An Experimental Framework for Community Democracy


Richard Moore


Here's the final version of the framework document. Feel free to forward it or 
post it elsewhere. This version is also on the web in a more readable HTML 
format (URL below).

I would like to share this material with community activist groups. If you know 
where I can contact some of those (via websites, email lists, physical 
addresses, whatever), please let me know.




13 February 2007
Richard K. Moore - •••@••.•••
Author: Escaping the Matrix: how We the People can change the world

       "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 Œdemocracy¹, most of them based on elections and 
representation, and most of which do not result in governments doing what the 
people really want or need. 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? If so, would their decisions be wise 
ones? And would people have the time to participate, given how busy everyone 
seems to be.

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

The purpose of this paper is to suggest an experimental framework for 
investigating this question directly, by applying these known methods in 
existing communities (towns or neighborhoods). The framework suggested here has 
been developed through discussions with some of the leading researchers and 
practitioners in this field. We have tried to select those dialog processes that
show the most promise for Œcommunity awakening¹.

This framework could be described as Œfostering dialog in the community¹, but 
that refers only to the tip of the iceberg. The kind of dialog we are talking 
about here goes quite a bit beyond Œsharing ideas¹, and Œachieving mutual 
understanding¹.  It is about going deeper, bringing out the most urgent concerns
of the participants, and tapping their creative energies in addressing those 
concerns together. It is about awakening the collective wisdom inherent in a 
group, and facilitating the emergence of a sense of collective empowerment, a 
sense of We the People as an intelligent agency / actor in the community.

Most important, this kind of dialog is about inclusiveness. It is not about 
Œbringing together the enlightened¹ nor about Œeducating the unenlightened¹. It 
turns out that everyone, regardless of their beliefs or philosophies, has a 
Œpiece of the puzzle¹, a Œpart of the answer¹. Our society encourages us to fear
the Œother¹, and to think in terms of Œus¹ vs. Œthem¹. But consider this: you 
don¹t need to agree on religion to build a barn together. Similarly, agreement 
on worldviews is not needed to work together to create real community and to 
make it a better place to live. As in ecology, diversity adds strength and 

We¹ve done our best in putting this framework together, but any real experiment 
will be breaking new ground, and we encourage any group pursuing such an 
initiative 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 people¹s participation in determining 
their own destinies together. 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.

We hope this framework may offer new hope, and effective tools, to community 
activists and concerned citizens everywhere. We are all in this together, and 
it¹s high time we begin working together from that consciousness.

The Primary Tools

³Choice-creating² dialog and Dynamic Facilitation (DF)

Jim Rough, of Port Townsend Washington, developed a very powerful method of 
facilitation while working as a consultant for corporate clients. He calls this 
method Dynamic Facilitation, and it is now being taught and practiced widely, in
corporate settings, communities, activist groups, etc. The kind of dialog that 
occurs in a DF session is unique in its combination of benefits, and Jim has 
given it a special name, choice-creating dialog, to distinguish it from 
Œdeliberation¹, Œproblem solving¹, Œconsensus¹, Œdebate¹, etc.

Unlike many facilitation methods, which attempt to guide the conversation in 
certain ways, DF follows the spontaneous energy of the group. Rather than 
Œtaking turns¹ in any strict sense, the facilitator gives attention to whoever 
seems Œmost in need¹ of expressing themself at the moment. (Everyone does get 
their share of time eventually.) This process can seem very chaotic at times, 
and directionless, but at the end of the day Œfollowing the energy¹ turns out to
be a very efficient way for the group to function. Efficiency, as measured by 
Œquality of outcomes¹ per Œtime invested¹, is one of the strong points of DF.

By paying attention to those who have an Œurgency¹ to speak, people are 
encouraged to speak about what is most important to them, and to speak from 
their hearts. In this way the participants begin to see one another as fellow 
humans, rather than as just Œspeakers¹, or as Œallies¹ or Œfoes¹. Even where 
strong differences / polarization exists, people are able to get past that. 
Eventually, the perspective of the group shifts to a mode I refer to as 
harmonized dialog.  That is, the participants begin to see things this way: ³We 
are all fellow human beings, and each of us has valid concerns that deserve to 
be considered. Our shared task is to seek solutions to our problems that take 
everyone¹s concerns into account.²

