deliberation, ignoring solutions beyond those fields.
One sentence might be:
“Toward Wiser Public Judgment” highlights tools which allow the public to thoughtfully select better options, but it ignores tools where the public creates new solutions and builds shared vision.”
The folks at Public Agenda, Kettering, and National Issues Forums are opinion leaders in the mainstream world of citizen deliberation on public issues and deliberative democracy in general. They do solid research on public opinion and basic deliberation and have lots of academic credentials. They are allies, colleagues, and mentors of public engagement professionals in NCDD and the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2).
Jim and Harrison and myself (and dozens of others) are on the leading edge of the capacity of conversation to generate public wisdom and community self-organization. I have no idea if the authors of this book are aware of our work or not, nor do I sense that they “should”. We are on the leading innovative edge of the field; they are more in its mainstream — although the field, itself, is on the leading edge of American political culture, most of which is quite oblivious to the idea that ANYTHING of special value is possible through conversation.
I have learned a lot about deliberation from the folks at Public Agenda, Kettering and National Issues Forums. I have tremendous respect for them and their work (see, for example, an early article I wrote about this, Moving Beyond Public Opinion to Public Judgment http://co-intelligence.org/CIPol_publicjudgment.html). But it is a real question whether their processes are capable of generating outcomes that look truly like wisdom — really big picture understandings of issues; creative, integral solutions to public problems; and collective actions and policies that arise out of such understandings and solutions. If I thought we had a lot of time before the shit overwhelms the fan, I would simply support these folks, who are doing truly great work, far in advance of what we have now. But I don't think that the existing approaches to deliberation are enough anymore, and are certainly limited when faced with the transformational demands of our times. There is serious need for innovation in the area of true public wisdom and the empowerment of that wisdom to have impact at the level of policy and mass behavior.
Although I don't really know what is in this book (it is described in general terms that don't give us enough information to evaluate it), I imagine it offers experience-based advice for engaging diverse citizens in generating basic collective intelligence about public policy options, but doesn't help us much with our now-urgent need to generate real collective wisdom to deal creatively and effectively with the challenges of the 21st Century, whose crises demand fundamental transformation.
For whatever it is worth I find little surprising in the omission. When Barbara Bunker and Billy Alban published their book on Large Group Interventions they were ready to go to press when they “discovered” Open Space. It had only been around for 10 years at that point including one Open Space at ODN – of which both are members. The secret, I think is that both Barbara and Billy, lovely ladies for sure, are academics – and the rule of the trade is that you don’t write about something that hasn’t appeared in “The Literature.” Up to this point the academic (peer reviewed) literature has assiduously avoided any mention of Open Space, to the best of my knowledge. Then you get into a Catch 22 – Since academics can’t write about what has not appeared in the literature, it (by definition) will never appear in the academic literature. Sad. Case in point is Wikipedia. Some folks asked me to write a piece for that digital wonder. I did, and ever since there have been curious comments about how the piece lacks authority and credibility, having no external references. Should the time come when I pass my normal “2 Martinis” and venture into a 3rd – I will be tempted to drop them a note asking if they would accept a piece on Relativity written by some bloke named Einstein. Hopefully that 3rd martini will never come for even my bloated ego couldn’t handle that. Ho.