Lifelong activist Tom Atlee proposes innovative ways to distill the wisdom of ordinary people in order to better guide public policy. In Empowering Public Wisdom, Atlee recognizes currently popular forms of progressive democracy advocates, such as citizen participation and voter education, but suggests that what is really needed is a re-thinking of the very concept of democracy; Atlee advocates the use of “public wisdom,” a collective intelligence that can be drawn upon to guide public policy and action. Reaching beyond partisan politics, Atlee explores how a diversity of views can be engaged around public issues in ways that generate a coherent, shared “voice of the people” that takes most or all of the population’s perspectives and needs into account. Atlee’s core approach is through “citizen deliberative councils,” in which a small group of people randomly selected creates a “mini-public” or a microcosm of the larger population. Citizen councils engage in the study of a public issue and make recommendations to public officials and the community, but disband afterward; when a new issue arises, a new council is formed. Ultimately, Atlee aims even higher, suggesting a possible fourth branch of government to better balance our current democratic system. Combining a radical vision with practical solutions, Empowering Public Wisdom provides a unique and refreshing voice in the political arena.
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