Updated 8:40 AM EST; Wednesday, July 26, 2006.
A Technique of Democracy  *
Interactive Management of Group Dialogue 1

By Vigdor Schreibman

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Digital image published for noncommercial use under license to CyberspaceCapital by Microsoft Corp.

Inherent Constraints on Democracy

"Politics must be vitalized by a new method," admonished Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933), the early 20th-century philosopher of democracy and one of the first management scientists, now celebrated as the "Prophet of Management." "'Representative government,' party organization, majority rule, with all their excrescenses, are dead wood" 2. However, in order to exercise their sovereign democratic powers citizens of a democracy must recognize that group dialogue in complex situations, involves the need to overcome several species based constraints under which human beings think and act. Contemplating the new republic of the United States as the Constitutional Convention commenced its work at Philadelphia, in 1787, Mr. James Madison discussed the inherent constraints encountered by group factions in an article published under the pen name "PUBLIUS," in THE FEDERALIST NO. 10 (1787).

The smaller the society, the fewer the distinct parties and interests the more easily will they concert and exercise their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other. Federalist No. 10, The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection (J. Madison).

The Founders were satisfied with these constraints as a means of preventing the so-called "tyranny of the majority" of ordinary citizens; preferring, instead, the "tyranny of the minority" of strategically placed persons" (e.g., those with property, the loudest voice, the largest bank account, or control over critical institutions, etc.). During the 20th-century, systems scientists have described those inherent human constraints in the following terms:

Image of Professor John N. Warfield (18K)

Dr. John N. Warfield, the great pioneer of integrative sciences, uses the term "Spreadthink" to describe the outcome of group dialogue infected with those constraints. This refers "to the demonstrated fact that when a group of individuals is working on a complex issue in a facilitated group activity, the views of the individual members of the group on the relative importance of problems and/or proposed action options will be literally 'spread all over the map'" 3.

Moreover, Warfield cautions, "Facilitators who try to bring groups to a majority view or a consensus without the aid of some methodology that resolves the difficulties caused by Spreadthink may well be driving the group to Groupthink, and thus helping to arrive at a decision that lacks individual support and, usually, lacks substance." Groupthink, refers "to the deterioration of mental efficiency, quality of reality testing, and quality of moral judgment that results from in-group pressures. Subject to Groupthink, a group may seem to accept a specific decision; however, if individual group members are confronted with that point of view separately from the group, few members would accept that view as their own." 4.

The consequences of these conditions, which severely limit collective political inquiry and action, is that the "democratic" government of the United States has, since the founding acts, been plagued by a corrupt, tyranny of "artificial aristocrats" presently described as a system of "market fundamentalism" by Joseph E. Stiglitz, winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in economics, Globalization and Its Discontents (2002). Moreover, the growing concensus sanctioning market fundamentalism is underscored by the same paradox that defines Groupthink, those who seem to accept the system at the same time raise the possibility that "the millions of people who now endorse it are on the wrong track." Among those who raise such questions are Charles E. Lindblom, Professor Emeritus of Economics and Political Science at Yale University. In his most recent book, The Market System (2001), Lindblom writes:

Such consensus as exists is a political phenomenon, not a scientific demonstration. We cannot simply ignore the many highly informed dissenters who believe that experience with the market system has already shown, to anyone who cares to look dispassionately at the evidence, that it has put us all on the road to disaster. Id. at 11-12.

The Tree of Biospheric Destruction that is growing out of these problems illustrates the calamitous outcomes that are now unfolding, in significant part, from the philosophy of greed that drives "market fundamentalism" supported by the strategic influences of Groupthink that constrain the potential of genuine human progress.

Advancing Meaningful Dialogue

During his own lifetime, Madison radically changed his mind about government of the majority, as chronicled by Robert A. Dahl, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Yale University in his fascinating examination of the question: "How Democratic Is the American Constitution?" 31-37 (2001). At age 36, when Madison arrived in Philadelphia in 1787, fear of the majority informed his ideas about constitutional government, which was designed to check popular majorities. In 1821, at seventy, Madison would have turned sharply in the other direction. The mature and experienced Madison, of 1821, would have done more to facilitate majority rule. By the time Madison was 82, in 1833, he was a fully confirmed advocate of "the will of the majority" as the "vital principle of republican government." Nevertheless, Democracy in America after more than two centuries, brings into serious question the choice between minority and majority rule. This choice underscores the contest between winners and loosers, all but disregarding the pursuit of truth and equal justice, while completely missing the spectacular opportunity offered by technology to overcome debilitating human constraints, and instead, facilitate the most dynamic, integrative princple in human relations.

