CoLaboratories of Democracy

We have all experienced the benefits of dialogue when we openly and thoughtfully confront issues. We have also experienced the frustration of interminable discussion that does not lead to progress. The Institute for 21st Century Agoras ( and CWA Ltd ( are dedicated to the application and installation of the Structured Democratic Dialogue (SDD), and the use of the CogniScopeTM software, in designing and conducting CoLaboratories of Democracy, which enable large, diverse groups of stakeholders to dialogue and generate positive results.

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Many group processes engender enthusiasm and good feeling as people share their concerns and hopes with each other. CoLaboratories of democracy go beyond this initial euphoria to:

  • Discover root causes;

  • Adopt consensual action plans;

  • Develop teams dedicated to implementing those plans; and

  • Generate lasting bonds of respect, trust, and cooperation.

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CoLaboratories achieve these results by respecting the autonomy of all participants, and utilizing an array of consensus tools – including discipline, technology, and graphics – that allow the stakeholders to manage the dialogue. These tools are explained in depth in a book authored by Alexander N. Christakis with Kenneth C. Bausch: CoLaboratories of Democracy: How People Harness Their Collective Wisdom to Create the Future (Information Age, 2006).

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As shown in the world map above CoLaboratories of Democracy have been validated through worldwide use over the past 40 years, by dealing with very complex situations involving diverse stakeholders. They have been successfully employed all over the world in situations of uncertainty and conflict. In Cyprus, for example, they have been used to bridge the divide between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots on the island:

Take a look at a video of Turklish and Greek Cypriots describing their experiences over the last fifteen years with Structured Democratic Dialogue to a group of Palestinians and Israelis, who were visiting Cyprus in July 2010, for the purpose of participating in a CoLaboratory of Democracy focusing on Palestinian/Israeli co-existence:

Theory of Planning

CoLaboratories of democracy represent the correct response to the planning challenge articulated by Hasan Ozbekhan in his famous paper titled "Toward a General Theory of Planning," published in the Perspectives of Planning by Erich Jantsch in 1968:

"Planning and Values

Is there anyway to free us from the present- or, what can we do to will the future?

In my view there is no more important question in planning discourse; it is truly the hearth of the matter.

Let me begin by saying. "Yes, we can will the future," but only if change is caused to occur in values rather than an object's other attributes.

What I mean is that any change that is not a fundamental change in values merely extends the present rather than creating the future. It seems to me that from this general postulate one can derive five statements which govern all planning.

  1. Only change in the overall configuration of values can change the present situation.

  2. Only individual will can bring about such value changes.

  3. Value changes cannot be predicted.

  4. Value changes always occur as individual ideas, or responses, or insights concerning betterment, and when they become socialized over a large part of the system we have 'progress'.

  5. Planning is the organization of progress. Thus the main subject of planning is the willed future."

CoLaboratories of democracy are capable of satisfying all the five planning requirements of Ozberkhan's theory of planning mentioned above.

Archetypes of CoLaboratories of Democracy:

An archetype (pronounced /ˈɑrkɪtaɪp/) is an original model of a person, ideal example, or a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated.

From over thirty years of applying Dialogic Design Science in the Arena we are able to distinguish six CoLaboratory of Democracy Archetypes. These are:

1) Type A: Diagnosis of the Problematique _ complex primarily through vaguely defined and intensely interacting mega-trends

This type is the most frequently applied in the Arena. It is used for diagnosing a complex problem situation and for discovering the deep drivers for the purpose of initiating a strategy for resolution.

An example of such an application might be to invite the stakeholders to view a videotape, such as:

to be followed by asking them to respond to a triggering question, such as:

"What are issues to be collectively addressed in transitioning to a contemporary paradigm for education?"

This Archetype has been historically very popular. It was used frequently by a team consisiting of John Warfield, Roy Smith, Scott Staley, and Ben Broome with a group of Executives and Engineers of the Ford Motor Company in the 1990s.

The largest number of participants with this Archetype was implemented by Robert McDonald in 1983. He engaged a group of 250 private forest landowners/stakeholders in the USA, under the sponsorhsip of the Under Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture.

A variation of this archetype, that has been applied successfully in some cases, is to allocate about two hours, after the group has constructed the Problematique, in engaging the participants in small group work focusing on actions for addressing alternative pathways of the Problematique. Following the completion of the small team work, the small teams make brief presentations at a plenary session. The pathway-focused action scenarios proposed by the small teams are useful to the organizational entity for prioritizing the actions for addressing the drivers of the Problematique.

2) Type B: Reconnaissance _ complex primarily through unexplored situations and unexamined intentions

This type is applied when we need to gather information and intelligence from a variety of stakeholder pespectives about a complex situation, which is challenging but not necessarily a burning issue. An example of such an application is the recent inquiry (November, 2010) for improving the theory and practice of the Science of Implementation, by engaging a group of theoreticians and practitioners of the science, togehter with a group of customers in the state of Michigan. For more details visit:

Another example of this archetype is an application in Tokyo, Japan in 2005, with Laura Harris of Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO) and Kate Cherrington of Advancement of Maori Opportunity (AMO), being the facilitators of a CoLaboratory with participants from a variety of Asian tribes and cultures:

3) Type C: Long Range Action Scenario Construction _ complex primarily through uncertain futures.

This type is employed to explore alternative futures derived on the basis of the extrapolation of past and present trends and events. It enables a group of stakeholders to converge to a consensus action scenario for implementing changes to the extrapolated future. This Arhetype was designed and implemented originally by Kevin Dye.

