Richard Moore



7 January 2007

Richard K. Moore - •••@••.•••
author of "Escaping the Matrix: how We the People can change the world"

(prepared with a little help from my friends)
(feedback or forwarding invited)


        "We've lived so long under the spell of hierarchy - from
         god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses - that only
         recently have we awakened to see not only that 'regular'
         citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that
         without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be
         addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to
         survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way
         we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular
         citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through
         direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated,
         and pervasive to yield to directives from on high."
         -Frances Moore Lappé, "Time for Progressives to Grow Up"


There are many definitions of 'democracy', most 
of them based on elections and representation. 
This paper envisions a direct form of democracy, 
in which the people of a community decide 
together, on an inclusive basis, the major 
policies and programs of their community. It is 
quite reasonable to ask if this is possible, and 
if it is desirable. Is it possible for the people 
of a community to reach consensus 
decisions?...and if they could do so would their 
decisions be wise ones?

It would be foolhardy to claim outright that 
these questions can be answered in the 
affirmative, and yet there is considerable reason 
to believe that this kind of direct democracy 
might be achievable. In the field of group 
process and facilitated dialog, there are proven 
methods that show remarkable results, as regards 
achieving agreement in diverse groups and 
producing outcomes that are wise and sensible. 
Can these processes be used in a community 
setting so as to enable the emergence of an 
ongoing community consensus regarding local 

The purpose of this paper is to suggest an 
experimental framework for investigating this 
question directly, by applying known methods in 
existing communities (towns or neighborhoods). 
There are many process methods, and many ways of 
approaching such an experiment. The framework 
suggested here has been developed through dialog 
with some of the leading researchers in this 
field. We have tried to select those processes 
that show the most promise in a community 

Nonetheless, any real experiment will be breaking 
new ground, and we encourage anyone pursuing such 
an experiment to remain open to whatever energy 
and direction emerges in their community as the 
experiment unfolds. Real democracy is not about a 
formula, but rather about the dynamic emergence 
of people's participation in determining their 
own destinies. This experimental framework is not 
meant to suggest the eventual form of that 
participation, but is intended rather to provide 
kindling to help ignite the emergence.


As we see it, the core principle of democracy is 
dialog. It is through dialog that people can 
discover their shared concerns, and it is through 
dialog that they can agree on ways to deal with 
those concerns. We identify two levels of dialog: 
'whole-system dialog' and 'distributed dialog'.

Whole-system dialog is about 'special events', 
like Wisdom Councils or Citizens' Juries, where 
some group has been selected to dialog on behalf 
of the whole community. In a representative 
democracy, whole-systems dialog is carried out by 
the elected representatives, and it involves 
making decisions on behalf of the whole society. 
In the processes suggested here, the dialog 
involves ordinary people from the community, and 
their role is not to make final decisions, but to 
make considered recommendations to the community. 
A trained facilitator is required for such 
events, and creative and sensible proposals can 
be expected as outcomes.

Distributed dialog is about dialog that goes on 
in the general community, typically on a more 
informal basis. There are simple processes, such 
as Conversation Cafes and dialog circles, that 
can be used to enable a deeper form of dialog 
than typically occurs in a 'meeting' or a 
'discussion group'. These processes do not 
require a trained facilitator, but involve simple 
dialog protocols that anyone can learn to use. 
Outcomes are more unpredictable in this kind of 
dialog, and we would expect the value of 
distributed dialog to grow over time as people 
become accustomed to civic participation and to 

As an experimental approach, we recommend that 
both forms of dialog be pursued in parallel, and 
that the primary emphasis be at first applied to 
whole-system dialog. It is important to get 
started with distributed dialog, because it takes 
time to get dialog groups organized. However 
whole-system dialog offers more initial value, as 
such events can be organized relatively easily, 
and their outcomes tend to be inspiring and 
forward-moving. We believe that as an organic 
democratic process emerges in a community, it 
will involve interactions between whole-system 
and distributed dialog, taking forms we would not 
try to predict.