What humanity has learned about politics during the last two-centuries is that representation -- whether by King, Priest, Party Captain, Corporate Manager, Civic Activist, Professional Planner, or President -- is not the main fact of political life. The main concern of politics is modes of association, as first articulated by Follett. To maximize the creative engagement of the citizenry one must adopt the values of mutual trust and cooperation derived from voluntary democratic actions serving the "will of the whole." Follett put these ideas together, in the following words:

Representation is not the main fact of political life; the main concern of politics is modes of association. We do not want the rule of the many or the few; we must find that method of political procedure by which majority and minority ideas may be so closely interwoven that we are truly ruled by the will of the whole. We shall have democracy only when we learn to produce this will through group association -- when young men (sic) are no longer lectured to on democracy, but when they are made into the stuff of democracy. (accent in original)

A technique of democracy is needed to overcome the propensity toward Groupthink and facilitate meaningful dialogue on an interpersonal and group level so as to enhance the pursuit of community wisdom and ultimately lead toward Knowledge Organization for the Betterment of Humankind. This opportunity and the revolutionary scientific breakthrough upon which it is based are discussed in the next section.

Principles of Dialogue: A Tree of Meaning

In A Technique of Democracy, six principles of dialogue are applied utilizing systems methodologies derived from the research of various scholars and practitioners. These principles are articulated by Dr. Alexander N. Christakis in A Tree of Meaning produced with his Dialogue Game 5. These principles aid in resolving the constraints and difficulties described as Spreadthink, while also promoting the pursuit of meaning and wisdom in dialogue. The six principles of dialogue include the following:

  1. Appreciation of the diversity of perspectives of observers is essential to embrace the many dimensions of a complex situation.

  2. Disciplined dialogue is required so that observers are not subjected to information overloaded.

  3. The relative importance of an observer's ideas can be understood only when they are compared with others in the group.

  4. Meaning and wisdom of an observer's ideas are produced in a dialogue only when they begin to understand the relationships such as similarity, priority, influence, etc., of different people's ideas.

  5. Every person matters, so it is necessary to protect the autonomy and authenticity of each observer in drawing distinctions.

  6. Evolutionary learning occurs in a dialogue as the observers learn how their ideas relate to one another.
To facilitate meaningful dialogue pertaining to any specific group design process, which can overcome those human constraints consistent with the six principles of dialogue, one can use the following 2-phased methodology:

    Phase 1: Idea Generation 6. Faced with the need to generate ideas related to an issue or set of problems, a collaborative facility is obtained, which promotes the comfort of the participants, and has the capability to display visually the observations constructed through dialogue. A group of from 5 to 45 individuals who are familiar with the issue is chosen, and a group leader or facilitator is selected. This group leader should not be confused with the traditional leader, or resource person, who is especially strong with regard to content knowledge; rather, it is the content knowledge of the participants that must be supported by the group facilitator, who will encourage engagement in the process by the participants. To begin the process the group carefully phrases a simple trigger question to stimulate the formulation of individual lists of from 1 to 5 ideas each. The ideas are articulated in summary form. One by one, each individual presents an idea for discussion until all ideas are presented.

    The autonomy and authenticity of each individual contribution is respected and no changes to any specific idea are allowed except with the approval of the individual who submitted the original. The ideas are discussed interactively to delete duplications, to formulate acceptable amendments and consolidations of ideas, and to establish agreement on definitions and language. From these deliberations a composite list is prepared so that final group satisfaction with the evolved set of ideas is obtained, thereby, producing a "consensual linguistic domain."

    Phase 2: Idea Synthesis 7. In this phase, the group will use a computer- supported method called Interpretive Structural Modeling (ISM) to obtain synthesis of valued ideas. This software is available online free of charge courtesy of John N. Warfield, Institute for Advanced Study of the Integrative Sciences, George Mason University.

