New Dotmocracy Handbook is Now Published

Photo of printed Dotmocracy Handbook

I am proud to announce the publishing of a new version
of my Dotmocracy Handbook
.  After three years in the making, version
2 is more than twice the length of my original handbook. It’s filled
with full colour photos, improved layout and much clearer and refined
instructions based on years of challenging and inspiring Dotmocracy
facilitation experience.

With this version you can also order a
printed copy in Black & White or Full Colour through  
As always, you can still download a free
PDF of the handbook, although the resolution of the photos is not as
good, and you’ll be missing out on the cool new glossy cover.

exciting, it is also now for sale on!


Thank you to
my many friends and family who supported me in getting this book
finished – I am eternally grateful. 


Please do download a
copy of the handbook
 and let me know what you think.  





Citizens’ Assemblies: Wise Democracy from the Minipublic

(Originally published on September 6th 2008)

Politicians should take note; there is a new answer to some of the
toughest questions of our times. When presented with an issue with no
obvious popular and sensible solution, or a situation where a
legislature is unable to make progress on an important topic, 100
random citizens can be called on to solve the political puzzle, as they
did in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Ontario (my home province).

Following the 2001 election, the newly elected premier of BC
followed through on a promise to create a citizens’ assembly to
consider changes to the provincial electoral system. In 2006 the
Ontario government followed suit as part of their democratic renewal
efforts. Both citizens’ assembly projects followed an innovative model
designed by former BC politician, Gordon Gibson, and were given a clear
and independent mandate by an all party committee.

Each assembly process began with tens of thousands of written
invitations sent out to random citizens all across the province.
Through several stages of positive responses and further lottery
selection, the members of the assembly were narrowed down to 158 in BC
and 103 in Ontario. Members came from every electoral riding. Their
ranks included equal numbers of women and men, and spanned the
demographic spectrum in rough similarity with census data. While not
absolutely perfect, this was a more representative sample of folks than
I have ever seen at any town meeting or campaign rally.

Central to the citizens’ assembly model is the learning phase. In
Ontario and BC, members spent six weekends learning about the topic
from panels of experts, custom educational materials, and a staff of
adult educators selected and trained to present a range of perspectives
in a way that avoids biasing the process. By the end of this learning
phase these assorted bus drivers, home makers, blue-collar managers and
school teachers were able to debate election reform at a Masters level.

Following this learning phase, the assembly members took part in a
series of public meetings and opportunities for comment from the
public, giving members a greater understanding of the varied views and
opinions within the population.

Finally each assembly went through an exhaustive six weeks of
facilitated consensus driven deliberations and structured
decision-making. Members talked in small groups and large groups,
debated, researched, weighed options, heard concerns and voted
step-by-step through each of the key decisions required to find a
common answer. In the end both BC and Ontario citizen assemblies ended
with over 90% of their members voting in favour of a common final
recommendation. As the third party evaluations
and academic reviews have come to prove, these staggering majorities
were not the result of charismatic manipulation, authoritative
coercion, or exhausted frustration. These results represent over 100
random people approaching full agreement on an open ended question—on
an issue as complex as election reform. This was achieved by a thorough
understanding of the options and respectful discussion with the stated
goal of seeking the best solution that would be in accord with the
commonly recognized values of the people. This was an example of the
wise and practical democracy most of us assume is impossible. As Gordon
Gibson expressed it “For someone with a faith in democracy, this was
like seeing God.”

To put this demonstrated model of the citizens’ assembly into
context let’s quickly look at some more traditional methods of hearing
the ‘voice of the people’ on public policy:


  • Elections: Candidates often win less then
    50% of the votes cast, (but still more than their multiple
    competitors). Voters are generally poorly informed by combative media
    campaigns and are unable to recall much detail about the policy
    positions of their favourite candidates. Once elected, politicians are
    driven by short term public perceptions and party rivalry in order to
    secure a re-election.

  • Expert Panels: In formal committees,
    politicians and government bureaucrats are informed by select experts.
    The members of these committees are often well informed about their
    subject matter, but without any necessary grasp of public values. The
    selection of experts may bias the advice.

  • Opinion Polls: These telephone surveys
    are a result of top of mind reactions to yesterdayís sound bites and
    newspaper headlines. They superficially reflect public values, but
    without the educated, deliberated, and reasoned conclusions one would
    want to steer a society by.

