What is participation of the whole, by the whole, and for the whole?
In a system focused on fair and equitable participation and numerical measures of fairness – like majority voting – “participation of the whole” would ideally mean every person is participating.
However, our focus here is on generating wise outcomes. So for us the ideal “participation of the whole” involves engaging every aspect of the community, issue, or situation we’re looking at – i.e., the diversity of people, perspectives, roles, information, energies, etc., involved in the whole situation – in ways that generate a broad recognition of how these elements fit together and could fit together better, as well as collective action based on that recognition by all involved.
Here’s the underlying reality: Right now all of us are participating in shaping what’s happening, and we’re all involved in co-creating what happens next, tomorrow and into the future. This is true even though in any given situation or opportunity some people and perspectives may be particularly relevant and potent, while most of us may not even be aware of what’s going on. What’s remarkable is that when we look really closely and honestly, we find no clear line between who and what is involved and who and what isn’t. The further we explore through the webs of connection, the more we find nodes of potential insight and influence.
So the challenge becomes: How far can we actually go toward engaging every co-creative element and agent in learning about and acting on the situations we face in our public affairs? The more diverse players we invite from different parts of “the whole” and the more creatively and productively we engage them, the wiser and more powerful our outcomes will be. But there are limits to what we can do. So rather than seeking to engage either “the broad public” or “the key players”, we’re focusing on engaging the relevant diversity.
This approach leads us to view diversity of people and perspectives – even conflict – as more of a resource than a problem. And it leads us to learn how to engage differences well. Well-engaged diversity helps us see a bigger picture and brings into play more resources for addressing what’s going on in that bigger picture. Co-creators (i.e., participants) who might otherwise get in each other’s way (either through ignorance or struggle) become conscious co-creators of greater understanding and achievement.
The “relevant diversity” we bring together is often a microcosm of a larger population of involved participants. For example, we may convene a randomly selected group of citizens and/or a carefully chosen group of diverse people who are variously engaged with, impacted by, informed about, or influential in the issue being addressed (otherwise known as stakeholders). We bring them together specifically to co-create wisdom for the realm where they are already co-creating whatever is happening. And before, during, and/or after that, we want to engage everyone involved – that is, the whole community or all the actors in the drama – in contributing to and considering the big-picture understandings and possibilities that emerge from the intensely informed and creative interactions in the microcosm.
That is the primary approach to participation we are promoting in a wise democracy: We want to make our intrinsic co-creativity more conscious and wise so that we can together choose to make our shared future better. That is what wise democratic participation looks like.