    As its inputs, the computer takes the composite list of ideas prepared in Phase 1 of the managed dialogue together with a transitive contextual relationship (e.g., "Which is most influential"? "Which should be discussed first?" etc.). The computer is programmed to ask the group to compare sets of two ideas at a time drawn from the list, in order to determine the group evaluation of the selected relationship (e.g., "A" is more influential than "B"). Discussion is invited, and the questions are ultimately answered by a "Yes" or "No" response to obtain a majority consensus (or a higher level consensus in special cases). The computer makes significant use of logical inferences to decrease the number of questions to be asked. The computer also determines which question has the best chance of providing maximum information, in order to minimize participant time in evolving the structure.

    The method develops the structure of the model for the model-building group (e.g., selected issues sequenced in appropriate order for Forum discussion) and allows for modification or amendment of the structure so that final group satisfaction with the evolved structure is obtained.

In face-to-face dialogue a specially designed situation room can be used to support group deliberations and collaboration for the pursuit of community wisdom ("Demosophia" in the Greek language). The one appearing below uses magnetic walls for display of summary descriptions of the dialogue and relevant materials that support information processing by participants.


Photo image of Situation Room (33K)

Situation room used by the Ford Motor Company.
Photo image provided courtesy of Professor John N. Warfield.
Click image to enlarged view.


Years of experience by Dr. Christakis and his colleagues with the six principles of dialogue, illustrated in Figure 1: A Tree of Meaning, shows that the most influential principle is actually Principle #2: Disciplined Dialogue, followed by Principle #5: Autonomy and Authenticity, and so on. Principle #4: Meaning and Wisdom is the least influential in actually making the dialogue work, but I am sure we all agree it is the most important thing that can happen in a dialogue. "When we want to produce meaning and wisdom through dialogue, we must ensure that all the principles appearing at the roots of the Tree are enforced during the conduct of the dialogue," Dr. Christakis admonishes.



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When applied to the most complex social problems involving political, economic or cultural issues that are obscured by entrenched positions, personality clashes, and intractable barriers of culture or socialization, the principled systems methodology provides a highly reliable and effective way of dealing with group dynamics to achieve consensus on decisions and improve organizational effectiveness.

Real-world applications of this technology in a large variety of designs in many diverse fields, particularly during the past 15-years, have confirmed the reliability of those claims. This includes the following examples:

Application of this technology is especially suited to the recommended "user-designer" approach to social systems design 8. This is based on the logic and ethics of design, described in the following words by Professor Bela H. Banathy:

When it comes to the design of social and societal systems of all kinds, it is the users, the people in the system who are the experts. Nobody has the right to design social systems for someone else. It is unethical to do so. Design cannot be legislated, it should not be bought from the expert, and it should not be copied from the design of others. If the privilege of and responsibility for design is "given away," others will take charge of designing our lives and our systems. They will shape our future.

Evolutionary Structures and Social Systems Design

Just as human capital or intellectual capital are created by building the individual's capacity to act, it is well known that one level up the chain of power social capital is created when the patterns of relations between people and institutions change in ways that facilitate actions, by creating stocks of social trust, norms and networks that people can draw upon to solve common problems. Human capital and social capital were depicted during the past decade as the leading edge of the governing resources in the world, moving ahead of the traditional dominance of finance capital, first by American sociologist James S. Coleman in, Foundations of Social Theory (1990), then by the late management guru Peter F. Drucker in, Post-Capitalist Society (1993).

The relationship between human capital and social capital is illustrated below in figure 1.

    (R)      (R)
[A]==========; [B] ==========; [C]

Figure 1. Graphic relations of persons [A, B, and C]:
human capital in nodes, social capital in relations (R)

Cyberspace Capital is an order of magnitude up the chain of resource power structures, way ahead of human capital and social capital in terms of civil influences. CC enlarges the field of social capital by the global nature of communications via Internet.