As a starting point for whole-system dialog, we 
recommend the convening of a series of Wisdom 
Councils. Wisdom Councils were only recently 
developed by Jim Rough, but initial trials have 
been very promising, and the characteristics of 
this formula are well-suited to democratic 

The theory behind Wisdom Councils is similar to 
the theory behind juries. In both cases, twelve 
citizens are selected randomly to participate, 
and they are expected to reach a unanimous 
decision. The theory is that  twelve random 
citizens serve as microcosm of the community, 
bringing in the general spectrum of concerns and 
values of the community. When such a group 
achieves a unanimous outcome, we can assume that 
the spectrum of concerns has been taken into 
account, and that people generally in the 
community would be likely to find the outcome 

While a jury's task is to evaluate the evidence 
in a criminal case, the task of a Wisdom Council 
is much more open ended. There is no pre-selected 
topic or problem, rather the participants decide 
as a group what they want to talk about, in the 
context of their community. As they settle on an 
agreed problem to examine, we can assume that the 
problem is of general concern to the community, 
by virtue of the microcosm principle. And when 
the participants come up with a unanimous 
solution to that problem, it is likely that the 
solution will make sense to people in the 
community generally. If the problem is a 
particularly thorny one, and of serious concern 
to the community, then people in the community 
are likely to be quite enthusiastic about the 

As a process, the Wisdom Council uses Dynamic 
Facilitation (DF), also developed by Jim Rough. 
DF is a particularly powerful process that 
enables the participants -- even where strong 
differences exist -- to find common ground, and 
work together collaboratively to find creative, 
breakthrough solutions to very difficult problems 
-- solutions that take everyone's concerns into 
account. If there is a lot of divisiveness in the 
community, DF enables a Wisdom Council to find 
ways to overcome that divisiveness, on behalf of 
the community. A DF session of only a few hours 
can sometimes be useful, but the process achieves 
its most valuable outcomes if more time is 
allocated, typically 2-4 days. Tom Atlee's 
co-intelligence site provides a good description 
and links  to further information:

As part of the Wisdom Council formula, each 
Council event is well-publicized in the 
community, and a public meeting is held following 
each Council, where the participants report on 
their experiences and their proposals. Breakout 
sessions are held, to give the attendees a chance 
to share their responses to the reports. The 
pubic meeting, and the publicity, are intended to 
feed into distributed dialog in the community 
regarding the Wisdom Council process and the 
proposals that have resulted.

The value of a Wisdom Council is measured by the 
degree of resonance that occurs in the larger 
population. The degree of resonance achieved 
depends on the relevance of the  topics discussed 
to the larger population, the quality of the 
proposals, the  effectiveness of the publicity 
process, and the availability of opportunities 
for citizens in the larger population to engage 
in follow-up dialog.

Wisdom Councils can be very effective if they are 
convened on a regular basis in a community, 
selecting a different twelve participants each 
time. Each group brings in its own unique 
insights and concerns, and thus each Council 
expands the scope of community resonance. Over 
time, this growing resonance can lead to the 
emergence of a strong sense of community, and the 
development of a general consensus as regards 
community priorities and agendas.

Ultimately, the hope is that a palpable sense of 
'We the People' will emerge in the community, and 
the foundation will be laid for a direct, 
participatory process of democratic 
self-governance at the local level. If this 
occurs, we can say that the the community has 
'woken up' and become an 'empowered community'. 
More information about Wisdom Councils can be 
found on Jim Rough's 'Wise Democracy' website:


As a starting point for distributed dialog, we 
recommend the circle process. The circle process 
is a simple process that does not require a 
facilitator and can be used in any small group 
setting to enhance the quality of dialog.  A 
token, or 'talking stick', is passed around the 
room, giving each person a turn to talk each time 
the stick goes around.  Whoever has the stick 
speaks, and everyone else gives the speaker their 
full attention.

This process, though simple, may be difficult at 
first, as most of us are accustomed to chiming in 
whenever a response occurs to us regarding 
someone's comment. It takes people a  while to 
learn to still their minds and really listen. As 
people become comfortable with the process, a 
space of 'deep listening' is created. In this 
space, people begin sharing more deeply, from 
their hearts. The process tends to minimize 
debate and encourage a spirit of collaborative 
and productive inquiry.

A variation of the circle process, called 
'fishbowl', can be used for larger groups of 
people. Here there is an active dialog circle in 
the middle (the fishbowl) and the  rest of the 
group sits outside the circle and listens. People 
typically participate in the fishbowl for a 
limited time, and then vacate their seat so 
someone else can have a turn to participate.

A 'circle group' is a group of people who agree 
to meet on a regular basis using the circle 
process. The group might be formed around a 
collective endeavor or a particular line of 
inquiry, or it might simply be a group of people 
who want to engage in conversation at  a deeper 
level than that provided by a standard discussion 
group format.

