We live in a time of great historical disruption and transition where new approaches based on nature’s principles of evolution will be the foundation of learning how to adapt quickly to the transformation of our society.
We are reaching the upper limits of representative democracy based on checks and balances. We are on the brink of a true transformation in democratic governance that will exploit the potential of new technologies when combined with new capacities of leaders able to facilitate new processes that can access the options and ideas of a broad, diverse, knowledgeable, and interested pool of citizens. We need the interest, involvement and knowledge of many people working in collaboration to deal with such complex issues as climate change, reconfiguring global economies, shift of energy systems, biodiversity loss, population growth and the interaction and impacts of multiple new technologies. We call this new form of democracy Polycentric Democracy due to the many different ecosystems of interlocking networks that will emerge as our communities become cauldrons of collaboration and creativity. Eric Liu and Nick Hanaurer coined the term Polycentric Democracy in their excellent book, The Gardens of Democracy. No longer will we look for the one best answer based on increasingly outdated thinking. We will come together in new ways and build futures projects of research and development.
Many people feel pushed out and disconnected from both their elected leaders and their neighbors. Fewer people are voting, and many of the citizens who do vote elect leaders who are outside of the mainstream and who promise little more than to “shake things up” or “I won’t compromise”. The good news is that the majority of people say they want to participate in democracy, according to the Harwood institute, in a study funded by the Kettering Foundation, because they want to have their voices heard. People want their leaders to focus on the best interest of the many not the narrow interest of the privileged. It is imperative that we find better ways to include the public voice in decision making.
It is becoming more obvious that many local leaders are not familiar with trends and weak signals and, as a result, are not able to develop effective strategies for emerging issues. A process we call “mobile connecting” is evolving. With the advent of smart phones and GPS systems, we are entering a new age that will reshape how our society operates by instantaneously accessing the knowledge and opinions of all interested citizens.
This will eventually lead to “Mobile Collaborative Governance,” where community leaders, especially in smaller communities, begin to realize that they are not able to keep up with new ideas and methods. These leaders will develop new knowledge connection processes that will utilize community members to identify and facilitate cutting edge concepts and techniques. As these types of new processes develop, a shift will occur from radical individualism, so rampant in our society, to levels of deeper collaboration. In fact, those communities whose leaders become members of larger ecosystems beyond their community boundaries will be able to access intellectual and financial resources to create and test transformational thinking and action in the research and development processes leading to comprehensive community transformation.
Ultimately, a transformational governance and decision making structure will emerge, in our opinion, due to mobile technologies in which as many people in the community as are interested are involved. In his book The Electronic Republic, Larry Grossman, former President of NBC News and National Public Radio states “Technological changes are transforming our political system, creating a new electronic republic – a hybrid form that adds elements of direct electronic democracy to America’s two-hundred year old representative republic.”
The age of representative democracy, as we know it, will slowly fade into the dimming glow of Industrial Society. It has served us well, but is too slow to adapt to constantly changing conditions. What is emerging is unknown, but smart mobile technologies, cloud computing and a different kind of leader able to facilitate connections, a Master Capacity Builder, will be key factors in the emerging next phase of democracy…Polycentric Democracy.
This post originally appeared on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/pulse/rethinking-democracy-the-emerging-polycentric-neil-richardson.