This chapter explores the unique democratic power of random selection, tracking its roots to ancient Athens and noting how randomly selected “mini-publics” of citizen deliberators can help all of us deal with the complexity of public issues and the corruption of politics.
This chapter looks at where the wisdom could come from to make our citizen-based public policy wise.
These videos were made during October.
October 12 – at the National Coalition for Diaogue and Deliberation conference in Seattle http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngSRY3Yw-eQ (edited, 14 minutes)
October 18 – Interview for a webinar with The Intelligent Optimist (formerly Ode) Magazine http://vimeo.com/52265977 password “atlee” (unedited, 75 minutes)
October 18 – Talk at a Friendly Favors event in Petaluma, CA – http://vimeo.com/51784410 (unedited, 87 minutes)
The first three chapters of EMPOWERING PUBLIC WISDOM are now posted on the Reality Sandwich online community. You can link to them and to the Preface and Manifesto on the Table of Contents page of this EPW website.
The first three chapters are:
Tom has launched a discussion space not specifically to discuss the book, but to discuss public wisdom. Below is his intro to the dialogue. Feel free to join in.
How can we evoke and empower the potential wisdom of the public to shift the direction of society?
Civilization is in trouble – economically, ecologically, socially. As is often noted, we excel in intelligence, but come up short on wisdom.
This inquiry assumes that people collectively have a potential for generating the kind of wisdom we need. I’m not talking about “wisdom of crowds” aggregated guesses and bets, but real wisdom, wisdom that has insight, compassion and prudence, an expanded, enlightened form of intelligence that takes into account – and deeply understands – what’s going on and what’s needed to generate solutions that benefit most everyone involved, including future generations.
I’ve explored this question for years. I have a lot of my own answers and, at the same time, realize how little I know. I don’t even know what else to call “public wisdom” other than “public wisdom”, even though many people haven’t the slightest idea what that means. I believe that special forms of public dialogue and deliberation – and more potent, accessible, balanced forms of information – are essential for the kind of collective reflection required to generate real, useful wisdom. I also believe that this wisdom needs to impact both policy-making and the self-organized activities of individuals and communities.
Yet the task of trying to realize this vision is so gigantic and complex, I feel at a loss about how to proceed. I invite you to add your two cents here – especially if you think this is an important inquiry, possibility, and calling…
He has also launched the same inquiry in Quora at
The current issue of The Intelligent Optimist (formerly called Ode magazine) has a cover theme “How to fix politics: More engaged citizens, less business as usual”. In their introductory essay “Join the party: An invitation to renew and revitalize politics”, editors Jurriaan Kamp and Marco Visscher write “While searching for ideas to modernize our dated version of democracy, we encountered the work of Tom Atlee…[which] attempts to incorporate the citizen – and his or her responsibility – back into democracy through a relatively simple, practical method.”
The following “How to fix politics” section features a long and excellent article by Atlee, “Voting is not enough”, well edited from excerpts from The Tao of Democracy and Empowering Public Wisdom, as well as an essay on citizen deliberative councils, an interview with Atlee, and an announcement of a webinar with the author on October 18, 2012. (See the webinar page which features Atlee’s TEDx talk via Skype to Warwick England at http://www.odenow.com/empowering-public-wisdom-with-tom-atlee/)
You can find Atlee’s, these, and many other articles in the online version of the magazine at http://epub02.publitas.com/710/0912USIO/#/spreadview/66/. We encourage you to join the Intelligent Optimist community at http://theoptimist.com/join and join us for the webinar on Oct 18.
The process and mandate of panelists in citizen deliberative councils tend to make randomly selected people act much more responsibly as citizens while on the council. A recent article in the New York Times Magazine notes that randomly selected panelists in Oregon’s Citizens’ Initiative Review knew they were “expected to base their opinions on hard evidence” and “felt obligated to consider the measure more carefully than they otherwise would have.” This is one reason such panels tend to produce more thoughtful, wise recommendations than we usually find in the general public discourse on public issues – recommendations that, under the right circumstances, can then shift the opinions of voters.
This phenomenon is a major feature of Empowering Public Wisdom.
The Mind of a Flip-Flopper
By MAGGIE KOERTH-BAKER
Published: August 15, 2012
Our identities, of course, are also stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. In some cases — if we want to think of ourselves as thoughtful and open-minded — we can adopt identities that actually encourage flip-flopping. This is why juries function, and it’s what places pressure on scientists to form opinions based on reliable data. In 2009, the Oregon Legislature mandated the creation of the Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review, panels made up of random residents assigned to review and assess ballot initiatives in “citizens’ statements.” The panelists know they’re expected to base their opinions on hard evidence, and this expectation becomes part of their temporary identity.
Under those conditions, says John Gastil, professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State, facts suddenly matter. He points to Measure 73, a widely popular mandatory sentencing initiative, which the citizens’ panel voted against, 21 to 3. The panelists felt obligated to consider the measure more carefully than they otherwise would have, Gastil says, so they noted the high costs and thought about people who might be unfairly punished. Only a minority of voters knew the panel existed, so the measure still passed — though by a smaller margin than expected. In a study he performed on the public response to Measure 73, Gastil found that the panel’s opinion significantly changed the minds of those people who read its findings. “You got a shift from two-thirds in favor to two-thirds against just by reading the report,” Gastil says.