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An annotated list of powerful participatory processes, with linksEdit

There are hundreds of ways to engage citizens and stakeholders creatively in dialogue, deliberation, shared reflection and action to improve the conditions and capacities of their community. The more than fifty methods described below exemplify approaches that can improve the capacity of our community to generate collective intelligence and wisdom to apply to its own problems and dreams. Methods such as these are the seeds of wiser forms of democracy.


21st Century Town Meetings. AmericaSpeaks organizes large-scale day-long forums engaging thousands of citizens—both face-to-face and through telecommunications links, integrated with laptop computer– and keypad-polling technologies—to deliberate on public issues and provide input to shape government policies. Decision-makers are often included as regular participants. See americaspeaks.org

Appreciative Inquiry. Instead of seeking to solve problems, we can inquire into “the best of the past and present” in our organizations and communities—and then share what we find in ways that “ignite the collective imagination of what might be.” See appreciative-inquiry.org

argument mapping. Visual presentation of the arguments and evidence involved in an issue, with arrows showing their connections, can help deliberation tremendously. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_map

Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). Communities can grow stronger by exploring and organizing all the gifts that citizens and associations (formal and informal) can bring to their community life, rather than by treating people as problems and clients. ABCD gathers data about this and makes the connections. See co-intelligence.org/P-assetbasedcommdev.html

Canada’s Maclean’s experiment, “The People’s Verdict.” A dozen ordinary Canadians selected for their differences and meeting in the media spotlight for three days with one of the world’s top negotiation specialists, came up with a common vision for the future of their country. This one-time event, organized in 1991 by Maclean’s, Canada’s leading newsweekly, presages the potential for citizen deliberative councils at the national level. See co-intelligence.org/S-Canadaadversariesdream.html

charrette. A hands-on interactive session—often involving subgroup sessions—where professionals and ordinary citizens together generate design solutions to a public issue or architecture/land use problem that integrate the contributions and interests of a variety of stakeholders. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charrette

choice-creating. Not specifically a process, but “the quality of being and thinking that often happens after a crisis, when people drop their roles, express their true feelings, and join with others to creatively seek what’s best for all.” Often associated with Dynamic Facilitation. See tobe.net/CC/choice-creating.html

citizen consensus councils (CCCs). Diverse citizens are convened to seek, with the help of professional facilitation, shared understandings, solutions, and wisdom about social concerns. Their unanimous conclusions are publicized to their entire community or country. CCCs are citizen deliberative councils that operate by consensus. Examples include consensus conferences, Wisdom Councils, and Canada’s Maclean’s experiment. See co-intelligence.org/P-citizenCC.html

citizen councilor forums. Officially registered volunteer citizens agree to gather, when requested by the public official in charge of their forum program, in small study groups in their homes, workplaces, or public gathering spots to study, discuss, and then offer advice to the government and community regarding the issue they deliberated. See kingcounty.gov/operations/auditor/communityforums.aspx . (See also Community Forums Network, below, a grassroots effort that has replaced the official one.)

citizen deliberative councils (CDCs). Temporary, face-to-face councils of a dozen or more citizens whose diversity reflects the diversity of their community, state, or country. Usually council members are selected at random, often with additional criteria to ensure gender, racial, socioeconomic, and other diversity. Convened for two to ten (or, rarely, more) days to consider some public concern, they learn about it (often by hearing and cross-examining diverse experts), reflect on it together (usually with the help of a professional facilitator or moderator), and craft a collective statement, which they then announce to the public and/or relevant officials and agencies (often through a press conference), after which they disband. Examples include (see below) Citizens Juries, consensus conferences, planning cells, the Canadian Maclean’s Experiment, Wisdom Councils, and Creative Insight Councils. (See also citizen reflective councils.) See co-intelligence.org/P-CDCs.html and Tom Atlee’s The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World that Works for All

citizen panels. A popular name for citizen deliberative councils, as explored by John Gastil in his book By Popular Demand , which describes five ways to use them to establish real answerability in electoral politics and the legislative process

citizen reflective councils. Another name for varieties of citizen deliberative council that tend to be more open-ended, emotional, and creative than the word “deliberation” often implies. “Reflective” suggests both that they are reflecting about their community and that their members reflect (rather than politically represent) the diverse members of their community. See co-intelligence.org/P-CRC.html

