Reimagining Global Governance
Learning how to work together in one world
Christopher Wilson & Associates
Victoria BC Canada
• We are nearly 8 billion souls living on this rock hurtling through empty space.
• By some estimates, if we were all to live the same lifestyle as those living in North America and
Europe, we’d need 5 Earths to sustain us all.
• We are many ‘peoples’ with different ethnicities, languages, beliefs, religions, traditions, resources,
capacities, knowledge and desires.
• We have a long history of conflicts but … we have nevertheless created a global civilization based on
ever more sophisticated ways of cooperating amongst ourselves.
• Generating that cooperation is what we call ‘governance’ and today the governance challenge
requires a quantum leap in our ingenuity and our commitment to one another.
A Host of Unresolvable Social Problems
• Climate change, extreme weather, rising oceans, & desertification
• Large-scale environmental damage and species extinction;
• Declining access to basic resources such as clean air, water & food;
• Extreme poverty & an escalating income gap w/in & between
• Mass migrations due to climate change & war;
• Politically, religiously, ethnic, & nationally motivated violence;
• Rapid population growth & fixed global carrying capacity;
• Democratization of knowledge is creating new species-wide threats, &
• A global economic model based on perpetual economic growth.
Social Problems (continued)
• An inability to maintain security and privacy;
• Unsustainable healthcare costs;
• Declining infrastructure quality;
• Automation & growing unemployment;
• A decline in evidenced-based policy
• Growing political reliance redistribution and social supports;
• Declining government liquidity; and
• An increasing lack of government transparency.
• The very success of humanity over the last century has given rise to an exponential growth in
our perceived diversity, which when combined with our increasing connectivity, coordination
and innovation make conflict more likely and collaboration essential
• What all of the previous issues have in common is their complexity & inherent ‘unknowableness’.
• Each issue represents a shared, anthropogenic problem, that is, one which we all contribute
to in big or small ways - either by commission or omission.
• But…when people are the cause of a problem, they are also the source of its solution.
• Therefore, any workable solution around these issues must be based on multiple, coordinated
contributions from many people.
• The most fundamental challenge about these complex problems is their shared ownership &
thus the implicit need for cooperation;
• The deeper issue surrounding all these problems is how to engage all of humanity, how to
facilitate their shared ownership; how to foster co-learning, and how to encourage
everyone’s willing and mutual collaboration.
• The issue is not, as many leaders would like to imagine, how to make quicker decisions on solutions
that are then imposed on people. Humanity is now too diverse, too knowledgeable, too
interdependent, too interconnected, and too unpredictable to permit any small group – no matter
how well meaning – to dictate answers.
• However, within the context of our current institutions, finding common ground has become an
increasingly difficult task necessitating the invention of new mechanisms to come together
Problems of Democracy
• Declining public confidence in governments & their leaders;
• Institutions are believed to be disreputable, incompetent, unethical or
• Hyper-partisanism & a decline in the quality
of public debate;
• Disempowered elected representatives &
increasingly centralized decision-making;
• Pervasive cultures of coercion & authoritarianism; and
• A growing number of alternatives to government that can
provide social coordination and innovation
Problems of Governance
• Governments no longer have all the knowledge, resources or
power to achieve their goals;
• Governments must now work with a wide range of public,
private and civic partners to be able to draw on their knowledge
resources and power to achieve their goals;
• No one is in-charge -- or can be;
• Governments lack collaborative cultures to solve problems ;
• Governments lack the practical abilities to work with others b/c they lack the frameworks,
skills, practices & mechanisms to meet the challenges of cooperation;
• While the internet facilitates greater access: to more knowledge; to more and different
resources; & creating more & different communities -- it also promotes more citizen self-
sufficiency and less deference to government; and
• Governments are hobbled by outdated institutions as well as the assumptions, mechanisms
& practices that underlie them.
Governments Out of Sync
• ‘Top-down’ organizational models are no longer
appropriate for resolving today’s complex problems.
• Governments no longer have the coercive capacity they
once did. People can go virtual .
• The common perception of today’s leaders is that they do not command the respect or
legitimacy they once did because they are considered neither effective nor ethical;
• Yet the leaders of ‘top-down’ governments still pretend they are “in-charge”;
• Today’s governments were designed to affect control, while the need of today’s governments
is to facilitate cooperation;
• National institutions are often viewed as obstacles to innovation rather than facilitators of it.
