Our democratic system is out of sync with the needs of our time. We need to look critically at its basic assumptions and capacities and rethink the kind of governance we'll need to move us successfully into the next phase of social evolution.
It’s like trying to run today’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare on an ancient Atari 2600 console -- it just won’t work regardless of the skill of the player.
The bigger problem is that our governance system has not evolved at the same pace as society. That society is more diverse, more interconnected, more complex, and runs at a faster pace. Those changes have created an inevitable disconnect between the people and their governments that no leader, no matter how brilliant or well meaning, can ever bridge.
Time for a new paradigm of government
Time for a New Paradigm of Government:
The Elements of Needed Change
Prepared for 9th International Conference on Knowledge, Culture and Change in
Organizations, 21-22 February,Vancouver BC
Governments are Failing Us
• As the basic tool for social coordination in order to minimize social conflict &
encourage social innovation governments are ineffective
• Governments no longer have the full knowledge, resources or power they
need to produce the results desired by their citizens.
“Democracy, as we know it, is failing …The real question ultimately is, will we be able to
change the system?“
--Yaneer Bar-Yam, Pres., New EnglandComplex Systems Institute, MIT.
Democracy in Retreat
Source: Freedom in theWorld
2019, Freedom House,
to decline globally - for
the 13th consecutive
• Not because of the failures of individual leaders even when these are legion
• Not because of the failures of specific parties or ideologies
• Not because people don’t care
Governments are failing us:
• Because they have for over a century positively transformed our society
- They have created the most well educated, healthiest, most prosperous, safest, most
connected, and most innovative society in the history of mankind;
- Our systems of social coordination and governance were designed for the slow moving
reality of society in the mid 1800s, but they successfully changed that reality
• Because our governing institutions weren’t designed for today’s realities,
they’ve fallen out of sync with society itself
Old Assumptions aren’t valid
• Citizens aren't knowledgeable or sufficiently educated about issues;
• B/c populations were widely distributed, citizens can’t reach collective
decisions except by using representative agents;
• Citizens cannot effectively share their knowledge or resources or collaborate;
• Governing institutions must be centralized and run by leaders;
• Governments can acquire all necessary expertise to make good decisions;
• Through taxation, governments have all the necessary resources;
• Governments have all the necessary power to do what’s necessary.
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
AVision 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 fulfillment.
• 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 continually
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
• No one’s in charge nor can they be on many complex files;
• Shift from organizations of leadership and control to systems of shared
ownership and stewardship;
• Shifting to a focus on scalable learning and experimentation over scalable
efficiency and standardization;
• Shifting to more participatory democracy as citizens increasingly want in;
• Re-designing government as a platform for citizen collaboration; and
• Shifting from partisan politics focusing on individual leaders to generating
stewardship based on process design rather than 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, ie participatory democracy.
• Governance is designed principally 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 governments.