  • Focus Groups: Focus groups typically have
    a small number of people at the table who are usually not informed
    about the issue at hand. Depending on the facilitation, focus groups
    may yield results that are uninformative, and not highly representative
    of the values of the population as a whole.

  • Town Halls & Hearings: Comments from
    the floor in a public hall have always been abused by the loudest and
    most charismatic speakers who are first to speak their complaints and
    accusations to the room. While iconic of our early democracy, the
    self-selected public speakers who tend to participate are often driven
    by personal or interest group agendas and are quickly situated in
    Us-VS-Them debates. These are not well informed, representative, or
    consensus-driven events.

comparison, the citizen’s assembly model is what deliberative democracy
theorist Archon Fung calls a “minipublic,” that is “…an educative
forum that aims to create nearly ideal conditions for citizens to form,
articulate, and refine opinions about particular public issues through
conversations with one another.” It is one of few processes where the
shared values of the public are directly applied to policy
recommendations, rather than guessed or assumed by privileged
individuals—sometimes with their own agenda. That said, the citizens’
assembly model it is not a perfect system. It is susceptible to
manipulation or corruption by incompetent staff, or can be directed by
a biased chair, possibly appointed for political reasons. According to
the third party evaluations, this was not the case in Ontario or BC.

Both the BC and Ontario Citizens’ Assemblies on Electoral Reform
ended with referendums (similar to U.S. ballot initiatives) that were
carried out as an addendum to the provincial elections. That is, the
thoroughly debated, close-to-consensus recommendation of over 100
random citizens (who had been highly educated on the topic at hand),
was subject to 60% approval by a general public that was overwhelmingly
uninterested and uninformed about the subject matter. In BC the
proposal won 57.7% of the votes, but did not pass the 60% threshold
required. In Ontario the proposal only received 37% support. One theory
for the difference between the two is the much higher level of media
coverage of the citizens’ assembly process that occurred in BC, i.e.
the more people learn about the citizens’ assembly process, the more
likely they are to support its recommendation. In any case, referendums
are dependent on expensive media campaigns and commercial news coverage
with often trivial, controversy seeking, and superficial rhetoric.
Without a complete overhaul of the media system, like public opinion
polls, referendums are not appropriate mechanisms for wise policy
decisions. In short, the citizens’ assembly model works to produce
useful recommendations to government and like any legislative
commission or committee, should not be required to pass a referendum.

Beyond these two Citizens’ Assemblies on Electoral Reform, Canadians
have and continue to use similar random selection, educated and
deliberative citizen panels to inform various government decisions,
such as the newly starting Ontario Public Drug Programs Citizens’ Council, the ongoing independent Canada’s World project, or some of the many citizen dialogues conducted by the Canadian Policy Research Networks. Based in Toronto, a young firm called Mass LBP is aiming to make a business out of citizens’-assembly-inspired public consultation.

Internationally, many governments and non-government organizations
have conducted similar processes under many different names: Consensus
Conferences, Study Circles, Planning Cells, National Issues Forums,
21st Century Town Halls, Citizen Juries, and Citizen Panels (among
others). Each model varies in the number of members, the amount of time
given to education and deliberation, and the facilitation process, but
as Matt Leighninger of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium suggested at the BC When Citizens Decide conference,
“We should avoid ‘modelitis’ that focuses on the difference between
models rather than the similarities. The larger context is more
important then the specifics of the model.” That larger context most
importantly includes the political will of the government to listen to
recommendations from its citizens.

Looking to 2009, we will see elections in Canada, the Unites States of America, Germany, Mexico, India, Japan and over 50 other counties.
These politicians will all be facing such challenging issues as climate
change, public education reform, strains on health care, improving
child care, supporting minority rights, addressing aboriginal land
claims, fresh water protection, demographic shifts, sustainability and
development. When looking for direction on such complex issues, there
will be many that seek advice from business leaders and experts, some
that carry out traditional consultations with the usual suspects, but
only a courageous few that will take the political risk to champion
citizens’ assembly like process that will have actual influence based
on the deliberation of informed random citizens. These few pioneers
will be the examples for future democratic leaders and we should give
them our support.

You can learn more about deliberative democracy processes at the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation’s Learning Exchange.

Jason Diceman is a stakeholder engagement consultant with LURA Consulting and author of the popular Dotmocracy Handbook for large group decision-making.


