The Project Summary 

Our Wise Democracy Pattern Language highlights dynamic factors and design principles which can make an activity, organization or community more wisely self-governing.

Our prime directive is: We seek to evoke and engage the wisdom and resourcefulness of the whole on behalf of the whole. Our wise democracy pattern card deck enables people to explore together key factors that need attention when they seek to be wise as whole groups, communities and societies. And our wise democracy website gives them in-depth resources they can use to make it real.

Based on hundreds of real-life innovations and practices, this evolving database of wise democracy “patterns” helps us understand, re-imagine and transform the ways we manage our shared world. With this resource we can help transmute the “rapids of change” surrounding our 21st century social and environmental crises into positive possibilities and system-transforming initiatives.


My name is Tom Atlee. I’ve been an activist my whole life. I was raised by my activist family to think systemically and realize that what happens in the world has everything to do with me – and with everyone else! We are all involved, all the time.

My watershed experience: In 1986 I joined the Great Peace March walking across the U.S. It started out with 1200 marchers managed by a top-down nonprofit corporation – which went bankrupt two weeks later leaving the march falling apart in the Mojave Desert. 800 marchers went home. The other 400 of us spent two weeks arguing and organizing until we finally started walking again as a complex mobile community effectively led by all of us in what I learned later was “chaordic” self-organization – ongoing, alive, orderly, productive chaos. After eight months of intense living and laboring together, we marched into Washington DC with 1200 people – and were met by 15,000 people, many of whom had helped us along the way. This remarkable experience changed my life. I’d never been in a functional community of hundreds of people operating with no top-down leadership.

Peace March photos: Click them to enlarge.

A new mission: Recognizing this phenomenon as something that could change the world, I began researching and writing about self-organization and collective intelligence wherever I could find it – in the movement, in corporations, in communities, in social and computer networks and more. In 1996 I co-founded the nonprofit Co-Intelligence Institute and a few years later was able to carry on my full-time research, writing (now including 4 books) and networking supported by meager donations to fund my simple cooperative lifestyle and transformational gifting. My and websites offer tons of free material about my work during that time.

A tighter focus – wise democracy: Increasingly over the three decades of this work I became convinced that the ideas and resources I was discovering most needed to be applied to transforming governance. I began to talk about “public wisdom” and “wiser democracy”. In 2016 a close colleague in Switzerland, Martin Rausch, asked if I’d like help articulating a “pattern language” to support people creating wise democracy. I knew of pattern languages as beautiful webs of interrelated design principles – like social DNA – for creating vibrantly functional activities, environments and resources. I’d already helped create a pattern language for good group process. So I leapt at his offer.

A Wise Democracy Pattern Language: Together Martin and I created the remarkable wise democracy pattern language you can see at that contained 70 “patterns” (aka, design guidance principles) with a beautiful set of freely downloadable cards and a gorgeous website filled with resources and examples to help people apply each pattern. I piloted a small course on the subject and slowly attracted what are now more than 300 subscribers to the project’s newsletter. But it never took off in a big way.

BREAKTHROUGH!  Printed card decks – at last! – and version 2.0 is born – Late in 2018 a longtime friend and colleague had a windfall she offered as a grant to help us finally create a purchasable boxed set of cards for our wise democracy project. She suggested that if people were able to actually buy, hold and use the pattern language as a set of cards – instead of having only a website and a pdf they have to print – it would really take off at last. We accepted her offer and Martin and I took the opportunity to update, modify and expand the pattern language so it now has 96 patterns, better than ever!

Introducing the folks who will make a difference… So here we are, coming to you with open arms, inviting you to join us in making this remarkable dream come true. Through your participation and support, you can make it possible for hundreds of groups – groups of activists, organizers, students, change agents, leading-edge government officials, and more – to get solid guidance on how to make their communities, organizations and societies more participatory and effectively wise. We invite you to consider how collective wisdom is vital for addressing everything from conflicts and injustices to crises and extinction-level issues. We invite you to join us in helping to provide practical resources that can enable any group or community to generate the collective wisdom they need.