• Without reinvention, the current national dysfunctions will continue to be amplified in the
global arena; and
• Designing a new model for international decision-making, without strengthening the
collective capacity of humanity to learn, innovate and collaborate together will be an empty
• We live in a simple, certain, predictable, Newtonian world;
• Citizens don’t have sufficient knowledge to govern themselves
• Citizens cannot share resources and collaborate together;
• Citizens require knowledgeable ‘representatives’ to come together
and act as their agents in governance;
• In a representative-style government, someone (the leader) must
always be in charge;
• Leaders are ethical & effective & worthy of being followed; and
• Only governments can provide public goods and services.
• Elected rep’s represent the interests of their electors to governments;
• Political parties are a way of effectively aggregating the voices of citizens;
• Democratic contests were exercises of collective learning;
• Governments were mandated to provide answers and solve problems;
• Elected rep’s, the media and the public had important, accepted roles in
holding governments to account;
• Governments assembled in-house, public service expertise to problem solve;
• Policy-making was centralized, expert-driven, short-term focused, and
assumed ‘the State always knows best’; and
• ‘Top-down’ control was the preferred governing tool, as it easily produced
coordination within small government organizations and a largely
• Institutions like parliaments, legislatures, & councils, were the principal vehicles for
social conversations & for holding governments to account b/c elected rep’s owed
their loyalties to their electors and not to a particular gov’t or party;
• Policy-making practices began with an agenda set by government but included
cross-party conversations to enhance collective learning and social commitment;
• There was a predisposition to treat all citizens fairly, and a desire to produce
effective policy results that benefited all citizens;
• Planning and budgeting were centralized, with taxes being collected and brought to
the ‘centre’ to maximize the pool of resources available for common priorities;
• A government’s primary business was fostering social coordination to reduce social
conflicts, reinforce economic stabilization, provide temporary social supports, and
foster citizenship education; and
• The primary function of the bureaucracy was to protect and preserve
administrative institutions consistent with constitutional processes, traditions,
values and beliefs.
Governments in Need of Reimagination
• Over time, many of these assumptions mechanisms and practices
have become corrupted, ignored, or just plain outdated.
• In many cases the very success of past governments in advancing the
interests of society have made society more prosperous, more
educated and knowledgeable, more innovative, more diverse, more
connected, and more interdependent – i.e. more complex.
• This has resulted in the assumptions, mechanisms and practices that
underpinned governments in the 1800’s becoming ineffective at
providing social coordination in the 21st century.
• This is the principal cause of the generalized decline in public
confidence in all governments, in all countries and their leaders
A Way Forward
“You never change things by fighting the
existing reality. To change something, build a
new model that makes the existing model
- Buckminster Fuller
A Vision of Future Possibility
• Human beings see their identity as diverse members
of a common group, with similar desires for their
children, for their families, for prosperity and for
• People are willing to overlook the natural differences
of their ethnic, linguistic, geographic, religious or
class backgrounds when this results in greater social
innovation and well being.
• Instead of looking back, people are willing to look
forward together and share the load of making their
communities and the world better places.
• In conversations that span the globe, they tell a
common human story of a vision for a future that
everyone wants to live into.
Six Key Mind Shifts
• Recognizing that no one is ‘in charge’, nor can they be on many
complex issues, implying everyone is ‘in-charge’;
• Moving from organizations of leadership and control to systems of
shared ownership and stewardship;
• Focusing on scalable learning and experimentation over scalable
efficiency and standardization;
• Recognizing that citizens increasingly want in;
• Re-designing global governance as a platform for citizen
• Generating stewardship from process design rather than being
dependent on personalities.
A New Model of Governance
• Governance is based on the shared ownership of all citizens in both problems
and solutions. The result is participatory, co-governance.
• Governance activities utilize the knowledge and practices of collaboration
more than the activities of control and domination.
• Governance is facilitated by fostering stewardship over leadership.
• Rather than representative democracy, governance is based on direct citizen
involvement and collaboration.
• Governance is principally designed for effective, collective learning.
• Technology is used to deliver, routine and standardized public service tasks, while
stakeholders and citizens focus on collective learning and long term guidance.
