News on Dynamic Facilitation

We just received the latest Dynamic Facilitation Newsletter and thought we would post the contents for all our blog readers. This month's letter contains news about Dynamic Facilitation & the Wisdom Council on Tour in Australia, a Calendar of Upcoming Events, an Invitation to Contribute and Wisdom Council Updates as well. To subscribe to the newsletter, email with "Subscribe" in the subject line. To read the news, click on the link below.


By Jim Rough
July 2005

I recently returned from a conference, "Innovations in Community Engagement: Interactive Learning with World Experts" (See in Perth, Australia, which was attended by 300 people. I was one of the six "world experts" and was invited to share two innovations: 1) Dynamic Facilitation, a way to help small groups of people address difficult issues collaboratively and creatively and reach unanimous positions, and 2) the
Wisdom Council, which is a way to apply Dynamic Facilitation to a large system of people like a city or government agency.

One thing to realize is that the City of Perth and the government of Western
Australia are way ahead of the rest of the world in trying out new forms of community engagement. Thanks to some enlightened elected officials, notably
premier Dr. Geoff Gallop, his Minister of Planning and Infrastructure, Alannah
MacTiernan, and sparkplug consultant Jannette Hartz-Karp, they have been
employing Citizen's Juries, Consensus Conferences, Consensus Forums, Deliberative Surveys, Multi-Criteria Analysis Workshops, and "21st Century Town Meetings" for a number of years.

These methods are in the field of "deliberative democracy." In fact, many
people consider "community engagement" and "deliberative democracy" to be the same thing, so at the conference there was a lot of interest in this field and in remedying various problems with it. But Dynamic Facilitation and the Wisdom Council are not "deliberative" in nature. And I believe the most needed forms of talking and thinking for community engagement to succeed are more dialogic in nature.

The word "deliberate" means to carefully "weigh" specific ideas or options.
Deliberative democracy is where some authority like the government decides
to investigate a particular issue more deeply and decides to involve citizens
in doing so. They might choose a random selection of citizens to act as a proxy
for everyone, or they might try to involve as many people as possible. People
are presented with impartial information about the problem. They may hear
advocates debate the merits of various options. Then they are facilitated to use
critical thinking to weigh the available options. People are helped to express their views and values behind those views. While consensus is sought, in this kind of conversation there is usually some kind of vote at the end. Results are
policy recommendations or some other form of input to the system's decision-makers, who choose to act or not on those recommendations.

The Wisdom Council and Dynamic Facilitation encourage a different,
complementary approach, using a thinking style that I call "choice-creating" rather than "decision-making," where people address difficult issues creatively seeking heartfelt breakthroughs. The Wisdom Council is not a one-time event convened by an authority. Rather it is an ongoing process that is chartered over time by all the people, who are the ultimate authority in the system. It symbolically involves everyone in the system rather than "as many people as possible." Furthermore, the randomly selected group is not given an issue to address. They choose their own issue and constantly reframe it throughout the conversation. The only possible result is unanimity on something.

At first, the Wisdom Council seems tame in comparison to the hard policy
focus of the deliberative approaches. Hopefully government, but it could just be a collection of people, begins the process by convening a randomly selected
group of twelve or so citizens every four-six months for a short time like two days. Each time there is a new group that chooses and addresses its own issues, reaches unanimous conclusions, presents its views to all, and then disbands. The group has no power other than to begin a larger conversation involving everyone, who all talk about the results and make their views known.

To adequately describe how Dynamic Facilitation can assure unanimity and how
the Wisdom Council might transform the way democracy works, takes more than just a presentation at a conference. So, I was gratified to have the opportunity to teach and demonstrate as well. With my wife and partner Jean Rough, we conducted a three-day training in Dynamic Facilitation Skills before the conference to 30 people who were going to be attending. What an advantage this provided!

The seminar went great. There were cultural differences with Australians that made it special. For instance, they seem more concerned about equality and
fairness than most Americans. So encouraging them to describe what they would do if they were in charge, for instance, was awkward for most. I don't think the culture supports imagining oneself in such a special position.

Like everywhere else we've taught Dynamic Facilitation, they "got it," got excited about the possibilities of using it, and started building skills. Below are
some quotes about the seminar from participant feedback:

"A journey to enlightenment regarding the power of creativity and its use
in resolving issues." - Sandra

".It gave me hope that communities can be given responsibility for coming
up with creative solutions." - Sally

". a facilitative process that is nonlinear and grows up possibilities
through humanistic, creative, authentic and organic conversation - towards common ground." - Mary

"Magic exists. There is a way to help people achieve creative
breakthroughs." - Carissa

"Dynamic Facilitation challenges 'norms' and is a radical mind shift way of
facilitation that must be experienced to be believed." - Unsigned

Within the conference, there was an opportunity for each of the 30 to practice
Dynamic Facilitation in a small group. Each seminar participant sat at a
different table with 10 people from the conference, while I presented a very short overview of Dynamic Facilitation and the Wisdom Council. Then there was a demonstration of both.