It may take a while to get to this stage of harmonization, and there may be 
backsliding at times, but when the group is operating in this way it is capable 
of doing some very creative work. When people are not using their energy to 
Œdefend their position¹ or Œargue for their side¹, that energy is released to 
creatively address whatever problems are on the table. When everyone is focusing
on the same problem, with the same understanding of the concerns involved, then 
their combined creative energy and ideas add up to something greater than the 
sum of the parts. New synergies are discovered; ideas that seemed opposed can be
arranged into new combinations and reveal new possibilities. This is what Jim 
means by Œchoice creation¹. The outcome is that breakthrough solutions are often
discovered in DF sessions for problems that seemed Œimpossible¹ to solve ­ 
either because they were technically difficult, or because they embodied 
long-standing community divisions. DF helps to overcome both kinds of 

When a group creates a solution together in this way, their support for the 
outcome is much stronger than with standard Œconsensus¹. They don¹t just agree 
on a solution, they are typically enthusiastic about what they have achieved 
together. Unanimity is not identified as a conscious goal, but emerges naturally
from the dynamics of the collaborative process.

For more information about DF:

The principle of the Œrepresentative microcosm¹

The legitimacy of the traditional jury process is based on this principle. 
Twelve randomly selected citizens are intended to be a representative microcosm 
of the whole community (peers). The assumption is that twelve is a large enough 
number to ensure that most of the significant sentiments and concerns present in
the community will be present in the jury as well. The requirement of a 
unanimous verdict is intended to ensure that none of these sentiments and 
concerns are ignored in reaching the verdict. The hope is that the jury will 
reach the same verdict that the whole community would have reached, if everyone 
had time to consider the case in depth ­ and time to reach agreement. The jury, 
by the way, is the oldest institution in the Anglo-Saxon-Celtic democratic 
tradition, pre-dating the earliest parliaments. And twelve, as a Œgood microcosm
size¹, can be traced back to classical times.

Consider then what would happen if twelve random citizens from a community were 
to engage in a Dynamically Facilitated dialog session. As with the jury, we can 
reasonably assume that most of the sentiments and concerns of the community 
would be present in the group. As DF enables the group to begin to operate in a 
harmonized way, all of those concerns will be taken into account as the group 
seeks creative solutions to some self-selected community problem, a problem that
has Œurgency¹ for the group, and presumably for the community as a whole. If the
group succeeds in finding an agreed solution to that Œurgent¹ problem, we can 
reasonably assume that the solution would make sense to the community generally,
and perhaps even be received with enthusiasm.

This principle of the microcosm addresses the time problem involved in public 
dialog and self-governance. If microcosm groups are able to inject Œsound ideas¹
into Œeveryday dialog¹, that could greatly accelerate the emergence of a shared 
community perspective. It is much easier to make progress and reach agreement in
discussions, of whatever kind or size, if there are some good ideas on the 
table. We anticipate that a positive feedback loop could be expected to develop,
where Œgood ideas¹ from the microcosm spark Œcommunity enthusiasm  & dialog¹ in 
the macrocosm. This interaction between microcosm and macrocosm could then lead 
to a convergence of public understanding and agenda ­ an emergence of We the 
People consciousness in the community.

Whole-system dialog: Wisdom Councils

These considerations, about DF and microcosms, are what led Jim Rough to his 
remarkable invention, the Wisdom Council. Twelve (or a few more or less) 
citizens are selected at random and invited to participate in an extended DF 
session (a Council), typically 1-4 days in duration. Jim calls this whole system
dialog, as the microcosm is dialoging on behalf of the Œwhole system¹, the whole

If the Council event is publicized widely in the community, and its outcomes 
publicized‹as called for in the Wisdom Council guidelines‹that provides a 
channel for the Œgood ideas¹ to enter into Œeveryday dialog¹. In addition, as 
part of the format, an open public gathering is convened following the Council 
session, where the participants Œtell their stories¹ of their experiences in the
session, and where the outcomes of the session are reported. The people are then
invited to split up into small groups and discuss their responses to what they 
have seen (breakout sessions).

Many Wisdom Councils have been convened, in different parts of the world, and 
the results have been very promising. Some participants have spontaneously 
chosen the phrase ŒWe the People¹ to express the sense of collective empowerment
they experienced. There is an emotional dimension to the experience, even a 
sense of personal transformation, and the enthusiasm revealed in the Council 
members¹ reports tends to be contagious: the public gathering often gets 
enthusiastic about the potential of dialog, and tends to Œget it¹ about ŒWe the 
People¹ consciousness. The public event serves as a channel into Œeveryday 
dialog¹ not only for the ideas generated, but also for the enthusiasm and sense 
of empowerment experienced.

