Originally published by Reos Partners.
How to maximize collective intelligence to solve pressing issues more effectively
Democracy is intended to be the power of the people, for the people, and by the people. Unfortunately, as Yale Professor Hélène Landemore reminds us in Democratic Reason – Politics, Collective Intelligence, and the Rule of the many, over time, few politicians, thinkers, and even citizens have had much faith in the electorate’s ability to be intelligent collectively. Winston Churchill once famously said, “The best argument against democracy is a 5-minute conversation with the average voter.” Doesn’t this comment resonate with most of us today?
Yet, in the past few years, deliberate experiments in new forms of public collaboration around the world have proven that such skepticism may be overblown. National issues forums, democracy festivals, consensus conferences, participatory budgeting, and unusual approaches such as the Forum Theater are building a more fruitful relationship between citizens and public authorities. For example, in India, following the jan sunwai public hearings approach, officials and people that have been affected by a particular action or decision of the administration settle legal disputes in front of a public that laughs, applauds, or boos. In Grenoble and Charleroi in France, through Parlons-en events, people who are homeless are invited to discuss their difficulties with their fellow citizens. In Chile, the Consensus Table offers indigenous peoples a unique opportunity to talk with government agents.
Moving from Democratic “Supplements” to a Healthy “Diet”
Such initiatives are welcome supplements in the diet of a poorly nourished political body. The good news is that by bringing people together, they strengthen civic education, engagement, and public conversation. But even as these efforts grow in importance, they remain relatively marginal. The conversation is too often unbalanced and ill informed, and the resulting decisions remain (or at least are perceived as) sub-optimal. Such initiatives are also insufficient in the face of growing challenges and opportunities: Demagogues prosper while people become more frustrated; new digital tools enhance citizens’ expectation to have more say but also unleash disinformation; and new social movements and innovative experiments continue to grow in number and impact.
Author: Stephen Boucher