Advances in Enlivening Democracy and Moving Forward Together on Tough Problems

Living the Change has been hosting introductory evenings on Dynamic Facilitation and Civic Councils. Here’s why:

On a global, national and local level, we face difficult issues: climate change, racial and economic injustice, gang violence, a rapidly aging population, the rise of nationalism and the erosion of our democracy. This final one makes it that much harder to find solutions to all the other issues.

Many people feel hopeless about governments being able to serve as effective stewards. At the same time, no politician or group of politicians can be expected to have a grasp, let alone solutions, for all of these complicated and complex matters. The current political system and process just do not harness enough of people’s intelligence, interest and perspectives.

In the midst of all this, we have become inspired by a new kind of civic participation in solving tough problems now being used in Germany and in Austria: the Civic Council model, a video of which is here.

There, planning and environmental departments invite everyday people, chosen at random from voter rolls, to meet for two full days as an ad-hoc Council. (This group includes a cross-section of people, including people whom party politics leads us to believe we could never talk with, let alone work together.) Using a specially facilitated process called Dynamic Facilitation, participants chisel out possible solutions to challenging and divisive topics, like the refugee crisis or climate change.

After this intensive work-session, the project sponsors host a large public gathering where council participants present their results and the broader community gets a chance to explore the issue using the World Café format. Before the project begins, the local government has already committed to reviewing the results of this work, and implementing what they can. So they are also present at this Civic Café, to witness how the Council’s work is received by the larger public.

In addition to being used for participatory politics, this approach has also been used in companies and non-profits, where it is called Wisdom Councils.

Here in the Berkshires, we are interested in exploring what topics might lend themselves to this process, and offering a taste of this work in introductory evenings.

Our long-term goal is to enliven democracy and work together on tough problems.

There is a certain power to this work that goes beyond an exchange of ideas or an effort to compromise. It has something to do with discovering the value that different perspectives bring, to the larger symphony that makes up our society – especially when we are able to hear one another well, and welcome each person’s gifts.

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