The contagion effect

Although the following is not an example of sortitionally selected participants, it does highlight the ‘contagion effect’ of a focused, widely-reported deliberation by diverse and contending political positions.

I suppose a comparison could be made to Fishkin’s Deliberative Democracy events. This one was in Canada in 1991.

Excerpting from a message from Tom Atlee of the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation:

I’d like to highlight what I think of as the most innovative example of that “contagion effect…beyond direct participants” — the 1991 Maclean’s “The People’s Verdict” initiative.

Maclean’s is Canada’s big glossy newsweekly.  Key features of their initiative and July 1, 1991 issue were:
a.  a citizen deliberative group chosen to embody the diversity – specific differences – found in the conflicted Canadian population;
b.  powerful group process and facilitation (by Roger Fisher of GETTING TO YES fame)(even though the group ultimately transcended the process for their key interpersonal breakthrough);
c.  an article early in their multi-article coverage that featured half-page bios (with pictures) of each of the dozen participants, which allowed readers to learn which participants they identified with and which ones they initially viewed as adversaries;
d.  a blow-by-blow account of the deliberation itself – the growing dissonance, the emotional/interpersonal breakthrough and emotional bonding (including photos of erstwhile adversaries hugging each other) and finally the co-creation of a potent agreement. Thanks to the previous bios, this blow-by-blow account caused millions of Canadians from all over the country to be VICARIOUSLY DRAWN THROUGH THE WHOLE PROCESS OF CONFLICT, RECONCILIATION AND CO-CREATIVITY;
e.  the group’s full 4-page statement printed on yellow-tan pages (subliminal parchment?), concluded with their signatures (like the Declaration of Independence);
f.  7 other articles (a total of 40 pages of coverage!) covering all aspects of the process, background of the issues, reflections on the initiative’s relevance, etc.
g.  full filming of the entire process, producing a 60-minute documentary aired by Canadian TV the same week that the Maclean’s “People’s Verdict” issue was published.

I hired an investigative reporter in 2000 to find out what happened as a result. His interviews suggested that the mag issue and TV documentary stirred up dialogue across Canada for many months, conversations which became quite intense until politicians were pulled into them — and they threw oil on the water and things slowly went back to business as usual. (I have made mp3s of his interviews and am getting them transcribed, and both will go up on the above webpage, along with a pdf of the full issue and, if I can get it, a video of the Canadian TV documentary). The one shortcoming of this initiative, in my view, was that Maclean’s didn’t do the same thing annually after that. If they had, the politicians would have had to join the flow and become truly answerable.

In my opinion, this is the most brilliant example of the “contagion effect” I have seen, primarily through personalizing the process (through [c] above) and providing a narrative report of the process ([d] above) which stimulated the VICARIOUS participation of the entire nation.  I suspect that the widespread technologies we have now could do that kind of thing in an even more sophisticated way, so I’d love to see inquiries about how “we” might do that.

One Response

  1. Jim Rough’s Wisdom Council model provides a sortition-based vision of a similar kind of contagion designed to trigger “a conversation of the whole”. Unlike Maclean’s, Rough’s model is intended to be a regular affair. There have been a number of experiments in the US, but for whatever reasons they are gaining more traction in Austria than elsewhere (as discussed in links on the above website).


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