• The practices of global governance are facilitated by an independent, internet
enabled platform for citizens from around the world to interact, collaborate
and resolve issues on their own in open partnerships with others.
• Global governance operates outside the limitations of individual
• We live in a complex, evolving, interdependent, quantum world;
• Knowledge is widely distributed and no one has all knowledge, or controls access to all knowledge;
• Many technology tools exist to enable citizens to share knowledge and resources and to
• The citizens of the world recognize themselves as co-owners of it. They can make collective
decisions and collaborate together – with or without the involvement of governments in solutions;
• No one is ‘in charge’ of collective collaboration. It is an open, stigmergic & emergent process;
• Stewardship rather than leadership drives cooperation, and stewardship is defined by good process
rather than by personalities;
• Human society is becoming an ever more heterogeneous mix of values, beliefs, assumptions,
perspectives, & culturally generated attitudes. However, b/c of humanity’s culture of collaboration,
diversity is cherished as a source of great social innovation and shared implementation capacity.
Collaboration and conflict are seen as two sides of the same evolutionary coin;
• Collaborators are more dedicated to altering the status quo than fighting competing stakeholders;
• The priorities and the nature of public goods and services are generated by citizens working
cooperatively, but governments use the tools of artificial intelligence and other technologies to
create and disseminate them.
• We elect stewards to facilitate conversations among global stakeholders to foster their mutual
• We create open communities of practice at every level of human society so citizens can learn and
work together to resolve issues of importance to themselves;
• These communities of practice operate with full participatory democracy; employ the processes of
‘learning while doing’; and apply consensus-based decision-making – i.e. agreement by most &
acquiescence by the rest;
• The practices of citizen-based co-governance generate collective action that reduces social frictions,
increases social equity, resolves complex shared problems & takes advantage of new opportunities;
• Tax resources are no longer collected centrally but remain under the control of each individual
citizen who releases them according to collectively determined priorities, which they themselves
have helped to shape.
• Collaboration efforts also release added tangible and intangible resources only available to citizens;
• Supported by numerous global, national and community resources that provide tools for effective
collaboration and assessment capacities, citizens can realize their potential as shared owners and
collaborators in global efforts to improve the quality of human life and life on the planet; and
• Mutual accountability among all stakeholders drives, not only their commitments and cooperation
on an issue, but ensures ongoing social learning and improvement through processes of ‘learning
• Parliaments, legislatures and councils are celebrated as places where
collective learning and co-governance thrive;
• Members of these bodies are chosen based on their previously established
records at promoting effective community conversations and collaboration;
• Technology and artificial intelligence have taken over the routine activities
of governing, significantly reducing the size of public services;
• Those remaining in government are experts at fostering community
conversations, scaling learning to larger and larger audiences, and
facilitating wider access to society’s knowledge, resources and power;
• International relations operate on the basis of subsidiarity, with local
communities of practice organizing to resolve the least complex issues, but
having the possibility of engaging a broader range of knowledge and
experience on an ‘as needed’ basis from higher order institutions of
• Open access to global information allows local groups to gauge their
success against those of other communities worldwide.
• A new governance regime must generate a sense of shared purpose
• A new governance model would encourage a public culture to accept
experimentation and the possibility of early mistakes, by adopting an
experimental fail fast: fail often approach
• Global governance systems exhibit ‘learning while doing’ utilizing
inquiring systems that allow them to constantly probe and question
their actions in relation to their stakeholders and the changing
environments around them as they develop responses.
• Inclusion is a key governance principle, with collective decision-making
including people who can contribute different knowledge, experiences
and perspectives so governments know sooner when they’ve not fully
New Capacities (cont’d)
• A decreasing emphasis on leaders and an increasing prominence of multi-
stakeholder, shared governance regimes that favour effective stewardship;
• An increasing number and frequency of self-organizing groups that operate
at scales from local to multi-national to global, and where the participants
may be willing to resolve their issues without necessarily having to involve
• Creating a generation of global citizens who are willing to assume ownership
of their lives and contribute to making a collective difference by sharing with
• Emphasizing the direct participation of citizens in: the formation of national
and international policies; in service delivery; in monitoring and
accountability; and in ways that are ongoing; and
• A new model of global governance that focuses on a future that all of
humanity is prepared to live into, & not just trying to address past grievances
or current wrongdoings
• When governance is widely distributed, coordination (internally and externally) is not linear. It requires a significant tacit
knowledge, guesswork, trial and error, and social learning – often across multiple organizations and stakeholder groups.
