Using the Patterns 2017-04-21T10:46:28+00:00


Some of the following activities are primarily about learning wise democracy patterns and understanding them more deeply.  Some activities are about using the patterns to analyze real or hypothetical situations or democratic examples.  Some are more focused on self-improvement and building community among students and practitioners, or spreading the word to invite others into this wise democracy adventure.  And some stimulate us to be creative about wise democracy ideas.  Often one exercise or activity will serve a number of those functions all at once.  Try them all, as appropriate – or create new ones and let us know so that we can let others know, because this is only the beginning.

In creating this initial list we want to acknowledge the inspiration we received from the GroupWorksDeck pattern language’s Activities page.


Take an example of a democratic institution, situation, proposal, practice, culture, initiative, project, etc. – one that exists or one that is envisioned or being planned – and use the patterns to help you discuss its strong and weak points and areas where it could be improved.  This can be done individually or in a group.  It is often engaging to (a) have participants grab cards they feel are relevant or (b) distribute the pattern cards to participants as ‘hands’ and then have them read off and discuss cards in their hands that represent these strengths and shortcomings.  If you do this with an actual planned intervention, all the better.  Plans can then be made to strengthen the strengths and address the weaknesses.  (VARIATION: Considering a given example, arrange as many cards as you can fit on the table or floor (at least 10) in a field where the most vital patterns are near the center, and the less relevant ones are further away (or in a stack on the side).  If a pattern is well manifested in the example, the card is placed upright.  If it is poorly manifested it is placed sideways.  When all the relevant pattern cards that fit on the surface are laid out, examine them all and discuss them and their related patterns and what they mean for the project or example.)

Here is an example of a pattern-based analysis that compares the strengths and improvable shortcomings of both Austrian Civic Councils (one of our favorite innovations) and the more familiar sort of public hearing common in the U.S. and elsewhere.


This activity is like using Tarot or some other oracle as a stimulant when you are stuck or in need of inspiration.  Think about some situation in your work or movement or community, or just in general.  You can – if you wish – meditate on a particular question (e.g., “What should I do about X?”).  Pick a card at random from the shuffled pattern deck. Reflect on what it might have to offer you in terms of insights or possibilities.  Using an oracle in this way isn’t about predictions or getting guidance you should follow.  For most people, it serves as a trigger for their own thinking and feeling into the situation(s) they are facing.  If you’ve reflected on a card and aren’t fully satisfied or you want to explore another angle or deepen into the question you were asking, try another card. You can also try a more advanced Tarot-style layout of cards, representing – just for one example – struggles, visions, and strengths. Or five cards might represent, in sequence:  (a) the context/past situation, (b) current influences, (c) the current challenge you face, (d) unexpected future influences, and (e) outcome/resolution.  The cards are there to serve you.  Use them in whatever way is most meaningful to you.


Act out a pattern without speaking, while other participants guess which pattern it is.  For this game to work, everyone should have a shared familiarity with the patterns and/or have the list of patterns immediately available to them.


Distribute 5-6 cards to each participant, leaving at least 10 in the middle face down.  Describe a case study or innovation or approach and have each participant pick a card from their hand and advocate to the other participants why it is the best fit with the example given.  If someone doesn’t like their cards, they can pick a card at random from those in the middle, but then they have to use that one.  This is a test of how creative we can be with the patterns, even if we have to make something up or just be funny.


This is a challenging activity that can be done as a group, or as an individual exercise:

  1. Draw a card at random
  2. Think about, discuss/decide on two variables that most affect if, when, how and/or how easily this pattern can be invoked, practiced or institutionalized.  For example, when you are wealthy or impoverished, dealing with a community or a country, working with cooperative or resistant public officials, etc.
  3. Recall a story or lay out a scenario that covers each combination of those extremes of each variable.  This step produces four scenarios or stories.  You can use a quadrant grid to help you.
  4. Discuss/identify how/why these extremes could arise, to give yourself context for the fifth and final step in the exercise. For example, why was one group culture so open and another so closed?
  5. Discuss/identify how you would deal with each of the four combinations of extremes of the two variables.


