Victoria, B.C.: Wisdom Council launch


Richard Moore

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Grassroots group aims to affect policy

By Thomas Winterhoff
Oak Bay News
Victoria, B.C.
Feb 23 2007

Organizers want ordinary citizens to set country¹s political agenda

In many democratic societies, political leadership tends to come from the upper 
echelons of government and then gradually work its way down to the people most 
affected by subsequent decisions: ordinary citizens.

However, a group called Wise Democracy Victoria wants to turn that tradition on 
its head.

WDV spokesperson George Sranko says his organization wants to see more 
government policies originate at the grassroots level ­ not just from 
politicians, lobbyists or special interest groups.

³We think that (elected officials) aren¹t really representing us to the degree 
that we would like them to,² says Sranko He believes it¹s vital for voters to 
get involved in forms of democratic expression that go beyond just turning up at
the polling station every few years.

The primary mechanism adopted by WDV (and similar organizations in the United 
States, Germany and Austria) is the ³wisdom council².

The concept was developed by Jim Rough in Port Townsend, Washington, and will be
tested in Greater Victoria for the first time in March.

A small number of residents in a particular area are selected at random from the
phone book and invited to meet and talk about what issues are most important to 
them and their communities. Once those items have been identified, a written 
summary of the group¹s deliberations is compiled over the course of two days.

Twelve members of the original group are then chosen to form a wisdom council 
and lead a much larger public meeting, where their initial findings are 
distributed amongst their neighbours for further discussion.

³These people read their statements and talk about their experience,² explains 
Sranko, adding that it¹s such an ³interesting and energizing² process that the 
council members¹ enthusiasm soon rubs off on other residents. The process is 
similar to one used by the Citizens¹ Assembly, which was convened by the 
provincial government in 2004 to look into electoral reform in B.C.

Sranko says that after several wisdom council sessions have been completed (with
different participants each time), the outcome presents a fairly accurate and 
comprehensive survey of the specific concerns that resonate with residents of 
that community. The randomness of the selection process generally results in a 
group that reflects the prevailing demographics of that community, with 
representation from various backgrounds and age groups.

³It tends to work out amazingly well...² says Sranko. ³The goal is that we get a
bigger Œpublic conversation¹ about issues that are important to ordinary 

The members of Wise Democracy Victoria realize they won¹t transform Canada¹s 
political establishment overnight, but they believe the wisdom council model is 
an important forum to debate public policy at the grassroots level and 
ultimately influence the decisions of elected officials.

³We¹re very hopeful that (the two systems) would be complementary,² says Sranko.
³As soon as the statements that these people issue become part of the public 
conversation, then we¹re bringing the public agenda onto the floor to a larger 
degree ­ perhaps ­ than it had been.²

WDV¹s first wisdom council sessions are set for next month, with the public 
portion of the meetings scheduled for March 31. If it works here, says Sranko, 
the group hopes the idea will spread across the country.

³The neat thing about this process is that it¹s entirely citizen-led. We¹re just
an ordinary group of citizens who have taken the bull by the horns.²

© Copyright 2007 Oak Bay News

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