Further complementing the advancement of meaningful dialogue on the higher levels of communty, society, and global interaction, OmniCapital, which combines all the natural, man made, and human systems of capital at individual, social, and global levels, recognizes the potentially spectacular, as yet unimaginable nature of the emerging civil resources, which arise in the Information Age. This is created when the patterns of relations between individuals and organizations in virtual space and time are shaped to facilitate power sharing and collaborative actions, for example, by the creation of stocks of social trust, norms and networks by means of electronic communications "many-to-many" "anywhere, anytime," which people can draw upon to build psychic power and social power, and at last, advance the guiding idea of America: "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."

image of the world with collage of computer work-stations (51K)

NOAA image of the world dedicated to the public domain.
Composite computer art displayed for noncommercial purposes
under license issued to CyberspaceCapital by Microsoft Picture It! Publishing 2001.

Integrating Structures. Meaningful dialogue facilitated by a technique of democracy embraces the interdependency of diverse group members so that the outcome of the group dialogue may be aggregated at higher levels of community and society. In addition, the call to supplant the Darwinian conception of mechanistic, mindless, purposeless evolution with "Conscious Evolution" as summarized from all the relevant research and development studies by the late Bela H. Banathy, 9 may be realized under a "cellular structure" 10 one group at a time just as all things in the universe are organized, with the use of "working group assemblies" that can provide "an integrating structure for planning," 11 at the highest levels of meaning and wisdom that can be envisioned by the will of the whole people.

Social System Design. The process of social systems design, itself, in which a group may engage in neighborhood design, design of environmental education, design of the governing ideas of an organization, or deliberate guided cultural evolution, etc., is described by Christakis and Banathy elsewhere 12. Social systems design, including the rising field of guided evolution, can be a lifelong educational pursuit.

Whatever may be the individual depth of engagement, however, the capacity to personally take charge of the 2-phases of interactive management of group dialogue, will prepare one to begin mastering a technique of democracy!


*Mary Parker Follett, the early 20th-century philosopher of democracy, first anticipated the need for a "technique of democracy" in The New State (1918) (republished by Pennsylvania State University, 1998). Follett was one of the first Management Scientists. Her early 20th-century writings were lost in a time warp for more than six decades after her death in 1933, largely because she was a women in a man's world, but most significantly, perhaps, because her ideas were ahead of her own time. Reborn at century's end, Follett's ideas on business management, including her insight into the importance of "integration" for the winning decision-making strategy, are now celebrated under the title, The Prophet of Management (A Harvard Business School Press Classic, 1996): pp. 183, 188-189. Systems scientists of the 21st-century now follow Follett's principle of "integration" as a basis for the highly successful revolution in democratic management of group dialogue.

  1. This paper describes A Technique of Democracy, applied in face-to-face format. At the turn of the century Cyberspace Capital also proposed Interactive Management of Group Dialogue, in electronic format. This advocacy has lead to the development of WebScope Email Dialogue, a boundary-spanning global dialogue, premiere on July 14-21, 2006, which is now featured at the WebSite of LOVERS OF DEMOCRACY.

  2. Follett, infra, The New State, Introduction, p. 4.

  3. J.N. Warfield and C. Teigen, Groupthink, Clanthink, Spreadthink, and Linkthink: Decision-Making on Complex Issues in Organizations 4-5, 31 (Institute for Advanced Study of the Integrative Sciences, George Mason University, 1993), citing I.L. Janis, Groupthink - Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascos 9 (Boston: Mifflin, 1982).

  4. J.N. Warfield and C. Teigen, infra note 3.

  5. Dr. Christakis has dedicated the "Dialogue Game" to the public domain.

  6. Adapted by V. Schreibman (Apr 14, 2002), from Delbeck, Van de Ven, Gustafson, Group Technique for Program Planning (1976) (also known as Nominal Group Technique, NGT).

  7. Adapted by V. Schreibman (Apr 14, 2002), from J. Warfield, A Science of Generic Design, Intersystems, Salinas, CA (1990).

  8. B.H. Banathy, Guided Evolution of Society 288-291 (2000).

  9. Id., at ch. 7.

  10. J. Friedmann, Retracking America 196 (1979).

  11. Id., at 198-199.

  12. See e.g., A.N. Christakis, A People Science (1996); B.H. Banathy, infra note 8.

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