ACTIVITIES AND EXERCISES
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.
Here are some questions to guide your personal exploration of any wise democracy pattern(s) you wish to explore. Each question can be followed by a “Why?” or a “Say more…” to expand on your response.
1. Do I find this pattern immediately meaningful?
2. Does this pattern resonate deeply for me?
3. Is this pattern something I focus on?
4. Do I do well with this pattern in my work/life?
5. Do I aspire to this pattern or believe I need to work on it more?
6. Is there something about this pattern that I don’t understand?
7. Is there something about this pattern than I’m curious about?
8. Would I like to see or hear about an example of this pattern?
9. Do I know one or more good examples of this pattern in real life?
10. Do I know a lot about this pattern?
11. Do I wonder how this pattern applies to my project / situation / community / etc.?
12. Do I want to learn more about this pattern?
13. Does this pattern make a lot of sense to me?
14. Do I want to share or discuss this pattern with my associates or friends?
15. What else?
Guidance for exploring an individual pattern: Pick a pattern that interests you. Look at its dedicated page on this website. Answer any of the above questions that speak to you regarding that pattern. For each of your answers, consider “What’s that about?” or “What do I want to do about that?” and follow your inner guidance.
Guidance for exploring a group of patterns or the whole set: Look over your chosen list of patterns (perhaps related to a category or societal challenge or some other particular pattern, or perhaps the Starter Set). Make a grid with the patterns written down the side and the above questions written across the top. Mark which of the questions above apply to each of those patterns. Create a personal program of study from what the grid suggests to you.
Guidance for a WD-PL study group: Have the group collectively pick one or more patterns for its exploration. Take a few moments to have participants individually make notes about their responses to the selected patterns, guided by the questions above. Take turns sharing responses and questions. See if others in the group have thoughts about each person’s responses or questions. They may have ideas, examples or guidance that speaks to one participant’s needs – or an individual’s question or response may spark interest in the whole group, triggering a lengthy shared follow-up exploration.
The most common exercise uses the cards to help a group explore the relative democratic wisdom of an existing (or hypothetical) group, activity, method, approach, community, system, etc.
For this exercise you deal out the deck more or less evenly to everyone in your group, so that each person has a “hand” of several cards. Then if, for example, you want to explore a public engagement exercise the group has just witnessed or facilitated, you could say to the group: “Look at the cards in your hand and pick a pattern that you think was handled fairly well.” When they’ve done that, say “Let’s go around the circle and each of us show our choice and read its name and description from the card, and then say why we think this pattern qualifies.” Depending on the time available, you could also say, “And then after each person presents their pattern, we can discuss it for a bit before going on to the next person’s pattern.”
The group would then go around the circle. Some people may ask to present 2 or 3 cards, and that can be permitted or not, depending on the time available. When the circle is complete, you would do another round, this time with an instruction like this: “Now look at your cards and identify a pattern you think could and should be given more attention, something that definitely needs more work, and explain to us why you chose it.” The group could then discuss each of those patterns, if there is sufficient time. The result? Participants will gain useful insights about the public engagement activity they were exploring through the lens of the wise democracy patterns and – if they will be involved with it in the future – be able to help it evolve in wise democratic directions.
Variations: The basic process described above can be adopted to analyze a country’s political or economic system, to envision a better public engagement culture for a community, to plan a stakeholder gathering, or for any other systems or activities that could, if consciously designed well, generate empowered participatory wisdom. Such exercises can be used purely for their educational value or as an approach to action learning to guide specific transformational change by a group who aspires to promote wise democracy.
Now here are examples of workshop activities intended to engage people who have at least some familiarity with the wise democracy patterns in a shared dive into deeper understanding.
This exercise is a dive into the relationships between patterns. You distribute the cards as above. You tell everyone to choose a card in their hand and then pick a “related pattern” on that card. You then chose a participant at random and have them stand up and ask who has the card about their chosen related pattern. That person then joins them and, in turn, asks the group who has their chosen related pattern. This process continues until there are 4-6 people in their group. Then the process starts again with another randomly selected person, until the class is sorted into groups of 4-6 people. Then you instruct each group to put their heads together to explore as many connections between the cards in their hands as they can and to discuss why they think those patterns are related. This will involve both exploring connections explicitly indicated by the “related patterns” lists, but also any connections they can think of that aren’t explicitly indicated on their cards. This exercise can continue for anywhere between 15 minutes and more than an hour. You’ll need to provide longer times if you encourage them to explore on the wd-pl.com website for related patterns not included in their hands.
Now here’s an exercise intended to stimulate mutual learning. You tell participants to pick a pattern (from cards in their hand or from the whole list). You then invite them to ask a question or share a story related to that pattern from their own knowledge or experience. Given the way the patterns are grounded in the real work of thousands of people, we usually find participants have much to teach each other. They can often answer each other’s questions and/or they can research a pattern online together to see what the answer might be. Also, if you as facilitator of the process are experienced with the pattern language, you may be able to answer participants’ questions or guide them toward deeper understanding. You can use every question, story or example as an opportunity for deeper exploration by the group, especially looking at other patterns that may be relevant to that question or example. Any given inquiry can expand and deepen as long as participants wish. At the leading edge of such explorations is the possibility that participants may feel that (a) online descriptions or resource lists associated with a pattern are inadequate or (b) that a new pattern is needed to cover some dynamic they are noticing. In those cases you can encourage them to submit their thoughts on the site’s comment sections or other forums set up for the community of practice.
Feel free to vary these exercises in any ways you wish. If you want even more variety, explore the other activities on this page. And if you stumble on a great new exercise of your own creation, please describe it in the comment section at the bottom of this page so that others can try it out.
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.
IT ALL DEPENDS.
This is a challenging activity that can be done as a group, or as an individual exercise:
- Draw a card at random
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- Discuss/identify how you would deal with each of the four combinations of extremes of the two variables.
DOMINOES / SCRABBLE.
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.)
A FIRM CRIB:
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.)
ACKNOWLEDGE EXEMPLARY WORK FOR A WISE DEMOCRACY:
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.
MUTUAL SUPPORT NETWORK CALLS:
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):
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- Lay out all the cards in a spiral on a table, or in some other way that makes them easily viewable to everyone.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.