Promote quality conversations among diverse people and perspectives - Conversations that generate public wisdom offer a full spectrum of relevant perspectives that are diverse in terms of both the information made available to the participants and the views of the participants themselves (e.g., through random selection). Participants are encouraged simply to be themselves rather than represent a particular perspective or constituency. Conversations that generate public wisdom also:
help participants discern and investigate lies and manipulation;
ensure that every voice is really heard—and that every person feels well heard;
clearly describe what the participants are being asked to do and how any results will be used;
engage productively with differences, disturbances, and expressions of emotion;
help participants step out of oversimplifications to creativelytackle the true complexity of real situations
help participants connect with their shared humanity, aliveness, needs, interests, etc.
Creatively engage diverse forms of intelligence. Help people use their full human capacities—including reason, emotion, intuition, humor, movement, as well as aesthetic and spiritual sensibilities, capacities, and activities. Different people have different ways of learning, engaging, and expressing themselves, and these differences are among the most valuable to respect and use creatively.
Consult global wisdom traditions and broadly shared ethics. Ethical principles common to most major religions and philosophies provide time-tested wisdom. We can augment these with what humanity has learned more recently through science and global dialogue about what serves human needs and happiness. Two good resources for this are the Council for a Parliament of the World Religions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Nonviolent Communication and Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef provide deep insight into universal human needs. (Note: It is fine for conversational participants to be individually informed and guided by their own faith traditions and practices. It is also often useful for spiritual or religious groups to bring prayer, meditation, or other sacred practices into their dialogues and deliberations. But there is good reason for the separation of church and state. So in inclusive democratic conversations pursuing the common good, we need to stick to broadly held ethical principles, like the Golden Rule, which shows up in virtually every major religious tradition. If a spiritually deepening practice is desired in the course of a public conversation among diverse citizens, simple silence for a few minutes can serve well, across virtually all traditions.)
Seek guidance from natural patterns. Wisdom is embedded in nature, in organisms, in natural forms and processes, and in the dynamics of evolution, providing a vast reservoir of insight and know-how tapped by today’s scientists and engineers, often standing on the shoulders of ancient tribal and agricultural cultures. Among the good resources on this are biomimicry, the study of how nature solves engineering problems, and permaculture, the study of how to design fruitful natural systems from scratch, a science that offers many insights into how we can enhance community and societal health.
Apply systems thinking. Systems thinking can help people understand underlying causes and take into account how things are interrelated, how wholes and parts influence each other through power relations, resonance, feedback dynamics, flows, motivating purposes, and life-shaping narratives, habits, and structures. A good resource on this is the work of Donella Meadows. Her many articles and her book Thinking in Systems are compelling and easy to understand.
Think about the Big Picture and the Long Term. Wisdom grows as we step out of limiting perspectives to understand (and creatively use) histories and energies from the past, current contexts and trends, future ramifications and needs, larger and smaller scales, and other mind-expanding perspectives. Briefing materials, metaphors, stories, and visual presentations can introduce participants to such larger contexts. Exercises can invite participants to step into expanded views—role-playing into others’ shoes, visioning into the future (or “backcasting” from it), and brainstorming into wildly creative perspectives and possibilities.
Seek agreements that are truly inclusive. The more many people contribute to, engage with, and believe in an agreement, the more likely that agreement will wisely address what needs to be addressed and the more likely it will be well implemented. At the very least, don’t be satisfied with mere majority voting, which depends on majority domination and almost always leaves significant minorities dissatisfied. Dig deeper into shared values and needs. Every step of the way, seek out people’s concerns and take them seriously to see if they can be satisfied in ways that move group support closer to a supermajority (67 percent or more) or a consensus or breakthrough that all participants are pleased with. Note that shallow, reluctant agreements and compromises, as well as agreements based on deals irrelevant to the issue being discussed (as happens all the time in Congress) may get results, but those results won’t be wise. Compromises and similar strategies arise from the group’s inability to actually address what needs to be addressed to produce a truly inclusive resolution of the issue—namely, their differences and the important realities hidden within those differences.
Release the potential of hidden assets and positive possibilities. In addressing a situation, we cover more ground and inspire more support and participation if we notice and creatively engage energies and resources that already exist in the situation and tap the power of people’s aspirations, which often show up at the rough edges, on the margins. Among the good resources for this are Appreciative Inquiry, Positive Deviance, Asset-Based Community Development, and Dynamic Facilitation, each of which has its own powerful approach for evoking positive possibilities from problems and conflicts.
Encourage healthy self-organization and learning. Any situation or system contains people, experience, ideas, and capacities that can help those involved solve problems and self-organize in healthy ways—if they are invited and supported in doing so. Here are some ways to do this: Create an atmosphere of participation and collaboration. Ask powerful questions. Elicit crowdsourced ideas and resources. Offer incentives. Play games designed to bring out and explore the dynamics of the situation. Bring vibrant, empowered democracy into it. Convene Open Space conferences and World Café conversations to provide juicy approaches to help a group or community explore and solve its own problems and pursue what the people involved really want to do together. (These two powerful methods are particularly easy to convene and facilitate.)
Make information more accessible and meaningful as knowledge. Information presented to citizen deliberators should be diverse and true. In addition, both the information and its significance should be readily understandable. Simple language, narrative forms, and meaningful visual and audiovisual presentations can help tremendously. The work of Edward Tufte explores how to present data in meaningful visual ways and Argument Mapping and Framing for Deliberation cover the presentation of diverse perspectives in ways that make them easy to understand and compare. Journalists can also help clarify the larger stories that make useful meaning out of isolated pieces of data.
Do it again. Redundancy and iteration are powerful patterns in nature. Redundancy means having more than enough of something. Having an extra hand, arm, foot, eye, lung, and ear not only means that they can work together, but if we lose one, we still have the other. Asking three friends about a car repair shop tends to produce more useful information than asking only one friend. Doing three comparable public deliberations and comparing the results is more likely to produce wisdom than doing only one. Iteration means doing things again, informed by feedback from earlier attempts. Wise people notice the results of their actions and act accordingly, correcting their errors. Likewise, a one-time public process can generate a certain amount of public wisdom, but doing a similar activity every three months or every year increases the chance that each new iteration will learn from the previous ones and from the real-world effects of their earlier recommendations.