Jobs summit offers taste of deep democracy

Event creates space for people in the room to design new possibilities based on what they can do and existing community assets

Ben Wolfe Maryam Monsef 2016 Jobs Summit

The jobs summit hosted by Maryam Monsef, MP Peterborough-Kawartha on Thursday offered a taste of what could be called deep democracy. People in the room co-discovered existing assets in the community, imagined new possibilities and considered their own level of commitment to bringing something new into being.

At least six initiatives intended to increase jobs and enliven the local economy are the result. All were co-designed by people in the room. Each has a self-identified core team that will be taking ownership for moving it forward.

And those are only the formal, public results. Judging by the reverberating theme of gratitude for the new connections and friendships ignited, networks expanded and sense of community enlivened as the summit closed, who knows what else will ripple out.

With this summit, a form of democracy that goes far beyond casting one’s vote was made real and visible. A suggested term for it was deep democracy.

One way to think about deep democracy is that it’s a politics that sets the table with the power and freedom for citizens to create their own vision and then make it come true.

It is different than inviting citizen feedback or buy-in on existing initiatives.

The set of dialogues in the jobs summit offered a clear path for citizens to take in co-creating a vision and then making it real — beginning with connecting deeply with one another around shared intentions, all the way to voicing into the room what they would like or what they had to offer in order to actualize these new ideas.

“I’ve been waiting for this kind of thing for a long, long time,” Peterborough Ward 4 councilor Keith Riel said in closing. He suggested ways be found to have it happen quarterly or bi-annually.

Maryam said she is committed to hosting an annual jobs summit, and invited organizations interested to see gatherings of this kind occur more frequently to step up and partner in making that happen.

The success of this event sets the table very nicely for introducing the possibility of hosting a conversation of this depth and nature at a nationwide level, Maryam also said.

In addition to Maryam’s leadership, the summit could not have happened as it did — in an organic, thoughtful, yet structured and on-time way — without the tremendous energy and gifts of event co-ordinator and facilitator Jocasta Boone and her hosting team colleagues including Peter Pula, Ben Wolfe and Cheryl Lyon. Maryam also expressed deep gratitude to Lauren Hunter, her executive assistant, and the 100 plus participants for being “brave enough to jump in and try something different.”

A formal report on the summit will be released Feb. 15.


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  1. Good evening Michelle, as an M.A. graduate of political and democratic ethical thinking, I would like to know which form of deep democracy you are referring to? Do you have a particular theory you are referring to? Hope to hear from you soon.

  2. Peter Pula, Axiom News & Peterborough Dialogues

    Hi Paul, thanks for moving the dialogue along!

    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.

    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. It also works only one realm of democracy and citizenship – the formal political system. It doesn’t enliven our workplaces, neighbourhoods, associations, or families. These are all realms in which it might actually be MORE important for us to exercise deep democratic ways of being.

    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 to 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 (host and holder of Peterborough Dialogues) was 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.