"The Emergence of Wise Democracy" with Tom Atlee

Tom Atlee

Tom Atlee

Tom is the founder of The Co-Intelligence Institute. Co-Intelligence Institute (CII) is a non-profit promoting awareness of co-intelligence and of the many existing tools and ideas that can be used to increase it. The goal of the CII is the conscious evolution of culture in harmony with nature and with the highest human potentials.

Tom has recently released a pattern language deck for Wise Democracy. The deck is a collection of 96 wise democracy “patterns.” These patterns are based on dynamic factors and design principles which can make an activity, organization or community more wisely self-governing.

In this conversation, we talk about many things, but a few of the topics we cover are the Nature of democracy, the importance of participation, and wise decision making. We unpack one of my favorite quotes, "If you're not part of problem you can't be part of the solution." And fortunately/unfortunately we're all part of the system and we all care, and that means we all get to improve it together. We talk about getting people to talk to each other in any system can be an emergent form or governance the various tools to have meaningful and productive dialogue and deliberation.

In these time when politics feel frustrating and our differences feel almost totally irreconcilable, This conversation offers an exciting vision of how we can do democracy far better. This isn't something that just can hope for,  The tools and wisdom is already available to particpate more conciously and wisely, and it's up to us, all of us, each of us to make it happen. Because we are already are the ones making it happen.

As the democratic candidates have their third debate, this conversation and Tom's wisdom can offer a beautiful way to rethink what is possible for our democracy. We already have the ability to have nuanced and deliberative decision making. We can transcend the polarization of debate. We can move beyond trying to make fixed choices about dynamic problems. There are better ways to work than yes/no, right/wrong and us/them thinking.

Tom Atlee & Wise Democracy Resources

The goal of the Co-Intelligence Institute is the conscious evolution of culture in harmony with nature and with the highest human potentials.

Tom’s newly released Wise Democracy Pattern Language Deck is for anyone seeking to better address the complexity of our time, this tool provides insightful principles and practical methodologies.

Current Democracy Model

Current Democracy Model

Wise Democracy Pattern Language: Tom and I reference these patterns in this episode. Each link has a whole world of resources and information:

Feeling heard
Using Diversity and disturbance Creatively
Powerful Questions
Universal Participation
Transpartisan Inquiry
Whole System in the Conversation

Ideal Wise Democracy Model

Ideal Wise Democracy Model

3D Wise Democracy Model: One way to explore democracy is through the lenses of power, participation, and the wisdom of its outcomes. These dimensions of democracy are always present to some degree, and each can be improved. Here are some documents where you can explore this model further:

The 3D WiseDemocracy Model
The Wise Democracy Pattern Language in the Three Dimensions of Wise Democracy

Power: Wise Democracy redefines power and transforms the “power-over” mentality to “power with” “power-from-within” and “power-from-among.” This is described in greater detail in the Nature of Power article on the Co-Intelligence website.

Articles: We talk about Tom’s articles,  “Inclusive Networks are Shaping Our Lives Right Now. Are They Governance?” and “Sense-Making-Together and Apart”. You can find these articles and more information on Tom’s Blog.

Other Pattern Languages

A Pattern Language is a method of describing good design practices or patterns of useful organization within a field of expertise. The wise democracy pattern language was inspired by other pattern languages. 

The Group Works Deck: A deck of 100 full-color cards that names what skilled facilitators and other participants do to make things work. The content is beyond tips and techniques. The pattern cuts across existing methodologies with a designer's eye to capture the patterns that repeat.

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction: The original pattern language was developed by Christopher Alexander. Here is the book: A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein.

Tools and Resources for a Wiser Democracy

In this episode, we discuss Tom’s extensive work with Wise Democracy. Below is a list of organizations, methodologies, books and movements that are but a small collection of the paths to creating Wise Democracy:

Nonviolent Communication (NVC)

NVC is based on the principles of nonviolence-- the natural state of compassion when no violence is present in the heart. NVC begins by assuming that we are all compassionate by nature and that violent strategies—whether verbal or physical—are learned behaviors taught and supported by the prevailing culture. NVC also assumes that we all share the same, basic human needs, and that all actions are a strategy to meet one or more of these needs.
Here's a list of Universal Human Needs (and feelings) created by Mediate Your Life.

Dynamic facilitation:

Created by consultant Jim Rough, Dynamic Facilitation is a facilitation style that follows the energy of a group without constraining that energy to agendas or exercises. Using this style, someone can facilitate a highly co-creative process Jim calls "choice-creating." This article "Dynamic Facilitation/Choice-Creating" by Tom Atlee explains how the methodology works and provides links to many articles about it as well as A Dynamic Facilitation Manual

Deliberative Councils and Citizen’s Assemblies:

Here is a collection of resources about the ways that people are applying elements of wise democracy in the political system

Perception Gap:

This site has a quiz (and excellent data)on how our perceptions of other political parties can be distorted. Take the quiz.

Essential Partners (previously the Public Conversations Project)

Leaders in creating the dynamics and structures for facilitating difficult conversations across differences.

  • Here is Tom's article about the origins of the Public Conversations Project and how they developed models in the 1980s to have high stakes dialogues between pro-choice and pro-life leaders: "Beyond the Abortion Debate - Common Ground"

  • Essential Partners has an excellent guide for red-blue political dialogue called "Reaching across the divide." The guide offers a step-by-step approach to inviting another person—someone whose perspectives differ from your own—into a conversation. The guide focuses on developing a better understanding of each other’s perspectives, hopes, fears and values; inviting curiosity; avoiding the pattern of attack and defend; and moving beyond stereotypes and assumptions with powerful questions. (Here's the PDF)

  • “Fostering Dialogue Across Divides (PDF)" has long been the go to text for how to facilitate dialogue across entrenched differences. It is one of my favorite resources and has deeply influenced my work. 

  • ”Between "Them" and "Us" - The Power and Practice of Reflective, Structured Dialogue” is a video by Bob Stains is A keynote speech by Mr. Bob Stains from Essential Partners at the Finnish Institute of Deliberative Democracy Research and Development about how to support constructive conversations in situations where values, ethnicity or religion create high tensions.

The World Café:

A powerful social technology for engaging people in conversations that matter, offering an effective antidote to the fast-paced fragmentation and lack of connection in today’s world. Based on the understanding that conversation is the core process that drives personal, business, and organizational life, the World Café is more than a method, a process, or technique – it’s a way of thinking and being together sourced in a philosophy of conversational leadership.

The Art of Hosting

An international community of practitioners and trainers that use and teach a highly effective way of harnessing the collective wisdom and self-organizing capacity of groups of any size.  Based on the assumption that people give their energy and lend their resources to what matters most to them – in work as in life – the Art of Hosting blends a suite of powerful conversational processes to invite people to step in and take charge of the challenges facing them.

Polarity Thinking:

Polarity Thinking is a powerful tool for learning how to manage interdependent polarities that cannot be solved. 


"It's Up To You And Me."

The featured song from this episode is "It's Up To You And Me." It was written by Tim Hunter "on a hill just outside of our camp at Barstow on a warm sunny morning." at the  Great Peace March in 1986. Tom Atlee says, "The GPM was THE watershed event of my life and the gestation place for all my co-intelligence and wise democracy work."

Here you can see The Great Peace March Band "Collective Vision"  perform their original songs: