When Deep Democracy spreads to the colonies: Reflections by Bernard le Roux

Have you ever wondered why South Africans speak such a funny English - not to mention the Australians and the Canadians? When the British colonised the globe and groups of English settled in remote countries, it was not only the language that changed, but even the culture. In South Africa many people still drink tea and eat Marmite on their toast.  In Australia they drink tea and spread some imitation of the real thing on their toast. (In Sweden people don’t even know what the hell Marmite is and those who do can’t believe people can eat it!).  English culture is more than tea – and certainly more than Marmite and Christmas pudding. But what does this Anglo-centric reflection have to do with the Lewis Method of Deep Democracy?

My question is this: when DD spreads and the number of people using it becomes larger, how will it change? Will the culture itself “morph”? Will we identify the Lewis Method by the “soft shoe shuffle” and “the argument”? What of the essence of Deep Democracy and of Myrna Lewis will be seen in twenty years time in remote parts of the world where facilitators use “the tools”? How is DD developing in countries that it spreads to and what happens to it when it encounters a new environment?

Here in Sweden we have been talking a lot about how “pure DD” is received by different groups. Is it too direct? Does it go too fast? Is Co-Resolve a better model for a more introverted and conflict adverse society? Do we clone or do we mutate? Is it ok to use “bits and pieces” for real? Or is there a line that one needs to stick to?

We have noticed that in certain circles the argument can create a strong counter-reaction. Is it because it is not properly executed or is it because it may not fit that particular culture or sub-culture? Myrna recognised this and created the debate - a lighter version for Co-resolve. Martin introduced me to an even lighter version that he uses which he simply calls a conversation from two sides. We use this all the time with new groups to great effect. It doesn’t require safety rules because – as with Co-Resolve’s debate, it doesn’t go too deep. But it works wonders in any process where people talk politely and avoid the real issues. It surfaces the little fishes under the surface of the water. It can essentially be used by anybody – anywhere.

We have been using DD as an inspiration for the work we do with urban planning and adapted it to fit odd situations. When the City of Gothenburg was developing a new traffic strategy for 2035, I was asked to lead a process to consider the proposed plan from a social perspective – the question was: are we taking proper consideration of the social issues?  We created a kind of argument where the “social dimension” was on one side and the Traffic strategy on the other. The arrows flew – and the grains of truth were amazing. The planners used the wisdom of the process to improve the strategy.

Another example was when we were asked to lead a process considering the building of a new arena for the city. Some powerful people had already made up their minds that it would be built where there is a popular - but rather old – indoor swimming pool. As these powerful people often do, they forgot about the inhabitants and needed a “social impact analysis” to accompany the proposal. We designed a process on surfacing the “no”. The wisdom of this “minority” effectively stopped the plans for the arena being railroaded through the political decision-making process. Wisdom prevailed. Needless to say, we are not very popular in certain circles.

We get odd requests and need to create new processes that fit the situation. Right now we need to respond to a request for some kind of “training” for officials whose job it is to communicate about a major and rather controversial plan to build an underground rail system in the city. These people are facing the aggression of some of the citizens and don’t know how to deal with the arrows. Do they meet people with shields and helmets (proverbially) or can they learn how to use neutrality and avoid getting hit? What do they do when they do get hit by an arrow anyway?

Can we innovate and if so, what does this require in terms of our knowledge of DD? Are there limits to simple innovative tools?

Let’s consider the amazing new app – u+me – out there for anyone to use. It is brilliant and it is simple. It was developed from a deep understanding of the methodology (can we add another “deep” to DD?). But it, as with simpler versions of the argument, has its limitations. When the issues are too big and too hot, the fuses burn out and the tool no longer works. Then we need the real thing - a real, trained DD facilitator.

Where does all this lead me? (My colleague, Anna, has taught me a new expression: test-thinking. She says: “now I am test-thinking aloud.”) So, let me test the following thoughts: The Lewis Method of Deep Democracy will evolve. New varieties will arise. As with Marmite and tea, some will stick to the original, the real thing, and others will create new varieties. This cannot be controlled. It is the essence of the model that will ensure its survival and its growth. Just as the English culture is not really about tea and mince pies at Christmas, DD is not about shuffling with soft shoes and doing the argument in a defined way. These are expressions of something more fundamental - the thought behind the app.

This brings me to the hard question – and one that I shall not attempt to answer: what is this fundamental idea? Can it be expressed? Can it be defined and patented? And how do we regard first, second and third generation expressions of the fundamental idea. I like the word “inspire” – it implies that the something is filled with a certain spirit. I like to think of myself and my work being inspired by the essence of Deep Democracy. I see this spirit in all the inspired efforts in many parts of the world and realise that the community around DD really is about the essence and about celebrating the ten thousand expressions rather than ensuring that the method is kept pure.


Bernard le Roux

November 2015






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