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Peter Pula participates in an Open Space process during a community gathering he recently co-hosted in Peterborough, Ontario. (Photo: Ben Wolfe)

Living Into Deep Democracy

Deep democracy, as we refer to it, comes down to the basic idea that each one of us is inescapably responsible for creating, or trying to create, the workplace, community, society, economy, and political climate in which we live. That responsibility does not lie ‘elsewhere’ or with ‘them’ — it lies with us and how we interact and co-create.

  Acting in deep democracy means we include our participation in structural democracy and transcend it in our day to day affairs and citizenship.

It also differs, in our view, from structural democracy for example. Exercising our right to vote in a structural democracy means that we vote for representatives who are working within legal democratic structures and institutions to deliver peace, order and good government. While these methods are the best we have for managing a democratic political system they are only one facet of democracy — and are necessary. That being said, the act of voting in the western world is often an act of consumerism and even, of giving our power away. We do choose who to give that power to, so it is a democratic peaceful way to transition power.

It is a necessary component of democracy but it is not sufficient for full citizenship to take effect.
Hence deep democracy. Exercising deep democracy confronts each one of us with our power to create the world we live in, our gifts, the gifts of others and the creative and stressful tensions in between. Enacting deep democracy demands that each of us learns how to sense and stand up for what wants to be born through us and our relationships with fellow citizens and figure out the tricky bits of inter-personal tensions. Acting in deep democracy means we include our participation in structural democracy and transcend it in our day to day affairs and citizenship.
As to research and theory. The team at Axiom News was a long time awardee of Worldblu’s Democratic Workplaces for having experimented with workplace democracy. The informing theories of deep democracy as we refer to them include the work of Peter Keostenbaum and Peter Block, Social Capital Theory — Nan Lin in particular and our own experiments in workplace and organizational democracy and deep dialogue. The term deep democracy as we use it does not necessarily subscribe us to a prevailing theory or practice. Our practice has preceded our theory. We also know there are those out there with deeper theory (and practice) than us.

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Peter Pula's picture

Peter is the Founder of Axiom News. He has also founded and led a community newspaper and a corporate communications agency. He has served as a member and chairperson on the boards and committees of children's services, schools, municipal grants, arts, and local exchange organizations.

Peter led the discovery, founding, and practice of Generative Journalism as a healing and community art.

He has been invited to host workshops in Canada, Europe, and the United States on the practice of Generative Journalism, an open communications approach for emergent and constructive change in organizations, networks, and communities.

To bring dialogic and narrative arts together Peter and Axiom News initiated the Peterborough Dialogues in 2015. Over 150 deep dialogues, circles of trust, working circles, and summits have been held in Peterborough, Ontario to cultivate citizen-led community co-creation with beautiful results. The Peterborough Dialogues continues to be a rich practice field delivering up daily insights into the power of community convening.

Peter continues to integrate convening, journalism, and narrative arts practices to hold space for community to heal and for citizens to take the lead in creating the community of their dreams.

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“The future of journalism is to play a fundamental and important role in an ecology of community development works and capacities and professions,” says Peter Pula, founder of Axiom News and pioneer of Generative Journalism.

Peter is now co-leading a local initiative to bring citizen-led dialogue and community development in direct partnership with the media.

Awakening to healing and becoming whole In community

In 2015, the year Axiom News gave birth to the Peterborough Dialogues, over 100 gatherings were hosted. I was asked by an astounded colleague in Europe, why would anyone do that? Well, to know and to serve. That’s why.

We have become so remarkably accustomed to a form of leadership that comes from the top. Why? Well, because it is easier for everybody. It is easier for the leader because they can indulge in their narcissism. And, well, we want them to. You see, if they are shaping things according to their filters and persona then we can move in a direction that is embodied by the leader.

'We have very few better places to look for a new narrative than community'

One has to wonder if the results of the Brexit referendum are an answer to a question other than the one on the ballot. Being in inquiry most of my life I’ve had many, many experiences where the question asked isn’t quite the one answered.

I've been thinking about what is it I believe is the essence of hosting. Intention and Ownership — that makes all the difference.

As we create third spaces we also create spaces between spaces. Which seem to hold the most potential for life to thrive. Working within institutions and silos to create change seems, by contrast to working in the spaces in between, to be very, very limiting and difficult. Some of the same processes we have been using in institutions might be far better put to work, liberated even, by using them between institutions.

We’ve been at the centre of the story sharing and the interviews we do are each a gift. Maybe it’s time to share that gift.

Culture will eat strategy for lunch – and stories shape culture. This article, Building a Storytelling Culture, by Julie Dixon points out that most of us agree our organizations and communities should develop a storytelling culture but that knowing what to do about it is a bit dicier.