Dealer deals out cards to each player (2 players – 7 cards each; 3 players – 6 cards each; 4 players – 5 cards each; 5-6 players – 4 cards each), leaving the remaining cards in a face-down stack on the table.  A card from the stack is laid down upright in the middle.  Going around the participant circle clockwise, if someone has a card that lists the card in the center as a related pattern – or if the card in the center lists a card in their hand as related – they place a qualifying card that’s in their hand down on the table next to the card in the center and explain the relationship (analytically or in story form, either the general relationship or some specific examples or dynamics).  With the turns moving to the left, each player in turn adds, from their hand, a card related to any of the cards played to date (if they have no related cards, they pick a card from the stack, which they can play if it qualifies; if not, they say “pass”).  A card can be placed to the right, left, above or below the card to which it is related. Once four related cards have been played related to a card on the table, it is out of play, and players must play new cards beside one of the other cards on the table.  If the table becomes cleared, a card from the stack is placed in the middle to start the process over again.  Each card played scores one point for the person playing it. If it is related to more than one adjacent card, they score 2, 3 or 4 points respectively.  Once any player has played their last card on the table – or if the table is cleared and the main stack has been used up – the game ends. Each player subtracts the number of cards left in their hand from their point total, and the person with the most points wins.  (VARIATION:  The players can build a more or less coherent story with each new card laid out so the story continues and evolves through the whole game.)


Going around the circle, each person picks a card from an upside-down shuffled deck and describes an example related to the pattern they picked – from the past or from something that currently exists or from something hypothesized for the future.  They must pick their example from the following list (whose initial letters spell “a firm crib”).

◆    Activity or project related to the pattern

◆    Failure of the pattern
◆    Institution based on or furthering the pattern
◆    Realization or lesson regarding the pattern
◆    Method that manifests the pattern

◆    Challenge regarding the pattern
◆    Resource for furthering the pattern
◆    Innovation that furthers the pattern
◆    Behavior related to the pattern

(VARIATIONS:  (a) The A FIRM CRIB examples are used in sequence, with each person having to give an example from the item that is associated with their turn (e.g., the first person MUST give an example of an activity or project).  If they can’t think of an example for their item, anyone else who CAN think of such an example says it and gets an extra point.  The circle continues.)


Open online conversations covering any questions attendees have about the pattern language, hosted by the founder Tom Atlee and/or others who have studied the pattern language.


Deal 3-6 cards to each participant.  Give them 10 minutes to think up a futuristic story (e.g., a diary entry or news story from 2032) that exemplifies ALL those patterns.  Then have each person tell the others the story they came up with.  Do as many rounds of this as participants want to do.  (VARIATION 1:  Give people a week to create a vision of a wise democracy that incorporates as many of the patterns as possible.  If this is done as a competition, the winners are based on both the quality of their stories and the numbers of patterns they included.  VARIATION 2: A team picks the most interesting/challenging patterns they’d like to see woven into a scenario, where the number of patterns equals the number of people doing the scenario exploration.  Individuals volunteer – or are assigned, randomly or not – to represent/speak for each of the patterns.  They then weave the story together with each person offering narratives, visions, incidents, situations, etc., that are related to their assigned pattern.  Any given story-building exercise can continue as long as participants are interested.  If someone takes notes or videos or records it, it can be shared with others.)


A visionary question – such as “What 3 patterns could change things in our political culture in ways that would make the biggest difference?”  Each participant chooses whatever (in this case 3) patterns they feel are most important and then they all discuss how those patterns might be woven into a strategy that responds to the question.  (VARIATION:  The group does a prioritization exercise to identify THE THREE – or whatever number – patterns they ALL see as most important and then do the strategic exploration around those.)