Citizens’ Assembly. An officially convened panel consisting of a man and a woman randomly selected from each legislative district—usually numbering one hundred or more—who meet every other weekend for months to study, take public testimony, deliberate, and make recommendations on an issue too full of controversy or conflict of interest to be handled well by the legislature. See cooptools.ca/mini_public

citizens juries. The most basic and widely practiced citizen deliberative council, with twelve to twenty-four participants. Pioneered in the United States. See jefferson-center.org/citizens_jury.htm and Ned Crosby’s Healthy Democracy: Empowering a Clear and Informed Voice of the People . See also citizen panels.

civic journalism. Civic journalism attempts to engage people in public life by finding out what they are concerned about, providing them with balanced information about the issues involved, getting them talking about those issues, and reflecting what they say back to the larger community in broadcast, print, and online media. See pewcenter.org/doingcj/speeches/index.html

Community-Based Watershed Management Councils. Stakeholders from public, private, and nonprofit sectors come together regularly to care for the watershed resources they all depend on. See mckenziewc.org/about.htm for an example and umich.edu/~crpgroup/sites.html for national resources

community quality of life indicators. Communities around the world have developed local statistics to measure their collective well-being, providing them with feedback about how they’re doing. See co-intelligence.org/P-qualtylifeindicators.html

Commons Cafés. Ten people are selected from four very diverse groups (e.g., an inner-city church, a golf club) and convened such that one person from each group is at each of ten four-person tables. Each table has cards with questions about one’s life, which the participants answer, sharing their lives with each other. Designed to humanize "the Other" (those we think of as significantly different from ourselves) across boundaries. See commonway.org

Community Forums Network brings people together to talk about important Washington State-wide issues and to discover consensus that is then reported to elected officials, media, and citizens. See its official website at communityforumsnetwork.org and a good description here

community vision programs. See scenario and visioning work, below.

Consensus Conferences. Citizen deliberative councils that are much like citizens juries except (a) panelists participate more in selecting experts to testify before them, (b) expert testimony is taken in a public forum, and (c) a panel’s final product is a consensus statement. A rare example of citizen deliberative council being institutionalized as a part of government—in Denmark, where it was pioneered to advise Parliament on controversial technical issues. See co-intelligence.org/P-DanishTechPanels.html

Consensus Councils. These bring together the full diversity of stakeholders around a contentious issue to agree on recommendations to policy-makers. These have existed for several years in Montana and North Dakota, but a United States Consensus Council has recently been established. See agree.org/what

consensus process. A broad category of processes that endeavor to weave the actual diversity of the participants into understandings and solutions that make sense for all those involved, notably characterized by substantively addressing the concerns of participants. See co-intelligence.org/P-consensus.html.

Conversation Cafés. Small lightly facilitated gatherings held regularly in a specific public place, usually an actual café, and open to the public. They usually start and end with a go-round much like a Listening Circle, with the body of the conversation being open dialogue. Normally convened around a topic. Often a city or town will have many Conversation Cafés people can attend. See conversationcafe.org

Creative Insight Council (CIC). A promising experimental process in which a diverse microcosm of a community—joined by experts, stakeholders, and/or partisans as participating witnesses—explore a predefined issue in a dynamically facilitated choice-creating conversation designed to generate breakthrough solutions. See tobe.net/DF/DF/page52/page52.html

deliberation, public. This means that citizens are considering an issue carefully, hearing many sides, and considering various possible outcomes and trade-offs, in an effort to come to useful public judgment about how the issue should be addressed. This is the core of deliberative democracy. See co-intelligence.org/deliberation.html

Deliberative Polling. Hundreds of citizens are surveyed about an issue and then study it and deliberate about it. They are then polled again. Repeated demonstrations of this process have shown that people’s views on an issue change when they have a chance to learn and think about all sides of it. See cdd.stanford.edu/polls/docs/summary

dialogue. Increasingly this term is used to describe conversation in which participants all feel heard, which enables them to actually learn and/or accomplish things together. Another definition: Shared exploration toward greater understanding, relationship, and/or possibility. See co-intelligence.org/P-dialogue.html , which, among other things, provides a useful list comparing dialogue and debate.

