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My Talk With Tom Atlee: Primer on Citizen Intelligence

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On the left, asking these questions, Tom Atlee, co-founder of the Co-Intelligence Institute and author of The Tao of Democracy and more recently, Reflections on Evolutionary Activism. On the right, answering the questions, Robert Steele, modeling the kind of attitudes and ideas we really need in a President of the United States of America

1. What does your vision of "intelligence" have to do with dialogue and deliberation? What does it have to offer them and where do they fit in it? Does citizen deliberation play a role in creating intelligence? Say more...

Intelligence is decision-support, and good intelligence can greatly improve the quality of dialogue and deliberation. There is nothing secret about the intelligence process, and indeed we are finding that secret intelligence is not only often an oxymoron, it corrupts easily. If, however, we expand the process of intelligence out into participatory democracy, it consists of:

Requirements Definition: What do we as citizens need to know to make a decision?

Collection Management: How do we FIND, GET, BUY information we need, or TASK someone to do that for us?

Source Discovery & Validation: What is the source and/or reliability of each bit of information?

Multi-Source Fusion: How do we integrate all we can know in time and space and across cultural divides to permit useful objective analysis to take place?

Analysis: How do we visualize, evaluate, distill, and otherwise exploit information to shape a decision-support product useful to the decision facing the citizens being supported?

Presentation: How do we make both the results of our process, and the sources underlying the decision-support product, openly available for critical review and comment?

Feed-Back: What did we miss? What do we need to make it better, improve the process, or move on to the next step?

Where most groups fail, in my view, is in falling prey to the assumption that good intentions and deliberative dialog are sufficient. That is not how you achieve reality-based sustainable consensus, especially if you are trying to bring previously opposed groups together in some way.

However, if you can bring erstwhile opponents and/or randomly selected citizens together in ways that produce public policy options that make sense to all of them, that's brand-new collective intelligence [the outcome] rooted in public intelligence [the processed input] that can be both supportive for decision-makers, whether voters or officials, and a big part of nurturing accountability and transparency between government and the public.

2. Most citizen deliberative methodologies already have well-established ways of informing the citizens who participate in their approach as deliberators. What value added does your perspective bring to them? Do you have specific suggestions for improving their methodologies, or is it more a matter that your profession experience offers us knowledge (like your "process elements") to make us more aware of the dynamics of and issues in such decision-support, so that we end up paying more explicit and conscious attention to this aspect of our work?

With heart-felt respect for the dialog groups doing the best they can, I have found through indirect observation that most groups have a pre-conceived bias, an agenda, and they consequently attract both like-minded individuals, and information that is consistent with their bias. That is fine for nurturing a "base," it does not contribute to outreach, breaking down barriers, and revealing new possibilities for common cause. Engaging in dialog without data or diversity is a futile exercise in theater, not public democracy.

We are of course lucky to have practitioners and methodologies that go far beyond in-group agendas. Here I refer to the deliberation side of the practice, where citizen juries and wisdom councils and other forms of dynamic facilitation don't nurture a base but instead integrate random selection, often with stratified sampling to ensure a demographic microcosm of the population being sampled. They create briefing materials that represent the range of opinion, often assembled by adversaries on the issue. Data and diversity are what they excel in! There is a whole art and science there. And they have a long track record of bringing wildly different people together to find new "common sense" and "common cause". We need to do much more of this, as well as online engagement that brings together data, all those willing to dialog, and trained facilitators.

In the context of the existing practices in that field, it seems to me that both (a) application of the process elements described above and (b) broad civic participation in generating the information used in these forums would enhance what has already emerged. Everything I have written including my books for sale at Amazon, is free online at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog. My book, THE NEW CRAFT OF INTELLIGENCE: Personal, Public, & Political (OSS, 2002), also available in a short monograph version, includes a citizen intelligence primer as well as sample tables for creating a universe of sources that can be tapped. Diversity is the mother of innovation. It's not enough to mobilize and out-vote the other side, what is really needed is the mustering of a sufficiency of facts so that both sides can achieve consensus or a Non-Zero solution rather than a win-lose solution

Of course we must also confront the reality that national intelligence and the taxpayer revenue that goes into national intelligence is wasteful. Nothing now being done in the world of spies and secrecy is actually helping to restore our national prosperity and competitiveness, and most of what it does in the national security arena is making things worse (e.g. rendition for torture), not better. It's time we take that money away and apply it to education, public intelligence, and research...in my always humble opinion.