Here's what we did:

I asked the audience if they were willing to participate in a Wisdom Council experiment. This is one of the principles of the process, where the people
of the system rather than government ultimately charter it. Probably all 300 raised their hands, "yes." Then, since all were given a number as they entered the room, random numbers were projected on the large screen in front of the hall. Facilitators from the pre-conference seminar were not eligible so they stayed seated. So did anyone who didn't want to participate. But those whose numbers were selected and who did want to participate stepped forward. After drawing about fifteen numbers we had eight willing participants who took their places on stage. These randomly selected conference participants were deemed "Wisdom Council members" for a very brief demonstration of how things might go. They sat with their backs to the audience, while a roving cameraman was able to film their expressions and project their images onto the large screens for all to see. Mostly though, the screens showed what was being written on the flip charts. All 300 could see and hear.

In the first ten minutes, the group listed about six issues to address, including
the water shortage, refugees and childhood obesity. Quickly the topic of
"sustainability" was chosen because it seemed to have the most energy among
the eight. Then there was a 35-minute demonstration of Dynamic Facilitation on
this topic, while the audience watched.

Of course, the time frame was ridiculously short to really demonstrate Dynamic
Facilitation or the Wisdom Council, but at least the audience could sense how a
big topic might profitably be addressed, how the conversation might go and how the group could actually reach consensus.

The group modified the original problem from the broad concept "sustainability" to being about sustainable decision-making. They decided that the phrasing of
the problem should be: "How do we as a populace provide for long term quality
decisions?" Then they reached some understandings about that:

1) Ownership: We, the citizens, need to own the problem and develop solutions
2) Information: We need to be better informed on key issues.
3) Process: We need to achieve sustainable decisions:
a) Within the current political process. We need to use elected representatives to make the hard decisions based upon principles of sustainability.
b) Outside the party political system: We need to engage the community to
identify and work through the issues that are "hands off" for the usual political

When the 35 minutes was up, the audience went into a break while a few Wisdom Council members figured out how to quickly present the results. In a real Wisdom Council all members help to present the results. Here, when everyone came back from break, one of the group members read the statements back to the audience.

After the Wisdom Council conclusions were presented, each member of the
audience had the unique opportunity to carry the conversation forward in a small group with a newly trained dynamic facilitator. People broke into 30 groups and took the topic in about thirty different directions. At the end of an hour the groups typed short statements of their conclusions into a computer network, and some of these statements were projected onto the large screen. Three examples are:

. Pioneer new and multiple ways for the public service to do its work, and
integrate community engagement from the CEO to team leader level.
. Create a Department of Community Engagement.
. Greater education on civic responsibilities in schools and other educational
forums, creating a greater youth foundation in community engagement.

This wasn't quite a Wisdom Council because the group normally has at least
two half-days to mull issues and present two things: 1) their unanimous
conclusions and 2) a bit of each person's experience of the process. In this case the Wisdom Council members didn't have time to reach that level of engagement with one another or the issue.

To most observers the brief on-stage demonstration probably seemed like
little more than a normal conversation because there was no agenda and people spoke in a disjointed, natural way. To experienced "facilitators" in the audience, the process may have seemed "all wrong" because few of the usual "musts" were done.

But actually the issue was bigger than a traditionally facilitated meeting can
handle. Yet, people talked thoughtfully, listened respectfully to one another, and
even started to develop some creative ideas. So, even though the Dynamic
Facilitation demonstration may have been perceived to go "all wrong," it was
a higher quality meeting than most.

Although the demonstration gave people a taste of the Wisdom Council, there
wasn't adequate time to demonstrate how a large system could reach consensus using it. Neither was there time to reflect on the process, to take the results from the small groups further, or to consider the implications of this pproach if used in conjunction with deliberative methods. But interested people could learn more about both the Wisdom Council and Dynamic Facilitation from the printed material and the web sites.

Later, I got a chance to speak to seven or eight of the dynamic facilitators, who
all reported their groups went well and that the process worked. Tony, one
of them, later wrote about his experience dynamically facilitating in the conference:

"This was a major confidence boost for me. . In summing up, one participant said 'it was as easy and comfortable as having a chat at the pub.'"