dialogue, Bohmian. A form of dialogue in which participants attend to the assumptions behind their own and each other’s responses and thoughts. This approach, founded by quantum physicist David Bohm and spiritual teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti, often shifts conversation from an exchange of ideas to a shared flow of meaning. See david-bohm.net/dialogue/

Dynamic Facilitation (DF). An open-ended and highly creative process grounded in the power of people feeling truly heard and following where their interest and energy take them, rather than following a preestablished agenda. It helps groups wrestle creatively with difficult problems such that they often stumble into truly innovative insights and solutions. DF includes a potent reframing of conflicts as concerns. It is most powerfully applied to community, state, or national affairs in the form of Wisdom Councils. See co-intelligence.org/P-dynamicfacilitation.html and tobe.net

fishbowl. A small group of people (usually four to eight) sit in a circle discussing a specific topic in full view of a larger group of interested listeners, who sit in a circle around them. Widely useful with many variations. Described at kstoolkit.org/Fish+Bowl

framing for deliberation. A fair presentation of the range of popular approaches—usually three to five—to address an issue, along with the arguments and evidence associated with each one, to give deliberators a neutral starting point for their deliberations. See publicagenda.org/files/pdf/Reframing%20Framing_0.pdf

Future Search. Representative stakeholders are gathered together to review or cocreate the future of their organization, community, or situation. They look at their shared history, the forces currently shaping their shared lives, and the visions they can all buy into—and then they self-organize into ongoing action groups to further the vision(s) they created together. See co-intelligence.org/P-futuresearch.html

general assembly. A grassroots consensus decision-making process used by hundreds or thousands of people involved in a workplace, neighborhood, or activist group usually using hand signals to indicate support, concerns, process issues, etc. Made recently famous by the Occupy movement. See harpers.org/archive/2011/10/hbc-90008270

Holistic Management. This draws together all the important people and resources relating to an issue to generate clarifying holistic statements of their desired quality of life. It involves taking time to check all future decisions against that statement. See co-intelligence.org/P-holisticmgmt.html

intergroup dialogue. People from different social identity groups gather for a series of meetings designed to help participants gain a deeper understanding of diversity and justice issues. See igr.umich.edu/documents/Intergroup%20Dialogue%20Overview.pdf

listening circle. A group of three to thirty (and sometimes more) people sit in a circle and take turns “speaking from the heart.” Usually the speaker holds an object (a “talking stick,” a stone, even a stapler) and, when done speaking, passes the object to the person on their left, who may then speak. There is no cross talk or interruptions. If a number of rounds are done, the dialogue tends to deepen. Common variations and alternate names include talking circle, PeerSpirit circle, council circle and circle process. See co-intelligence.org/P-listeningcircles.html

Listening Project. Trained interviewers canvass a community with questions designed to engage people with community or national issues. The role of the interviewers is to listen well. People change during the interviews, often getting involved in addressing the issues they discussed. See co-intelligence.org/P-listeningpjts.html

multiple-viewpoint drama. What does a public issue look like when you see all sides in their raw, dramatic expression? Anna Deavere Smith created two monologue docudramas acting out the actual statements of people she interviewed, people who were associated with riots in Los Angeles and New York City . The Laramie Project did a similar work around a gay hate crime. Such dramas could be used to make the human complexity of any issue more real to decision-makers and citizens in their deliberations. See co-intelligence.org/S-multipleviewptdrama.html

Natural Resource Leadership Institutes. Diverse stakeholders from all sectors—many of them long-time opponents gridlocked over natural resource conflicts—come together for six three-day sessions to explore how to creatively resolve such conflicts in their state. Their learning and their actions often bring about a shift. See ncsu.edu/nrli

neighborhood councils. A number of cities have provided a means for neighborhoods to organize themselves, to receive official recognition, and to provide themselves with a forum for deliberating about their neighborhood issues and maintaining relationships with other neighborhoods and with city officials and agencies. See lacityneighborhoods.com for an example. These are also sometimes called neighborhood assemblies (sfnan.org )—and much excitement has been generated recently about the neighborhood assemblies spontaneously formed in Argentina in response to their economic crises. See commondreams.org/headlines02/0325-06.htm

Nonviolent Communication. A process through which one person can empathize with the needs underlying another’s reactions and seek ways those needs can be served that satisfy everyone involved. It can be done in group settings, but even that usually involves working one-on-one. See co-intelligence.org/P-nonviolentcomm.html

