To clarify the value of this pattern language as a resource, let’s use it to consider, on the one hand, a U.S. public hearing and, on the other, the practice of Civic Councils in Austria. Let’s start with our leading-edge innovation:
Civic Councils (also known as Wisdom Councils) were first innovated in the U.S. in the 1990s by consultant Jim Rough but have found their most supportive environment in Austria where dozens have been organized for over a decade, as thoroughly described here. Their success there has led to their more recent use in Austria and Germany and interest from elsewhere. Film-Austria / Film-Germany
In the Civic Council format one or two dozen ordinary people are selected at random and brought together for a few days as a potentially wise microcosm of their larger community. They are hosted using Dynamic Facilitation, a process that helps people feel truly heard and curious about their differences. After issue briefings from a multi-stakeholder group and several experts, Council members explore a public issue in a creative manner and come up with shared insights and recommendations. Then they share their outcomes at a large public gathering that includes ordinary people, issue stakeholders and public officials. After this report-out, that larger group engages in a free-wheeling conversation using World Café methodology which mixes them up in iterative small group dialogues. The results of all that are then turned over to a multi-sector “Responder Group” made up of officials and organizations who have power and resources to implement some or all of the recommendations – including engaging government, issue stakeholders and the public – and who then report back to the public on how implementation is progressing. (We chose this because in our view there are few public engagement initiatives that are as sophisticated and multi-faceted as this one.)
So now let’s look at it through the lens of the wise democracy pattern language and explore its strengths and weaknesses.
The Civic Council’s special strengths include (but are not limited to) the following:
Civic Councils tap the efficiencies of a microcosm by using random selection (aka sortition) to come up with a manageable group size that reflects the larger community. This approach gives that group a level of independence from special interests as well as legitimacy in the eyes of the community and public officials. Equally importantly it assures a level of diversity and multiple perspective views to enrich their conversation, a function which is also served by the engagement of both citizens and stakeholders. During the Council’s high quality deliberations, the views of experts are on tap, not on top of the citizens’ values and experience, and Dynamic Facilitation ensures that everyone feels heard and all diversity and disturbances are used creatively to address all concerns in ways that ultimately generate shared orientation and emergent proposals to address the issue. (Dynamic Facilitation is a form of generative interaction noted for utilizing life energy well rather than constraining it with linear process directions.) The Council’s subsequent report-out is not just a formality, but provides space for dialogue and collaboration and communal intelligence on the part of the citizens, stakeholders and public officials present. Engaging the Responder Group then draws powerful representatives of the whole system into the conversation and implementation activities using multi-modal power.