The quality of the dialog and the value of the 
outcomes tend to increase over time, as people 
become familiar with one another and with the 
process. If a collective endeavor is being 
pursued, the process encourages the development 
of consensus and tends to harmonize the 
participant's perspectives and activities. If the 
group includes people with conflicting interests, 
the process can help create breakthroughs in 
mutual understanding, and lead to the discovery 
of underlying common interests and the emergence 
of shared objectives.

A more detailed discussion of circle  groups and 
the circle process can be found on the 
co-intelligence website:

An 'open circle' is a regularly scheduled 
circle-process event that is held in a public 
place, and is open to whoever shows up. Typically 
someone would act as host for the circle, and 
take responsibility for finding the venue and 
publicizing the events. The host might exercise a 
degree of leadership, by announcing in advance 
topics for discussion, or each session might be 
encouraged to seek its own direction, based on 
the interests and concerns of those who show up.

Open circles provide an opportunity for people to 
be introduced to listening-based dialog, and they 
provide a forum for distributed dialog, without 
requiring people to commit their time on a 
regular basis. Open circles are similar to 
Conversation Cafes, but the use of the circle 
process enables a more productive kind of dialog. 
Nonetheless, the Conversation Cafe website 
( provides 
guidelines and resources that can be very useful 
for open circles as well.

It may be difficult at first to generate 
enthusiasm for circles and for distributed dialog 
in general. Most people are very busy and many 
may have had disappointing experiences with group 
discussions in the past.  But later on, as Wisdom 
Councils begin to generate resonance in the 
community, it is likely that people will have 
more interest in participating, and more success 
can be achieved in encouraging circle groups and 
open circles. Eventually, the two levels of 
dialog can be expected to feed back on one 
another, each enhancing the value of the other. 
While Wisdom Councils are capable of producing 
breakthrough solutions to important community 
problems, distributed dialog provides a way for 
people generally to participate directly in the 
community's emerging democratic process.


Open Space occupies a middle ground between 
whole-system dialog and distributed dialog. It is 
a way of enabling a large group of people to 
self-organize a conference, or a community 
gathering. Anyone can volunteer to host a 
breakout session on any topic they choose, and 
people then join whichever sessions they prefer. 
As with Wisdom Councils, the participants choose 
their own topics, but with OS any number of 
people can participate, and many topics can be 
pursued in parallel. OS can be used to create a 
democratically-enlightened version of a town hall 
meeting, thus providing a very direct forum for 
participatory democracy.

In the standard OS formula, the question of 
process is left up to each session host. We 
believe the effectiveness of OS might be enhanced 
by encouraging the use of the circle process in 
sessions, and by having facilitators on hand to 
help with more intensive sessions if invited to 
do so. Information about OS can be found on the 

In order for an OS event to be effective in a 
community, there needs to be a large number of 
people in the community who are enthusiastic 
about participating. This is more likely to be 
achievable after some resonance has been created 
by the Wisdom Council process and by whatever 
distributed dialog has been going on. When there 
is sufficient resonance, OS can be a very 
effective way to accelerate the process of 
community convergence. As with Wisdom Councils, 
OS events are most successful when sufficient 
time is allocated, 3-5 days being optimal.

The investment of time required for whole-system 
dialog events might seem like a lot to ask, but 
that must be balanced against the kind of 
outcomes that can be expected. If long-standing 
community divisiveness can be overcome, and if 
chronic or acute problems can be addressed 
successfully, then the few days invested are 
negligible by comparison.


As stated earlier, this framework does not offer 
a fixed formula, but rather a starting point -- 
'kindling processes'. As participation emerges in 
the community, we can expect process forms to 
evolve, and to be used in new ways. Besides those 
we have mentioned, there are many other processes 
that a community might find useful for various 
purposes. There are many kinds of facilitation 
and many formats in which they can be employed. A 
fairly comprehensive summary can be found on the 
co-intelligence website:

As a community begins to identify its shared 
priorities and concerns, through Wisdom Councils, 
circles, and other dialog processes, it can make 
sense to convene specialized Councils with the 
express purpose of delving into a 
democratically-identified problem and coming up 
with recommendations to the population. Citizens 
Deliberative Councils are designed just for this 

There are several kinds of these CDCs, with 
various ways of selecting participants, and 
employing various processes and time frames, 
depending on the kind of problem being addressed. 
In some cases the Council will have access to 
expert testimony, and will be provided with other 
investigative tools that it can use in the 
pursuit of its task. Once again, we can turn to 
Tom Atlee's site for comprehensive summary of 
available CDC methods:


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