3. What role do ordinary citizens play in your vision of a more advanced democratic version of intelligence? What other players do you envision having roles -- journalism, academia, think-tanks, research centers, businesses, techies, etc.?

Whole Earth Review published an issue on Electronic Democracy in 1982. We are now ready to fulfill that vision. Digital Democracy is a myth--at least 80% of the Internet is devoted to pornography, mail, and search. I like the book on The Myth of Digital Democracy, and one of its charts showing this reality. In a true democracy, every citizen should have access to the ballot, to voting, and to the information needed to make an informed vote. Our current two-party tyranny makes a mockery of democracy, and is so corrupt as to demand a wholesale replacement of both parties with new parties and independents that are not subject to "party line" voting.

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Every individual, and every group, has a role to play, and those roles are changing. In the 1990's I conceptualized the eight tribes of intelligence: academia, civil society, commerce, government, law enforcement, media, military, and non-profit or non-governmental. Here is a chart that shows how they should be but are not creating an Information Commons for the benefit of all.

Clay Sharky is starting to look at journalism, and what can replace corporate "news hole" journalism--I like to emphasize both diversity of sources and openness of sources. As the Linux gurus like to say, if you put enough eyeballs on it, no bug (or lie) is invisible. What We the People lacked in the run-up to the war against Iraq, built on 935 documented lies, was a means of creating, sharing, and acting upon public intelligence in the public interest. That is my life's mission, to help any individual or group achieve the nirvana of a holistic education, access to intelligence, and an ability to do research on their own or help guide research by others.

What we are missing, and Medard Gabel and 22 others harmonized by myself have outlined a path for getting there, is a World Brain and Global Game in which all facts, including "true costs" of each good and service, are integrated and visible to all citizens, who are empowered to vote on every issue at every level. From Barry Carter to Yochai Benckler to Thomas Stewart to Alvin Toffler to Clay Sharkey, it is clear that we have the "cognitive surplus" to govern ourselves, keep governments and corporations honest, and create infinite real wealth for all.

4. What holds it all together? I mean you have all these players, and all these "process elements" -- it seems like it would be a chaotic mess without the kind of top-down management that is present in official intelligence agencies. Do you have ideas about software, or some nonprofit that tries to weave it all together, or just letting it self-organize at a higher level because the meme of "decision-support intelligence" and its accompanying know-how are slowly spreading and being applied in the culture at large?

At first I did not realize, during the past twenty years, that I have been going over ground that Buckminster Fuller and Russell Ackoff fully investigated. Also Jan Watkins from George Mason University.

INTEGRITY is the one word that keeps it all together. This is one reason I say that you cannot have smart honest spies in a dumb cheating nation. That is also why I have conceptualized a national administration structure that has three Vice Presidents, with the central one being responsible for education, intelligence, and research. More recently Dr. Kent Myers and others have published on Reflexive Practice and Systemic Inquiry--these must comprise the very heart and soul of our national education, intelligence, and research networks and enterprises.

Nothing else matters if we can infuse every person with integrity. Kevin Kelly and Howard Rheingold are both doing some work with the Amish, and I have been very impressed with the preliminary reports--the Amish use technology in the context of what technology does to them as a person and as a community. They are conscious in the Barbara Marx Hubbard sense of the word--they have achieved Integral Consciousness.

We are now in Epoch B and top down management is not only impossible, but counterproductive. Top-down unilateral decisions based on secrecy and focusing on the short term are OUT. Bottom-up multinational decisions based on open sources of information and taking the long-term Seventh Generation view are IN. We don't just need to return to Human Scale, we need to return to bottom-up consensus based on reality--facts versus ideological fantasies. This is where a great deal can be gotten from the work of Harrison Owen and his most prominent successor, Peggy Holman. YES, it would help to have an Open Source Agency as Congressman Rob Simmons (R-CT) and I conceptualized in THE SMART NATION ACT: Public Intelligence in the Public Interest (OSS, 2006), but that would only be a hub, a service of common concern to nurture a global to local distributed grid of totally autonomous but fully collaborative groups eager to share the burden of information collection, processing, and analysis across all domains.