New Assumptions About Citizens
• We live in a complex, evolving, interdependent, quantum world where relationships and
learning are paramount;
• Knowledge is widely distributed with no one having all knowledge, or controlling access to all
knowledge. B/c of the Internet & telecommunications, citizens have the tools to effectively
share knowledge and resources, learn together and collaborate w/o the need for
• Citizens are generally well educated & often with more issue specific knowledge than
government experts, and therefore are a resource that needs to be strategically tapped
necessitating that governments design processes of engagement that can inspire willing
cooperation of citizens;
• Citizens increasingly see themselves as co-owners of their communities, empowering them to
make collective decisions and collaborate together in an open, stigmergic & emergent process;
• 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 will be seen as two sides of the same
New Assumptions About Government
• Cooperation will be driven by stewardship rather than leadership;
• Stewardship will be defined by good process rather than personality;
• Good government will be shaped by the stewardship notion of “how can I help?”;
• Citizen collaborators will be more dedicated to altering the status quo than fighting
competing stakeholders requiring a key capacity of government to be its ability to facilitate
citizen cooperation.Those so skilled will become the elected agents of citizens;
• Citizens working openly & cooperatively will generate the nature & priorities of public
goods and services, but governments will employ the tools of artificial intelligence and
other technologies to create and disseminate those goods and services;
• Despite its power of taxation, governments do not have all the necessary resources to fulfill
their intents, therefore requiring them to cooperatively draw on other resources held by
citizens and private sector; and
• Governing institutions will not require centralized decision making.The broad distribution
of citizens, resources and knowledge will be managed by online technologies such as the
• Open communities of practice are created 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;
• We elect stewards to ‘facilitate’ rather than ‘represent’ conversations among stakeholders to foster
their mutual cooperation;
• The practices of citizen-based co-governance generate collective actions that reduce social
frictions, increases social equity, resolve complex shared problems & take advantage of new
• 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. Additional tangible and intangible resources, only available to citizens, are
released through local regional and national collaboration;
• Numerous global, national and community organizations provide social & technical tools to support
effective collaboration and assessment capacities, while citizens realize their potential as shared
owners of their community; 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 facilitating effective community conversations and collaboration;
• Technology and artificial intelligence will take over the routine activities of
governing, significantly reducing the size of public services;
• Those remaining in government become experts at fostering community
conversations, scaling learning to larger and larger audiences, and facilitating
wider access to society’s collective knowledge, resources and power;
• Governments operate on the principle of subsidiarity, with local communities of
practice organizing to resolve the least complex issues, but having the possibility
of engaging a broader & broader range of knowledge and experience on an ‘as
needed’ basis from higher order institutions of government.
• 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
• A new governance system would exhibit ‘learning while doing’ utilizing inquiring
systems that allow them to constantly probe and question the actions of
stakeholders and the changing environments around them as they develop
• Co-ownership and inclusion will be a key governance principle, with collective
decision-making including people who can contribute different knowledge and
experience to innovation, and different perspectives so governments know
sooner when they’ve not fully succeeded.
New Capacities (cont’d)
• Creating a generation of full citizens who are willing to assume ownership of their
lives and contribute to making a collective difference by sharing with others;
• 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 regional to national and global, and where the participants are
committed to resolving their issues;
• Emphasizing the direct participation of citizens in: the formation of local, regional,
national and international policies; in service delivery; in monitoring and
accountability; and in ways that are ongoing; and
• A new model of 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
• Intelligent governance = a collective process used when governance is widely distributed & coordination is not
linear. It requires a significant tacit knowledge, judgement, sometimes 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 outcomes is a coordination exercise where multiple groups contribute towards joint outcomes.
• Intelligent governance begins with a reflection on prior assumptions or biases. Each situation is 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 results from experimentation and
continuous inquiry and social learning.
• Collaboration is a crucial component of inquiring systems, including collaboration on: problem definition; solution
design; implementation; performance assessment and learning. Collaboration is based on a recognition that if a
change cannot be achieved alone, one must be willing to imagine possibilities that attainable only in concert with
• While the Internet is a basic global platform for citizen collaboration, it also necessitates a variety of offline
conventions: some explicit and rational, others tacit and relational. As collaboration broadens the problem definition
and widens potential responses, it frequently ends in unique innovative solutions.
• The typical ecology of activities within an inquiring system entails a cycle of collective learning comprised of four
phases, including: an observation 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
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/
communities / regions / nations
Accept a distributed solution
Engage potential partners and stakeholders & invite them to table
Build & Maintain
Secure an initial basis of trust (shared purpose & operating principles)
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
Identify assessment and evaluation mechanisms
Assess progress and celebrate success
Moving from inquiry to
moving through six basic
issues and sixteen
that involve a variety of
skills, mechanisms and
Repeated exposure to
these practices develops
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 issue under scrutiny. Self selection is an important feature
as it implies passion and motivation.
• Bring people together to validate the need for a new collaborative process and what they might be willing to
contribute to the process.
• Invite them to participate in reimagining a new alternative 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. What do they need in exchange for their participation?
• 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.