So far, however, most of these Wisdom Councils have been one-off events. There 
has not yet a series of Wisdom Councils in the same community, and no chance for
a micro-macro feedback loop to develop. The core proposal of this experimental 
framework is to move forward with the Wisdom Council concept, and convene such a
series, with due care given to informing the community and promoting the 
post-session public gatherings. Newspapers, public radio stations, kiosks, 
flyers ­ and websites ­ all can be used as channels into everyday dialog, 
depending on the size and nature of the community.

For more information on Wisdom Councils:

Distributed dialog: the circle process

I¹ve mentioned whole-system dialog and everyday dialog, referring to what 
happens in a Wisdom Council, and what might happen around the breakfast table, 
or in a lunchroom or pub. But consider this: if enthusiasm begins to emerge in a
community, around empowerment and dialog, people are not going to be content for
the dialog to be carried on entirely by proxy (microcosm groups), or in informal
chats. People are likely to want to get together with others, perhaps in their 
homes or in cafes, and participate personally in Œmeaningful dialog¹ around the 
emerging issues.

The circle process is a simple meeting format, not requiring a facilitator, that
can deepen conversation, encourage listening, and minimize unproductive debate. 
A token, or Œtalking stick¹, is passed around the room, giving each person a 
turn to talk each time the stick goes around.  Whoever has the token 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 someone¹s 
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 Œdeep 
listening¹ is created. In this space, people begin sharing more deeply, from 
their hearts. When this happens the token can be set aside for a while, and 
people can speak when inspired to do so. If focus deteriorates, the token can be
taken up again.

Another Œcore proposal¹ of this experimental framework is to encourage the 
creation of circle-process events in the community. Groups of people might meet 
together regularly, perhaps in their homes, or circle events might be scheduled 
in public places, open to whoever shows up. ŒNeighborhood circles¹ would make 
sense, as a way to build a sense of community at the neighborhood level. And 
here again the principle of inclusiveness applies: if a circle includes 
diversity, rather than just the Œlike minded¹, it is more likely to contribute 
to the development of an inclusive sense of community, where everyone¹s concerns
are respected.

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


Supplementary tools

Open Space Technology (OS)

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 

In the standard OS format, 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 web:

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 achieved after some Œcommunity 
convergence¹ has been created by the Wisdom Council process and by whatever 
other dialog has been going on. When there is sufficient interest, 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 Wisdom Councils and OS 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 by the participants are negligible by comparison.

Other dialog processes

As stated earlier, this framework does not offer a fixed formula, but rather a 
starting point ­ Œkindling processes¹. 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 want to adopt or adapt for various purposes. There are many kinds of 
facilitation and many formats in which they can be employed. A fairly 
comprehensive summary, with links to detailed information, can be found on the 
co-intelligence website:


Our Transformational Imperative

Let me begin with an excerpt from our opening quotation: ³The 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.²

It is not that the system has problems, rather the system itself is the problem.
Consider for example two of the symptoms: global warming and environmental 
degradation. In order to do anything effective about these symptoms, the whole 
basis of our economy would need to be transformed. Perpetual Œeconomic growth¹, 
as a paradigm, can only be achieved by continuing with high rates of energy 
consumption and the further devastation of our life-support systems. And yet 
there is no way that our political leaders could abandon the growth paradigm. It
is built into the way corporations work, financial institutions operate, 
employment is provided, etc. etc. Our Œleaders¹ wouldn¹t know where to begin 
making real changes, even if they were able to think in such terms.

In the world of computer software, there comes a time when an operating system 
outlives its usefulness, and a new one must be written from the ground up. That 
is the situation we now find ourselves in as a global society. If the world is 
to be saved, we need to create a whole new basis for society ­ a new way of 
making decisions, a new way of addressing our problems, a new kind of economics,
a new relationship to our environment.  This new basis cannot be achieved by 
reforming the current system; we need to rebuild from the bottom up, from the 

The achievement of democracy is not only about bringing power to the people, as 
opposed to wealthy elites. It is also about unleashing our collective creativity
and resourcefulness so that we can begin the process of creating healthy 
societies. We the People are the only ones with the will and the capacity to 
undertake this necessary task. We have a responsibility to ourselves and future 
generations to address this task. Our first step is to Œfind one another¹, to 
Œhear one another¹, to become a Œwe¹, as a family is a Œwe¹. Appropriate tools 
exist for Œcoming together¹, and we need to begin learning how to use them.

Escaping the Matrix website
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