After the demonstration of Dynamic Facilitation and the Wisdom Council, everyone broke into an "Open Space" meeting spontaneously arranged by Tom Atlee (see for more information). One graduate of the Dynamic Facilitation seminar organized a session "Convening a Wisdom Council in Perth," which was exciting to me. They decided that the place to start is the 1500 person Dept. of Planning and Infrastructure in Western Australia. Greg Martin, the Director of this department, joined this small group after a while and expressed his support. So, there is a good prospect of that happening. Reports from Perth indicate that people are practicing Dynamic Facilitation and these ideas are moving forward.

After a few days Janette wrote: "You would have loved being a fly on the wall at
(our department meeting) last week - they . used dynamic facilitation, with
4 facilitators taking turns. It went really well. They did a great job. "

Another report later from Tammie, a seminar participant: " The DF techniques
freed people to think more widely and freely and then tap into the aha's and
shifts that DF seems to bring. It was a painless exercise for a group used to open discussion and quick to get into that group think space."

One of the biggest benefits to me from the conference was to understand more
about the nature of deliberative democracy and how these approaches can be
partnered with the Wisdom Council and Dynamic Facilitation into what we might call "Wise Democracy."

Deliberative approaches have some big problems that the Wisdom Council can
alleviate. I plan to write more about this, but one of the biggies is:
Deliberative processes require an unbiased, ever present, trusted authority
to sponsor and convene the process. The Wisdom Council doesn't need this kind
of support from an authority, but it can facilitate a "We the People" into being,
which can fulfill the role of that authority better than government. That is, with
a Wisdom Council in place, the Deliberative Democracy approaches can play
more of a legitimate, ongoing role in the governance process, where their results can have more impact.

At the conference I got the chance to work with long-time friends Ned Crosby
and Pat Benn, originators of the Citizens Jury and the Citizens Initiative Review
Process, and Tom Atlee, a key resource to anyone studying the field of democracy or "collective intelligence" in general. His blog at is "required reading" for anyone in the field. Other experts featured at the conference included:

. John Gastil, a specialist in the field of "political deliberation" and author of
"By Popular Demand: Revitalizing Representative Democracy through Deliberative Elections."
. Mary Pat MacKinnon, senior manager with Canadian Policy Research Networks
from Ottawa
. Lyn Carson, Senior Lecturer in Applied Politics at the University of Sydney and
co-author of Ideas for Community Consultation

It was a pleasure to share the conference experience with such high caliber


Dynamic Facilitation Skills Seminars
September 12-14, 2005
Denver, CO
Sponsored by the Institute for Common Good

September 20-22, 2005
Richmond, VA
Sponsored by the Richmond Friends Meeting

September 26-28, 2005
Seattle, WA
Sponsored by the Center for Wise Democracy

October 24-26, 2005
Ottawa, Ontario
In conjunction with the Canadian Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation. Discounts available for conference registrants

November 14-16, 2005
Vancouver, BC
Sponsored by the Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue

April 25-28, 2005
Frankfurt, Germany

May 2-5, 2005
Eichenzell, Germany
Sponsored by Neuland

Dates to be determined.
Portland, OR
Boston, MA
San Francisco, CA
South Africa
London, UK

* For a description of the Dynamic Facilitation Skills Seminar please see


First of all, thank you for being a part of the Dynamic Facilitation community! We hope you will stay involved. If we don't receive a request from you to
unsubscribe, we will assume you would like to continue receiving this newsletter. The frequency of these newsletters will be on average once every three months. You can also help to spread the word about Dynamic Facilitation by:

. forwarding this newsletter to colleagues
. encourage others to attend one of the events mentioned or one of the DF
Skills seminars
. bring choice-creating to your own community: sponsor a seminar, bring in a
skilled dynamic facilitator to help facilitate dialogue around heated community
issues, have Jim speak on DF or the Wisdom Council... or organize a Wisdom

We would like this newsletter to be an interactive way for all of us to grow
in our use, practice and skill of Dynamic Facilitation. We invite you to contribute
topic suggestions, tips on using DF or stories on how DF has made a difference in your professional life or community. Submit your ideas to Dfn.


The Wisdom Council
Just as a dynamic facilitator can help individuals and small groups to attain
choice-creating, a Wisdom Council can facilitate it in large systems, like corporations, cities, unions, or government agencies. It is an organizational or
system innovation. More about the Wisdom Council at

To keep up to date on Wisdom Council happenings send an email with your contact information to [email protected] to sign up for Wisdom Council updates, put "subscribe" in the subject line... In the latest issue you'll read about Wisdom Councils at the Port Townsend Food Co-op and the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Visit

Added by Amy Lang on September 01, 2005