When a colleague takes action that is embodied by one of the patterns, send them a thank you note with a link to (or quote from) the pattern’s webpage.


A group of 4-20 people commit to a series of videoconference calls in each of which one or two of them describe some project they’re working on which the others comment on – offering insights, suggestions and/or thought-provoking questions – to help the focus person make good progress on their project, especially as it could contribute to progress towards a wise democracy.  The commenters utilize (but are not limited to) the patterns as a framework to help each other.

HONOR EACH PERSON (best for 4-8 players who know each other):

  1. Each participant takes a turn being the ’Honouree’. On their turn, the Honouree scans the cards and, without indicating their choice, decides on one pattern they personally think exemplifies their work, purpose, vision, etc., and another they think is a ‘learning edge’ they need to work on, and writes the two pattern names on a piece of paper. The Honouree then briefly leaves the room.
  2. Each of the remaining participants selects one pattern they think the Honouree’s work etc. exemplifies and a ‘learning edge’ pattern they might wish to see more of from the Honouree. All of the pattern cards selected are shuffled together and laid out in a row face up.
  3. The Honouree returns and attempts to guess which cards were ‘exemplify’ selections and which were ‘learning edge’ selections. If this is done as a game, they get one point for each correct guess. If one or both of the patterns they wrote on the piece of paper were also selected by one of the other participants, they get a 3-point bonus (6 points if both patterns were selected by other participants).
  4. Optionally, the Honouree can then select one of their incorrect answers and invite the person who selected that card to explain their rationale for their choice. In this case, the Honouree just listens and replies ‘Thank You’ — there is no discussion or debate.


  1. Lay out all the cards in a spiral on a table, or in some other way that makes them easily viewable to everyone.
  2. Invite participants to circle the table and pick one or two cards that represent a pattern they are gifted at using, and one or two cards that represent a pattern they would like to be better at using.  (Note: You can vvary the number of ‘gift’ or ‘growing edge’ cards depending on your individual and/or group focus and goals.)
  3. Have the participants sit in a circle, with the cards they chose in front of them, facing inwards. This creates a circle of cards representing the patterns under discussion.
  4. Go around the circle and have each participant say a little bit about the patterns they chose and why.

INDIVIDUAL SELF-ASSESSMENT – Lay out all the cards.

Identify which patterns you feel most competent using or contributing to, and which you would like to become better at or contribute more to.  Each week, select one pattern from the second list, and think about how you have used it or contributed to it in the past, could have used it or contributed to it, and might use it or contribute to it in future.  Keep it in a place where it’s visible and refer back to it at various points during the week. Research situations where it has been used, manifested, or contributed to in an exemplary way.  Make a point of observing when it gets used or manifested or contributed to, and how those involved effectively invoked it (or not).  With the help of others who know your strengths and weaknesses as a change agent, attach a post-it to each card that contains either a ‘grade’ or color to represent your self-assessed capacity at invoking the pattern represented by that card. Jot brief reminder notes of when/where you have invoked (or should have invoked) each pattern. Periodically review and update your ‘grades’.


Pass out pattern cards at democracy conferences, one at a time to individual attendees.  OPTIONAL:  Talk to people about the card you gave them, asking what they think of it, and exploring the whole deck with those interested.


Why is the wise democracy pattern language worth studying, sharing, co-developing and co-evolving?

The wise democracy perspective considers how power, participation and wisdom manifest in democratic systems and highlights a number of problems that arise from their imbalance in current political cultures:

  • Power without wisdom is not only dangerous but also unsustainable, ultimately destroying itself along with much of life around it.
  • Power without participation becomes increasingly corrupt, manipulative and domineering, and thus riddled with inefficiencies, counter-forces and internal contradictions.
  • Participation without power is unsustainable, generating apathy and cynicism.
  • Participation without wisdom risks mob rule, majoritarian oppression, and the disasters of short-term narrow self-interest and manipulation.
  • Wisdom without power is useless, futile, frustrating, and obviously incomplete (or else it would have taken into account what was needed for it to be powerful!).
  • Wisdom without participation will miss important realities and not be “bought into” by those involved, undermining implementation.