Striking the ‘right fit’ between the best use of resources and the most beneficial outcomes is a coordination exercise where
each group contributes towards joint outcomes -- even if their initial motivation may be the pursuit of their own objectives.
When successful, this collective process is referred to as “intelligent governance.”
• Intelligent governance depends on a reflection on prior assumptions or biases. Each situation must be contextually
determined; its complexity and circumstances fully appreciated; the plurality of stakeholders and their worldviews taken into
account; and its various issue dynamics probed. The way forward is a product of extensive prototyping and an evolving
system of continuous inquiry and social learning.
• Collaboration is a crucial component of these inquiring systems – specifically collaboration on: problem definition; solution
design; implementation; and performance assessment and learning. If power, resources and information are widely
distributed, no effective governance can emerge without it. Collaboration is based upon the recognition that since a desired
outcome cannot be achieved alone, one must be willing to step outside one’s comfort zone to imagine possibilities that are
attainable only in concert with others.
• While the basic global platform for citizen collaboration will be the Internet, it will also necessitate a variety of offline
conventions: some explicit and rational, others tacit and relational. As collaboration broadens the problem definition and
widens potential responses beyond silo-thinking, it frequently ends in solutions that were not initially imagined.
Consequently, it requires a capacity to keep going even when things may look uncertain or unclear.
• Therefore, the typical ecology of intelligent governance activities within an inquiring system entails a cycle of collective
learning comprised of four phases, including: an observation and cognitive phase (I), an investigative phase (II), a design-
cum-moral contracting phase (III), and an evaluative and social learning phase (IV).
Fostering Intelligent Governance
Does the situation need
What is the problem?
How will you work together?
How will you learn together & evaluate
1. Are there any
6. What is the task at hand?
12. What feedback and informational loops
do you have to enable social learning
2. What are the salient
features of the issue
7. What are the non-negotiable
constraints within the mega-
10. What practices of collaboration
& social learning can you use to
produce short-term success &
13. What collective learning processes do
you have in place?
3. What are the causal
mechanisms at play?
8. Who are the stakeholders
that must be included and how
will you involve them?
14. How will you objectively assess ongoing
4. Can this be resolved by
a single actor?
9. What are the risks &
potential rewards, & how will
these be aligned among the
11. What conventions and moral
contracts need to be negotiated to
maintain a culture of
15. How will you gauge changes in
attitudes and behaviours among partners?
5. Who are the key
16. How will you resolve conflicts?
17. What fail-safe mechanisms will you put
18. At what point would you dissolve the
A Collaboration Checklist
Can't do it alone
Recognize that the issue(s) crosses the boundaries of several organizations/ nations
Accept a distributed solution
Engage potential partners and stakeholders & bring them to table
Build & Maintain Trust
Secure an initial basis of trust
Regularly re-affirm relationships of trust
Satisfy everyone’s contingent cooperation
Create a co-governance structure
Establish a common knowledge base
Engage in meaning making
Establish data relevance and priorities
Establish how collective decisions will be made among partners
Address the existence of multiple accountabilities
Identify and mitigate power imbalances
Address free-rider tendencies
Establish partner commitments
Monitoring & Evaluation Identify assessment and evaluation mechanisms
Moving from inquiry to
collaboration entails moving
through six basic issues and
strategies that involve a
variety of skills, mechanisms
Repeated exposure to these
practices develops a collab-
orative connoisseurship that
fosters effective stewardship
Where to Start?
• Assemble a group of people – both online and in person – who have experience
and knowledge of effective collaboration, in addition to key champions of the
major global issues. Self selection is an important feature as it implies passion and
• Bring people together for a week or two to validate the need for a new global
• Invite them to participate in reimagining an alternative human future.
• Can they paint a picture of a future most people would want to live into?
• Get them to think who to involve, how to engage them, how people should be
when they come together, and what collective processes should be followed.
• Then let them determine the next step.
• Such a process will help shift governance back into the hands of citizens and create a
supportive infrastructure that will allow them to learn and collaborate together to address the
complex problems that they face, that face their communities and that face all of humanity,
by releasing the knowledge, resources and power they alone hold.
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