A good example is provided by the report below exploring alternative energy efficiency futures for the Pacific Nortwest Region of the USA:

Another example of this Archetype was implemented in Mexico in 1994, with the engagement of a panel of about 20 International and Mexican experts (including Hasan Ozbekhan, Erwin Laszlo and John Warfield) on forecasting trends and event to the year 2020. The panel explored international and national alternative futures on a stage in front of an audience in an Amphitheater of about 1,000 Mexican students and citizens. Reynaldo Trevino was the leader of this event, which was conducted simultaneously in Spanish and English. Aleco Christakis was the Facilitator in English, and Carlos Flores in Spanish.

4) Type D: Futures – Creative _ complex primarily through unvoiced transformational hopes.

This type is applied when we want to transcend the past and present trends and to create an ideal future for a social system. There are many examples of this type of applications over the last thirty years of practicing the science in the arena. Two recent applications in Michigan, one focusing on idealizing the learning of math by All students, which includes a virtual engagement of stakeholders is reported in:

and the second focusing on Universal Design for Learning for All students by engaging approximately 30 stakeholders in three f2f CoLaoboratories of Democracy are good example of this Archetype:

Another good example of the application of this Archetype with a group of stakeholders of Region 3 of Michigan is discussed in a video presentation by Aleco Christakis to the regional stakeholders. The presentation is made while they were meeting to agree on the cascade of activities from the regional level to the building level for implementing the Action Plan they constructed collaboratively after completing two co-laboratories focusing on Region 3:

In July of 2010 this Archetype was applied in Cyprus for the purpose of establishing a platform for symbiosis between Israelis and Palestinians:

This particular Archetype has been applied extensively in Cyprus and other countries of the European Uniion by Dr. Yiannis Laouris and his team ( ) .

5) Type E: Collaborative Action Agenda _ complex primarily through the number and diversity of essential collaborators.

This two-day CoLaboratory Archetype, with the participation of up to 30 stakeholders, is applied when we want to engage a group in a short-term collaborative action agenda for addressing a pressing issue, which might entail a significant reallocation of resources and a change in policy direction. An example of this Archetype was convening in 2003 a group of Medical Nefrologists focusing on addressing the issue of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), for which the USA Federal Government spends nearly $20 Billion per year:

This particular Archetype has been applied extensively to address health care and patient safety related policy issues in the USA during the decade of 2000-2010, primarily under the sponsorship of the National Patient Safety Foundation.

A scientific paper describing this application was published in the journal of Nefrology with the principal author Being Dr. Tom Parker who was the Broker for this application. You can see this paper HERE:

6) Type F: Root Cause Analysis _ complex primarily through the merging of observer-independent and observer-dependent data.

In March 2004, CWA Ltd., in collaboration with The Great Lakes Area Regional Resource Center (GLARRC), and the Michigan Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Early Intervention Services (OSE/EIS), designed and conducted a root cause analysis co-laboratory with the engagement of thirty stakeholders. The participants to the colab were representatives from the community of practitioners in the field of a monitoring process called Continuous Improvement Focused Monitoring (CIFM). These practitioners were responsible, among other things, for implementing for the state of Michigan the No Child Left Behind (NLCB) legislation, passed by the US Congress in 2002. The participants were initially engaged in a series of colabs for the purpose of designing the CIFM process relevant to their situation, which they will then have to implement in the field with school districts throughout the state.

After the designers completed the design of the CIFM process, it was decided to conduct a "root cause analysis colab" with the engagement of the same group of designers/participants. The purpose of this particular colab was to try to anticipate any factors that might inhibit the successful implementation of the CIFM process in the field. The intention was to conduct an anticipatory root cause analysis, as opposed to one that is the result of an existing systemic problem(s).

For more details on this case please visit:

Another good example of this Archetype is a 2009 application with a group of high school students at risk of dropping out of school in Michigan. Take a look at the report and the video as presented in:

7) Type G: Evaluation through Indicator Rating: Recently, some innovative alternative application models have emerged. These models are currently being tested in the Arena for gathering evidence. One such model is being developed by Jeff Diedrich. It involves using a panel of experts to derermine weights to be assigned to fifty-three Assistive Technology (AT) Indicators, which have been developed by this panel and classified in eight distinct categories. Those weights will be used, together with other metrics at the local level, to assess the performance of an educational agency in the context of delivering AT services to its community of stakeholders. The other innovative application is being developed by Yiannis Laouris in the context of the International Conference this May of the Hellenic Society for Systemic Studies ( It involves the engagement of a variety of stakeholders in making risk assessments for public policy initiatives of the European Union.

For a matrix showing more details about the Colaboratory Archetypes please visit:

Summary of Distinctions among Archetypes of CoLaboratories of Democracy:

1) Type A: Diagnosis of the Problematique _ complex primarily through vaguely defined and intensely interacting mega-trends

2) Type B: Reconnaissance _ complex primarily through unexplored situations and unexamined intentions

3) Type C: Long Range Action Scenario Construction _ complex primarily through uncertain futures

4) Type D: Futures – Creative _ complex primarily through unvoiced transformational hopes

5) Type E: Collaborative Action Agenda _ complex primarily through the number and diversity of essential collaborators

6) Type F: Root Cause Analysis _ complex through the merging of observer-independent and observer-dependent data

7)Type G: Evaluation by Indicator Rating _ complex through the diversity of indicators measuring a social or natural phenomenonon.

If you are interested in downloading a brochure describing colaboratories of democracy in order to share with others please visit:

To explore the relationship between the three types of colaboratories and the seven Archetypes it is interesting to study the diagrma below:

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