The wise democracy worldview and the wise democracy pattern language thus explicitly address these issues with three broad questions that are seldom asked:

  • What would democracy look like if power were more wholesome, participatory and wise – and how might we move in that direction?
  • What would democracy look like if participation were more inclusive, wise and empowered – and how might we move in that direction?
  • What would democracy look like if its outcomes arose from collective wisdom that was more comprehensive, participatory and effective – and how might we move in that direction?

From a more holistic philosophical perspective, wise democracy theorists explore these questions:

  • What would power look like if it were of, by and for the whole?
  • What would participation look like if it were of, by and for the whole?
  • What would wisdom look like if it were of, by and for the whole?
  • What does it mean to say we want a democracy of, by, and for the whole?
  • The wise democracy pattern language makes sense – fascinating big sense – of what thousands of change agents in dozens of fields are already doing.
  • The wise democracy pattern language highlights important possibilities and dynamics that few people or groups are attending to which, if well engaged, could make a tremendous difference – especially if done together in a coordinated way.
  • The wise democracy pattern language names phenomena that many people have had floating in the backs of their minds but have never been able to articulate – and that many other change agents have never even thought about – thus creating a language that helps us to discern and discuss things we were never able to see or talk about as clearly before.
  • The wise democracy pattern language provides a compelling vision of radically improved democratic societies capable of developing the wise policies and shared activities and culture needed to survive and sustain our world for future generations.  This is the democracy dimension of sustainability and regeneratively.  And it is provided all at once as a big vision, a deep philosophy, and hundreds of actionable details.
  • The wise democracy pattern language expands, deepens and reduces the toxicity of human power and intelligence and empowers human caring, heart and spirit, inviting us to integrate more of our best humanity in potent, practical ways.
  • The wise democracy pattern language is social DNA – a “living blueprint” that can enable groups, societies and civilizations to consciously redesign themselves to co-creatively and wisely respond to changes and challenges.  Like DNA, the wise democracy pattern language responds differently to the different contexts it faces at each stage of collective development and, like DNA, it itself evolves – although unlike DNA it evolves with lots of human consciousness, choice, and creativity.
  • The wise democracy pattern language can be used to better network and organize democracy-enhancing change efforts and to develop synergies, collaborations, and coalitions among those efforts to weave more coherent and potent movements that include both existing activities and others yet to be undertaken.
  • The wise democracy pattern language can be used to educate people as co-creative participants in a more wisely functional and wholesome future – to teach workshops and – especially in harmony with other social pattern languages – to design entirely new and radically coherent educational programs, curricula, activities and institutions.
  • The wise democracy pattern language provides a stimulus for creating new forms of and focuses for democratic research, debate, and innovation.
  • The wise democracy pattern language provides a medium in which to learn about what others know and are doing and to share the importance of what we are each doing – and to teach and learn from each other in a focused ongoing community of practice.
  • The wise democracy pattern language provides a vision for all of us to work towards together that recognizes and empowers what we all do and is biased towards evolving, co-created, coherent collective activity rather than fragmentation, on the one hand, or, on the other being too attached to some fixed ideology or monolithic dream.  It provides not a utopian destination but a direction for social evolution and an ever-increasing capacity to generate practical collective wisdom so we can move together towards the realization of our individual longings and collective aspirations.

SO the underlying value and purpose of the wise democracy pattern language is to present and promote the possibility for a wisely self-governing society.  The more we understand what would be involved in creating such a society and what already exists that could serve that purpose, the more we will be able to develop it.  So we provide some exercises to help individuals and groups increase their – and others’ – understanding of and connection around the possibilities, resources, and dynamics that make up the wise democracy worldview.

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