The Art of Hosting

Rethinking democracy as participative instead of representational?

From the emaillist summer '12:

Dear All,

I am looking for inspiration on new (?) or different or comprehensive forms of democracy (initially for a speech that I need to draft about democracy and human rights). Please would anyone be able to point me to good stuff/texts about democracy as a participatory (rather than representative) concept?

I find it striking that wherever I hear or participate in debates about democracy, anyone (well where I am located, in the EU) immediately presupposes I am speaking of representative democracy through elections from party lists by national citizens (so basically excluding from participation everyone with a foreign passport even if they have lived in the country and participated otherwise in society for over 30 years…; and equally excluding anyone under 18 years; and excluding persons with mental disabilities; etc…)
Interestingly, even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights States: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.” (Art. 21)
So – I wondered, are there any alternative views on the concept of democracy, on democracy and human rights, consensus democracy, concepts as well as practical examples of (political) participation etc. etc.? (I know of Wisdom Council and of the great work done in Vorarlberg – any others?)
Many thanks in advance and greetings from Vienna,



Hi Wal,

In case this is relevant to what you are looking for ..... I have been tremendously impressed by the concept of 'generative ownership' vs 'extractive ownership' set out in a new book by Marjorie Kelly. While I have so far read only the excerpts that are available online (, it seems clear to me that the structures of 'generative ownership' she is talking about operate in ways that are far more congruent with my notion of democracy and participatory process than are the ways of 'extractive ownership'. Here is one paragraph from the excerpt above that may give a flavour:

“....What’s under way is an ownership revolution. It’s about broadening economic power from the few to the many and about changing the mindset from social indifference to social benefit. We’re schooled to fear this shift, to think there are only two choices for the design of an economy: capitalism and communism, private ownership and state ownership. But the alternatives being grown today defy those dusty 19th century categories. They represent a new option of private ownership for the common good. This economic revolution is different from a political one. It’s not about tearing down but about building up. It’s about reconstructing the foundation of ownership on which the economy rests." (Kelly, M. Owning our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, Calif. 2012)

By the way, it also seems to be full of stories, well told in an interesting and very readable style.

Kind regards,


Dear Rosemary,

I wholeheartedly agree with you about Marjorie Kelly's new book. I picked up a copy while attending the 2012 BALLE conference in Grand Rapids.



Dear Wal,
I was just researching the concept of participatory budgeting  and came across this thoughtful  piece. , it has other tags to participatory democracy in Europe.
I think looking to Brazil and latin american countries may give some insight and inspiration, they have established procesess for participatory democracy.
Hi Waltraud,
Here a quick few thoughts as a brainstorm:
- the liquid democracy system of the Pirate Party:
- a Collaborative Democracy reflection from former Hub Berlin members: who work on the concept of the Bundeswerkstatt (a collaborative co-creation space for citizens next to the Bundetag and Bundesrat):
- some more thoughts around Collaborative Democracy:
- Joseph Beuys and his Direct Democracy approach:
- and a political empowerment approach from social work in the US: community organizing - the platform I am a member of in Berlin:

Hi Waltraud,


Have looked at the concept of ‘Deep Democracy’?   The term was coined by Arnold Mindell and it rests on “that special feeling of belief in the inherent importance of all parts of ourselves and all viewpoints in the world around us.”             (From


Arnold Mindell is the co-founder of the field of Process Oriented Psychology (or Process Work).    POP is a radically inclusive way of conceiving our ourselves and our relationships with each other.  In practical terms, it provides a framework for understanding the various conscious and unconscious processes that occur within and between individuals, groups, communities and nations.    Deep Democracy seeks to apply the principles of POP in the belief that “the world is here to help us to become our entire selves, and that we are here to help the world become whole.”     (From


I have attached a paper which provides a more detailed (if academic) exploration of the history, philosophy and practical aspects of Deep Democracy.    


Hope this helps!