I want to emphasize how impressed I am with David Weinberger's book, Everything Is Miscellaneous-The Power of the New Digital Disorder in part because he makes the point that by allowing all data to be "loose" we are enabling access to all data by all people, rather than the traditional stove-pipe or hoarding of data, and this in turn enables Panarchy, the opposite of anarchy, in which every person is a viable voting member of any or all associations to which they wish to contribute or belong.

The integration of data into dialog is key. Dialog without data is uninformed, data without dialog is irrelevant.

COMMENT by Tom: This is true. But in many forms of dialogue the people participating in the dialogue are the members of the system which is at issue. They are filled with data. The only problem is that those diverse co-creators and co-victims of the problem-field have not fully faced and dealt with the data possessed and embodied by the other members of the problem-field. The dialogue exposes them to each other's perspectives and data and, often, helps them find their way to a much bigger, more inclusive picture of the whole without any input of external data. Deliberation has a different center of gravity than dialogue, often involving people who previously knew little or nothing about the issue being deliberated. The amount and quality of information provided to them is extremely important, since it isn't part of their experience before. [Emphasis added.]

5. What is the role of spying in this? Are citizens going to be spying on each other?

I am a recovering spy, and bless you for understanding how I came to reject spying and strive to create the opposite of spying, public intelligence rich with multinational information-sharing and sense-making opportunities. The US Government spends $75 billion a year going on $90 billion a year on spying, and General Tony Zinni is on record as saying that this produces, "at best" 4% of what a major policy figure needs. I wrote my piece for CounterPunch on "Intelligence for the President--AND Everyone Else" in part to point out that the taxpayer is getting next to nothing for their investment in secret sources & methods, and there is so much more we can get by demanding national investments and attention to Open Source Intelligence (OSINT). We finally got a dedicated Open Source Agency (OSA) on pages 23 and 423 of the 9-11 Commission Report, but as with the Aspin-Brown Commission Report that demanded that OSINT be a top priority and a top recipient for funding, the intelligence bureaucracy ignores the need and carries on with business as usual--buying corporate vaporware.

It merits mention that the $12 billion per year we are about to spend on cyber-security is a complete scam on the public--I wrote about this in Homeland Security Today--simply another example of government spending tax revenues and going into debt for nothing useful.

I will tell you what I have told a series of Directors of National Intelligence (DNI) who evidently have not heard me: until we create a national open source or public intelligence grid and amply demonstrate what can be done by applying the intelligence process to legal and ethical sources of information in 183 languages we do not speak, we cannot possibly justify or remediate the $75-90 billion a year in fraud, waste, and abuse that we now call the US Intelligence Community.

6. Where do non-linear factors like creativity, imagination, scenario work, etc., fit in this "intelligence" picture? Do you see them as "decision support"? How so? Are massages and strong coffee for decision-makers "decision support"? Where do emergent/generative processes fit in this "intelligence" picture? The processes -- like Dynamic Facilitation, Open Space, World Cafe, etc. -- are designed to bring together people from all parts of a messy situation and help them dig down into the dissonance they're wallowing in and come out with whatever was trying to emerge to deal with it. They are less about information than about breakthroughs in perspective. Decision-support? Intelligence?

This is a hugely important question, and this is precisely where deliberative dialog shines on top of data, information, and intelligence--data is the raw fact; information is many facts brought together and suitable for broadcast, intelligence is decision-support: information deliberately collected, processed, and analyzed to produce an actionable perspective for an individual or group that is "deciding."

The sub-title of my latest book, INTELLIGENCE for EARTH: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity, & Sustainability (EIN, 2010) is intended to emphasize the human dynamics that cannot be replaced by any form of decision-support. As you know, having yourself been the inspiration for and a major contributor to the book COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace (EIN, 2008), I am an absolute believer in the importance of listening to the group and making it possible for every voice to be heard.

I would distinguish between education, intelligence, & research, which are support functions for the group, and deliberative dialog and the various means of facilitating group interaction. You are right, that can be messy, but that is also self-organizing and has its own magic.

Deliberative Dialog, in my personal view, excels when it first establishes the "best truth" and moves from there to generate new possibilities. Truth lays the foundation for reconciliation and wise public policy. Truth is the input, deliberative dialog is the process, and reconciliation and wise public policy are the outcomes. E Veritate Potens--From Truth, We the People Are Made Powerful.

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