Open Forums. Arny Mindell believes that the solutions to our conflicts and problems lie in the heart of the disturbances we try so hard to avoid, and that we can find those solutions through a process that encourages all the voices involved to speak to each other, and be heard. See aamindell.net/category/ww/organizational-work and Mindell’s The Deep Democracy of Open Forums

Open Space Technology. An amazingly simple way for dozens or hundreds of people to get together and talk about a topic they’re all passionately interested in—and have it feel more like a coffee break than a conference. There is no agenda other than the diverse workshops and conversations that the participants create together at the beginning and then attend and modify as the conference continues. See co-intelligence.org/P-Openspace.html

Participatory Budgeting. In Porto Alegre, Brazil (and more than one hundred other cities), thousands of citizens and NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) participate every year in deciding how their municipal budget will be spent—and then overseeing the resulting public works projects. Deliberations are organized both by neighborhood and by topic (education, transportation, etc.). See participatorybudgeting.org

Planning Cells. Numerous simultaneous twenty-five-person citizen deliberative councils (cells), all addressing the same subject. Participants spend much of their time in five-person subgroups. The cells’ diverse final statements are integrated into one “Citizens’ Report.” Pioneered in Germany. See planet-thanet.fsnet.co.uk/groups/wdd/99_planning_cells.htm

Positive Deviance. This practice helps communities become aware of—and spread—successful solutions to shared problems that are being practiced by certain unrecognized community members. See positivedeviance.org

Principled Negotiation. Roger Fisher’s and William Ury’s classic 1981 Getting to Yes suggests resolving conflicts by (1) separating the people from the problem; (2) focusing on interests, not positions; (3) inventing options for mutual gain; and (4) insisting on objective criteria. See colorado.edu/conflict/peace/treatment/pricneg.htm

Public Conversation Project. Pro-life and pro-choice activists shared their stories, beliefs, and concerns in nonpolarized dialogues sponsored by some family systems therapists, and achieved remarkable mutual understandings. The method has since been used with polarized environmental stakeholders and other groups. See publicconversations.org

Reuniting America. A program to help local citizens join in bridge-building conversations about democracy and civic concerns using simple powerful guidelines for hosts and participants. See reunitingamerica.org

scenario and visioning work. A broad category of methods for creating shared visions or carefully considering different possible futures. Evidence suggests that looking into the future is one of the healthiest, most powerful things any group or community can do. See co-intelligence.org/P-scenario-visioning.html

Search for Common Ground. This process uses personal stories, reflective/active listening, genuine curiosity/real questioning, and searching for points of authentic connection and resonance between one’s own experience, values, and ideas and those of one’s adversaries. It helps adversaries focus on truly hearing each other and discovering problems and aspirations that both sides care about and can address together with shared action. See sfcg.org/programmes/us/us_life.html

salons. Informal, often regular gatherings of friends (or people in someone’s network) for high-quality conversation about things they care about, often over food and drink, or tea or coffee, often in someone’s home. See The Joy of Conversation: The Complete Guide to Salons by Jaida n’ha Sandra and the editors of Utne magazine

study circles. Ordinary people get together once or twice a week to study public issues together, explore what they think should be done about them, and, often, take action together. Study circles are often woven into broadly inclusive community programs around issues like race, police relations, and so on, which sponsor dozens or hundreds of simultaneous study circles and bring together all participants at the conclusion of the program. See everyday-democracy.org

Wisdom Council. A citizen reflective council using Dynamic Facilitation to explore what a randomly selected group of citizens feels is important to them and the community or country where they live and to issue a consensus statement about what they decide. A new Wisdom Council with newly selected members is held—ideally with great fanfare—every three to twelve months in that community or country. This ongoing process is designed to build a strong collective sense of We the People. See co-intelligence.org/P-wisdomcouncil.html , wisedemocracy.org , and Jim Rough’s Society’s Breakthrough! Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People

The World Café. Dozens or hundreds of people show up for a conversation about a topic that matters to them. They sit around separate tables (four to five to a table) and, after twenty to forty minutes of talking, they move to different tables to continue the conversation. After a few rounds of this, a lot of interesting ideas will have arisen and moved around the room. Highlights can be harvested in a final session all together. See theworldcafe.com

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