Marc Coulombe


And in this context it is also interesting to look at the Deep Democracy work in Southern Africa:
"Deep Democracy is based on the work of the American psychologist Arnold Mindell, known for his innovative work in Process Orientated Psychology. In the early 1990s two of Mindell’s students, Myrna Lewis and her late husband, Greg, began translating some of the psychological tools for use in organizations. As corporate consultants, they applied what they had learned to a unique situation: South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy.

Deep Democracy was born when South Africa’s national utility company asked Greg and Myrna to help a large division make the leap into the New South Africa. Like most apartheid-era corporations, this was a racist, sexist workplace, where each employee filled a rigidly defined slot in the hierarchy. Now, virtually overnight, workers were expected to become team players. The company had to find a way to keep running while its 5,000 employees adjusted to new and often awkward peer relationships with their former supervisors and subordinates. Suddenly these people had to make cooperative decisions and support each other in implementing them—all in the crucible of deeply rooted racial, cultural and gender-based tensions.

The Lewises responded to these enormous challenges by adapting the complex science of Mindell’s Process Orientated Psychology and applying it to everyday demands of the new dispensation. With their help, their client’s 5,000 workers weathered the transition, and the company went on to thrive.

Greg and Myrna subsequently discovered that their methods work just as well for educators, students, communities, families and couples. After Greg died in 2002, Myrna continued to refine the techniques they had created together. It has taken more than fifteen years of intensive work to hone Deep Democracy into the straightforward, five-step methodology changing lives and relationships all over the world today. Today, the methodology is used in all sectors of society and in over 20 countries."
And…wow this is rich stuff 
Don’t know if this is helpful but have just been re reading Peter Block's book – community the structure of belonging  ( re reading is such a good experience you see all sorts of stuff you didn’t the first time round ) 
He speaks of reframing leadership away from being at the front ( representative ) structures transforming it into convening and creating the conditions for participation – opening the creative spaces within which citizens get deeply engaged. Now that’s an inspiring  purpose for the european institutions if ever there was one.  
Many useful and practical examples in the book
Love linda x

Hi Wal,


This is a vast and fascinating subject indeed.  So glad to hear that you’re looking into it.

I’d like to start by echoing Silvia’s plug to not forget direct democracy.  Too often people who promote “participatory democracy” feel uncomfortable with direct democracy, especially the traditional forms of initiatives and referendums (IRI-Europe and its co-founder Bruno Kaufmann are definitely the experts on these).  However, there are other forms of direct democracy where citizens make the decisions themselves like participatory budgeting (see PB Unit in the UK or the Participatory Budgeting Project in North America) or the various parts of the Campaign for Democratic Decentralization in Kerala, India.


For extensive listings and descriptions of a wide variety of innovative projects from around the world that involve different ways of “doing democracy” check out the wiki Participedia. The 2011 Rheinhard Mohn Prize on “revitalizing democracy” from the Bertelsmann Foundation featured some of these as well, with nice videos.


My favorite thinker in the field of public participation and democratic innovation is John Gastil at Penn State.  He’s both very practical and willing to explore quite innovative approaches. Before jumping into his numerous books, you might want to watch some of the videos he has on You Tube.  Tom Atlee also has some good pushing-the-envelope thinking on this topic, including in his newest book Empowering Public Wisdom.  Peter Levine at Tufts sponsors a yearly Frontiers of Democracy conference -- you could look at what he’s written, as well as conference participants.  In the international development world, John Gaventa is definitely a very important thinker.


A great think-tank on this topic is the Deliberative Democracy Consortium.  I really like their latest publication Planning for Stronger Local Democracy.  It’s US-focused, but still relevant elsewhere.


In Europe, OECD (Joanne Cady) and the Council of Europe also study democratic innovations and have produced interesting publications.


You can also find very interesting discussions on this topic on the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD) list-serve and resources on the website.


I’ve been working in this area of citizen participation and democratic innovation for the past few years, first in Europe and now the USA, so it’s hard to know where to begin… 



Views: 104

Reply to This

© 2023   Created by Rowan.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service