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In 2002/3 John Jopling and I wrote

Gaian Democracies:

Redefining Globalisation and People-Power

This site introduces its key ideas and some associated topics


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Roy Madron 2005

Leading the Gaian Revolution: Commonsense for Desperate Times


Gaian Democracies: Redefining Globalisation & People-Power by Roy Madron & John Jopling

Roy Madron: Biography

Radio Interview with Jane Taylor, from Resonance FM

Email address: rm(at)

Key Propositions

  • Participatory change processes enhance the capacity of complex human systems to self-organise, by building ever more precise levels of shared understanding.
  • Participatory change processes enable people to thrive in a situation of constant open-ended change, building optimism and trust, commitment, confidence and competence.
  • Participatory change processes nurture future liberating leaders.


Command-and-control political leaders often claim that they are willing to consult the people they lead. They do so with a variety of techniques such as polls, surveys or focus groups, by running question and answer session at public meetings, receiving delegations or inviting written submissions to specific proposals. Other forms of consultation favoured by more progressive command-and-control leaders include Community Forums, Stakeholder Conferences, Community Planning and joint working parties. The agendas of these processes are usually closely controlled, responsibility for their design and implementation is usually delegated to relatively junior staff, their budgets are niggardly and their impact on core strategies virtually nil. Command-and-control leaders rarely, if ever, take part in them and invariably reserve the right to ignore or veto their outcomes if they are not to their liking.

In these circumstances, it is important to make a clear distinction between what are frequently - and revealingly - called ‘participation exercises’ and the kind of participative change processes that will be a core component of Gaian democracies. ‘Participation exercises’ rarely produce high levels of shared learning and understanding between the command-and-control leaders, their officials and technical professionals and the people who are lured into offering their contributions.

Liberating political leaders will devote major resources to participative change processes in terms of adequate budgets, high-level expertise and, crucially, their own presence and credibility. Moreover, participative change processes will be the principal means by which core-operating strategies are shaped and monitored by people-power, at every level from the neighbourhood to the society as a whole.

The central design principle of participative change processes is that they should use Paulo Freire’s concepts of liberating dialogues as the vehicles through which participants can use their own ways of speaking to articulate their shared understanding of how their world came to be like it is and how to act to change their future. By integrating participative change processes with soft-systems methodologies, the quality of the resultant shared understanding between the participants will be immensely enriched. In practical terms, participative change processes may take just a few hours, a few days or a day a week spread over several months. It could be an open-ended series of processes that go on for years. The number of participants can vary from a small team, to a few dozen to a few hundred, to a few thousand to a few tens of thousands, to - with the help of network and cable TV - hundreds of thousands.i Scale is an issue only in terms of the demands it makes on the skills and resources available to the liberating leaders who are responsible for initiating, supporting and sustaining the process.

In all effective participatory processes, the participants do a lot of work in small groups - very like Freire’s Culture Circles. The group-work is facilitated to ensure that everybody’s contribution is encouraged, heard and respected. A typical process might start with “What are the five most important things we want this process to achieve, for us, for our community, for our children?” The facilitation role is one that requires considerable skill. It may be rotated between the members of the group if they have sufficient confidence, trust and cohesion. Alternatively it may be best for the facilitator to be a skilled ‘outsider’ whose job it is to serve the group as a whole and not be concerned with making his or her own contribution or getting across a particular point of view.

A typical small-group session lasts about an hour. The general pattern of the process is for the outcomes of all the groups to be openly reviewed at a plenary session in which there are opportunities for further reflection and clarification. The plenary may then break up into another group session and the participants may go back to their original group, or they might randomly re-arrange themselves to form new groups. Different groups might call for specialist advice on some aspect of the system they are re-configuring. They might call for the production of additional data to clarify a particular issue. If the process is integrated with a soft-systems methodology, the groups might talk about and draw pictures of the systems or sub-systems that need to be changed.

In this way, as the participants think, act and learn together, their shared understanding of the existing situation, and of how to change it for the better, will become ever more precise. Whether there are fifty or five hundred or five thousand or five hundred thousand participants, liberating leaders will devote the time, skills and resources needed to ensure that the participative change processes arrive at good decisions. Such decisions will genuinely reflect the shared information and understanding of the direct participants and their fellow citizens.

At first, many people find such processes confusing and even chaotic. They seem to produce far more energy, information and ideas than can ever be contained and directed effectively. Margaret Wheatley addresses such worries as follows: “I have been in enough experiences with groups of people where we have generated so much information that it’s led us to despair and led us to deep confusion. I now know that that’s the place to be if you want to really be open to new thoughts, if you want to be totally open to a total reorganizing of your mental constructs or your mind maps, or whatever you want to call them. You can’t get there without going through this period of letting go and confusion. For somebody who’s been taught to be a good analytical thinker, this is always a very painful moment.”ii

As more and more Gaian citizens actively participate in re-configuring the systems on which the future of their society depends, instead of resisting change, they will positively welcome it. Because they stem from shared purposes and principles, the changes arising from participative change processes are usually more comprehensive, radical and sustainable than those which arise from the non-participative change strategies imposed by command-and-control leaders and their enforcers. Moreover, people-power ensures that the changes are implemented much more quickly, easily and economically. The implementation of the changes flows on from the participative process in a natural and unforced fashion.

Because they encourage dialogue, participative change processes are quite revealing for everyone involved. They provide a multitude of opportunities for citizens to demonstrate their potential as the kind of liberating leaders that Gaian democracies need. In effect their fellow-citizens will identify and encourage them because of the qualities, knowledge and skills they have shown when they were all thinking, acting and learning together.



Licenced under the Creative Commons regime



Roy Madron 2008