Tom Atlee: Empowering Public Wisdom – A Practical Vision of Citizen-Led Politics

Cultural Intelligence, Worth A Look
Tom Atlee

Dear friends,

A year ago Doug Reil, the associate publisher of North Atlantic Books, explored with me the possibility of writing a manifesto to clarify my vision of a wise democracy.  The culmination of that conversation is my new book EMPOWERING PUBLIC WISDOM: A PRACTICAL VISION OF CITIZEN-LED POLITICS to be released August 7 as part of NAB's Evolver Series.

My 2003 book THE TAO OF DEMOCRACY outlined the theory of holistic politics and listed numerous resources to realize it.  EMPOWERING PUBLIC WISDOM takes the next step, painting a fairly detailed – but of course not final – vision of how we could make it happen.  It highlights our need for real wisdom to successfully address our 21st century challenges and explores how we can co-create that wisdom in ways that will transform our sense of what democracy is all about.

I invite you to read a bit more about it and to order it in advance for only $14.95 from online or local bookstores.  Your order will encourage more bookstores to stock it, and that will help more people see it and buy it, which in turn will help this vision of a wise democracy come to life in the rich compost of our currently wasting-away democracy.  Along those lines, if you'd like to alert your social networks to this, please do.

Amazon Page

To give you a better sense of EMPOWERING PUBLIC WISDOM, I've enclosed a description of the book and its table of contents as well as several thoughtful endorsements.  At the book's new website – (still under development) – you can also read my brief “Manifesto: A call to establish a legitimate, wise, powerful, collective voice of the people” that declares the intent of the book right upfront.  You can also buy the book there.

Finally, the transformational network Reality Sandwich is collaborating with NAB to serialize EMPOWERING PUBLIC WISDOM online – approximately one chapter every 3 weeks.  Chapter 1 “Democracy is about power- and the people” is already posted at .

Please join me in spreading the word about this new resource for a co-intelligence society.  The state of democracy everywhere suggests it is time for a change.




Preface:  How I came to write this book

Manifesto: A call to establish a legitimate, wise, inclusive, and powerful collective voice of the people

Part 1: A wiser democracy—taking it seriously

1. Democracy is about power—and the people
2. Direct democracy, representative democracy, and their shadows
3. Why we need public wisdom
4. Public wisdom: its role, its sources, and its limitations
5. Citizenship and the random selection of ad hoc mini-publics

Part 2: Making it happen—some pieces of the puzzle

6. Citizen deliberative councils: their character, variety, and history
7. How citizen deliberative councils could and should be used
8. Public empowerment, public engagement, and the role of journalism
9. Polarization, transpartisanship, and public wisdom
10. Wisdom Councils in one hundred cities—with World Cafés, Open Space, and Study Circles to engage the public with the results
11. Deliberation for direct democracy: Citizens Initiative Reviews and the National Initiative for Democracy
12. Empowered public wisdom rising from the grassroots
13. Citizen Legislature: A new branch of government?
14. Protecting the power and integrity of public wisdom
15. What role will you play?


1. An annotated list of powerful participatory processes, with links
2. Some areas for research and development

Suggested reading


About the author



Beyond elections, public participation, and citizen input, we must find a way to produce wise public policy. In Empowering Public Wisdom, lifelong activist Tom Atlee shows how diverse views can be engaged around public issues in ways that generate a coherent, shared “voice of the people,” infusing the political process with common sense and guiding intelligent decision making.

True public wisdom results when the public—as a whole or in randomly selected mini-publics—engages in learning about, reflecting on, and discussing what needs to be taken into account to produce long-term, inclusive benefits. Such a process, Atlee suggests, moves us beyond partisanship to a place of collective responsibility for our shared destiny.

Atlee presents a wide array of practical solutions, including citizen deliberative councils, conversational processes for mass public participation, and ideas for institutionalizing the power of public wisdom in our government. Combining a broad vision with practical solutions, Empowering Public Wisdom provides a unique and refreshing voice in the political arena.

Atlee’s core approach is through citizen deliberative councils in which a small group of people randomly selected come together as a “mini-public” or a microcosm of the larger population. Such citizen deliberative councils engage in the study of a public issue or concern and make recommendations to public officials and the community, but disband afterward.  When new issues arise – or on a periodic basis decided by the community – new councils are formed.

Ultimately, Atlee aims even higher, suggesting a possible fourth branch of government to better balance our current democratic system.



No problem facing our society is too great if we can learn to deliberate and act together as We the People.  In this practical and visionary book, filled with concrete examples of what works, Tom Atlee shows us how we can harness our collective wisdom to discern the way forward in these complex and challenging times.  Inspiring and highly recommended!  – William Ury, co-author of GETTING TO YES and author of THE THIRD SIDE

Democracy can’t work if it’s reduced to divisive battles, slogans, and attack ads, mainly driven by big money. But we know what does work: Vast evidence now shows that we citizens, in all our diversity, can think together wisely and work together productively. Atlee helps us envision, in amazing detail, how we can shape democracy we believe in because we’re creating together.  – Frances Moore Lappé, author of DIET FOR A SMALL PLANET and ECOMIND

At last someone has described the conditions under which ordinary people can generate real public wisdom.  The implications for democracy – especially for democratic handling of our most troubling, complex, and urgent issues – are profound.  I urge activists, academics, public officials, and every concerned citizen to heed the call in this book.  – Richard Sclove, author of DEMOCRACY AND TECHNOLOGY

Tom Atlee reports how citizen deliberative councils can enable ‘we the people’ to speak with collective wisdom on public issues. He also suggests new forms that can embed this wise public voice in real-world democratic governance – a wise and important development for the democracy movement. – Hawaii State Senator Les Ihara, Jr., Senate Majority Policy Leader

In this book, Tom Atlee highlights the seldom noted potential of dialogue and deliberation to generate true public wisdom.  He explores how to increase that potential, how to embed it in our democracy, and how to empower it to make a real difference — an important contribution to our field and our political culture. – Sandy Heierbacher, Director, National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation

Atlee’s Empowering Public Wisdom serves up a juicy antidote to today’s increasingly intractable issues, political gridlock, and public disengagement. Having used many of the practices Atlee outlines, I can attest to the viability and vitality of the vision he paints and the approaches he proposes on behalf of us all.  – Peggy Holman, consultant, author of ENGAGING EMERGENCE: TURNING UPHEAVAL INTO OPPORTUNITY and co-author of THE CHANGE HANDBOOK



Paperback: 280 pages, 4.3 x 0.6 x 7 inches

Price:  $14.95

ISBN-10: 1583945008 / ISBN-13: 978-1583945001

Amazon link:
North Atlantic Books link:



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Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute, POB 493, Eugene, OR 97440  /
To be published August 7, 2013:  EMPOWERING PUBLIC WISDOM

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