Networks for Change

(Published on WorldChanging Canada. Thank you to the editor Mark Tovey for inviting me to join the writing team.)

There is no shortage of articles about how social networking sites like MySpace and FaceBook can be used to support grassroots and progressive campaigns and professional networking sites like Linkedin and XING can help you get connected in your sector, but what about the networking sites specifically created to support social and environmental causes?

Worldchanging has been covering this trend on an ongoing basis (see for instance, Idealist, Be Green, David Weinberger on Social Software), but there are enough new sites connecting people, organizations, and projects, that it seemed time for a round-up.

In this article, we examine some leading networking sites with an aim (and capacity) to succeed in helping people achieve real change in the world.

With 7.7 million members, Care2 is a green consumers' haven and social networking space. It has a wide range of features, including petitions, groups, blogs, e-cards, eco-shopping, click2donate, even online dating. The content focus is healthy, green, and ethical lifestyles, with an emphasis on animal rights. The discussion groups are popular, and the collaborative C2NN news portal is an impressive example of media democracy. Is it a vegetarian natural food store? Is it a revolutionary conference on the verge of coalescing an international movement for peace and sustainability? An interesting mix, and with this many members, a mix worth watching. is a multilingual international directory that lists over 126,000 members profiles and 70,700 organizations, helping to connect people with the right skills to opportunities at progressive organizations. That said, Canadian job seekers are better served by listings on The social networking is limited to creating a profile, sending messages to other members and using the brand new groups function, but it could be enough to connect the right people together to help nonprofits achieve their funders’ goals.

TakingITGlobal is a Canadian-born international community site with over 162,000 “young people interested in making a difference”. Note there is no user age limit and there are many users over 30. The fully multi-lingual site site provides excellent opportunities to share opinions, ideas, projects and experiences, through art, articles, discussions and newly added podcasts. Beyond connecting wired young change-makers, and informing them with educational resources, TIG lists over 1,600 financial opportunities in the form of awards, contests, grants, and scholarships. A similar US-focused youth site is, which encourages community projects.

New this summer is Razoo, a tagging-based community site where user can create, subscribe to, and interlink user defined causes, acts, goals, and discussion groups. With a membership of over 18,000 users making friends, taking actions together, and co-inspiring each other, this site could have the right ingredients to become an important tool for facilitating collaborative actions for achieving goals of change. is a similar user generated actions site but includes the linking of US politicians and Nonprofits who accept donations. A similar but less popular site USA only site (2people) has been discussed on Worldchanging before.

WiserEarth is another new site aiming to aid to build a community for positive change. Though it does not emphasize concrete actions the way does, or have the work opportunity listings of Idealist, it does provide an incredible listing of over 107,000 organizations around the world, and useful wikipages. With 5100 members after 5 months, if it gains a critical mass of active users, it has the right ingredients to become an important place to be.

There are a number of other sites that don't quite fit our theme, but are nevertheless worth mentioning:

  • The Orion Grassroots Network – a network not of people, but of organizations.
  • User generated green campaigns in the UK, via Greenvoice. The groups seem quite sparse and the most money raised for any campaign was 310 UK pounds. Its not clear how new the site is but the site founders have only been members for 5 months. Not a lot of uptake yet, but an interesting model.
  • The TEDsters and friends of TED have their own social networking (must be logged in to see users). No user blogs or groups, but a detailed profile and email link.
  • Change Everything – A VanCity sponsored project, focused on BC. People blog about about personal actions they are taking to support positive change. Not much detail in the profiles or other features. An interesting model.
  • Helpalot is “a social charity site that helps you find projects you can trust.” A 2006 school project from a Dutch grad student. It has yet to gain enough membership to make much impact, but this another kind of connecting for which there is clearly a need.

Finally, in a class by itself, we find Created by the Ontario based Centre for International Governance Innovation, is a networking and resource site for professionals who work on global issues and government policy. English speaking academics, consultants and bureaucrats meet here to share insights and citations on governance. The high profile institutions that act as content and community partners have seeded the membership with many Canadians and set the professionalism bar very high. Igloo is an ideal place to host a governance discussion forum, post your policy wonk blog, find reputable research papers, and search for potential collaborators to inform your public affairs related project.

Hopefully by now you're springing from your seat to tell us about the social networking sites for social change we've missed. We'd love to hear success stories in this space, what you're using, what's working. Please drop a comment below and share any new and promising spaces you know and love, how they work, and why.