I’ve noticed that people often talk about “the will of the People”, but we seldom hear about “the wisdom of the People”. But, when you think about it, will and wisdom are an interesting pair, an important pair. After all, is will all we need to think about? For example, if an individual has a strong will, is that all we should be concerned with? The answer is clearly no, because we want them to be doing the right thing with their will. That is where wisdom comes in. Will drives their behavior but wisdom should guide it. We can use that metaphor for talking about “political wisdom”: Political will needs to be partnered with political wisdom (and vice versa!).
Now, our other way of engaging with “the whole” of an issue is to engage all the stakeholders who are involved with it. Stakeholders are the people who have a stake in the issue, who have an interest in it, who have “skin in the game“ or expertise or power that is tangled up with the issue. Stakeholders are basically all the people who are involved in the battle about how this issue is going to play out.
Now, you want to pull in as many different kinds of stakeholders as you can because the conflict itself is a whole system and you want to include all the different pieces of that conflict in your wisdom-generating conversation. If you can successfully do that and generate wisdom that all these different people from different parts of the system think this is a really good idea, then you not only resolve the conflict but you have the wisdom and resources of the whole system available to address the problem of the whole system. That can help guarantee a really effective solution. And since the issue is intrinsically a conflict, resolving the conflict or transcending it are important signs that you have actually achieved some kind of wisdom.
I once thought that an “issue“ was simply a topic of public concern. Then I realized that an issue is actually a topic or situation that involves a conflict, as in “people take issue with it”. The word issue almost has conflict built into it. An issue is an issue because people are disagreeing about it. People disagree because they have different interests or ideologies, different values, all sorts of differences. With stakeholders, we’re asking who is involved in this issue, who is saying things about it, fighting about it,… and which legislators and political parties are involved in it.
And then you try to bring all these different people together who are from all these different places in the landscape of the issue. This is where the classic negotiation book “Getting to Yes“ is archetypal and useful. Through the “principled negotiation” process described in that book, the stakeholders are defining their legitimate interests and working together to satisfy them.
Now, I love the word “interest”. The stakeholders are interested in the issue – it engages their attention – because they have something to lose. They have “skin in the game“, as the saying goes. (Interestingly, this “interest” is very similar to the “passion” that defines and self-organizes an Open Space conference – a connection explored further in the “Well Utilized Life Energy” pattern in this pattern language.)
Now let’s look at the idea that each of these – the citizenry and the stakeholders – can be embraced by forums that feature the other one. For example, a lot of stakeholder dialogues will include some people who represent “the community” as an interest group – kind of seeing the citizenry as a group of stakeholders. You may have public officials or community organizations present who are there trying to serve and represent the community in some way, who are there to speak for the community along with the various embattled people. In this way a stakeholder dialogue can include the citizenry within it.
Turning it the other way, we may have a citizen deliberative council in which stakeholders – the people fighting over the issue – are brought in as expert witnesses to testify to the citizens on the citizen deliberative council. You use them to expose the citizens to arguments going on between the people who are for or against various solutions, who represent different interests within the system. The council is being informed in their decisions by the stakeholders. So the stakeholders are included within the citizen deliberation.
Now both of these approaches – where one of our two “wholes” is included within the conversation of the other – are very important and useful. But I want to raise the possibility that an issue might be best addressed if we do BOTH citizen deliberative councils AND stakeholder dialogues. I actually don’t know of any experiments that have been done that way. I like to imagine we could be very sophisticated about doing both stakeholder dialogues (or negotiations) AND citizen deliberations and that they could all be integrated in various ways and that that could be very powerful. Ideally both kinds of wisdom-generating forms could be held on every issue. We would then be accessing more “wisdom of the whole” by combining both of these perspectives and approaches.
And here we come back to the subject of this particular pattern: Here’s why it is important to combine or balance the two approaches: If we can get all the stakeholders together to clarify and satisfy their legitimate interests, we can probably resolve their conflict. But is that what the larger population wants? If the unions and managers decide on an outcome that suits them, then what about the larger community? On the other hand if we have something that the larger community has said they want to do about the issue, it might not resolve the problem because it might not speak to what the people most closely involved with issue want. So the question is can we come up with something that covers BOTH of those grounds? That is why I identified this pattern and why it fits with my theory of wholeness. We have a more wholesome solution to the whole problem to the extent we involve BOTH the citizenry and a full spectrum of stakeholders in solving it.