This is the text portion of a presentation I was asked to give to a world builders group.


Daniel Wahl, among others has stressed the desirability of small, local systems, systems of government and economic systems, evoking the scaling that nature uses. Small systems have shorter feed back loops, increasing resiliency and enabling diversity. Smaller system are also easier to comprehend and monitor for unwanted behaviors.

Municipalities are a suitable unit to investigate. It helps to look at a city, not as the smallest, tertiary level of government, but as the largest comprehendable community.

Municipalities are fairly good at doing some things as they now operate. They do a fairly good job of building and maintaining infrastructure, operating police and fire departments, and running school systems.

What they aren't so good at is solving novel problems. Generally they are too hemmed in by their local "expertise": highly specialized planners, traffic engineers, 10 year plans, zoning boards, and the like. These limiting factors are the limits imposed by specialization, as pointed out by Fuller. Also playing a part is politics, a conflict resolution method that too quickly limits possible solutions to a binary choice, short circuiting the immense creativity of the Commons.

This is where governance by charrette comes into play. When the city council, by what ever name, is presented with or discerns a new problem, it convenes a gathering of apparent stake holders and experts: a charrette, an intense problem solving body. The charrette is free to further delinieate the problem, redefine it, restate it, and consequently modify the make up of the charrette, bringing in newly appropriate stake holders and experts.

Being a member of a charrette carries the responsibility of performing two related behaviors. The first, was well stated by Tom Chi in an earlier trim tab session on rapid prototyping. That is a move from attachment to a solution to committment to solving the problem. The second behavior, a refinement of the first is the members of the charrette learning that when they present an idea, a solution, a fact, or an opinion to the charrette, it is NO LONGER THEIRS, that opinion, view, or solution now belongs to the charrette. This allows two things to happen: the charrette is free to deal with the gift as it see fit, without affecting the giver, and it allows the presenter of the gift to open their mind to new ideas and new thoughts, rather than hanging on to something that is no longer theirs. (Tom Chi's other "movements" discussed in Rapid Prototyping can also be brought into play)

I have sat on three groups, or charrettes which operated under these principals, and we dealt with everything from what shall we serve at the next community meeting, to divorce and property settlements and tenant/landlord disputes. Unlike a political method where things proceed to a choice between two possibilities, and often a begrudging compromise, as much a lose/lose as it is a win/win, what happens in a consultative body is almost magic. As people present ideas, possible solutions, presenting views, things begin to happen, until suddenly someone says, "Hey, why don't we take some of A, and this from B, and this C that I just came up with, and solve it this way". Suddenly everybody looks at everybody, and everybody says, "well, of course, that's the way to do it". They have reached a consultative consensus. And a consensus is much easier implement than a compromise.

Yes, it is messy, but it is far more creative and generally reaches a better conclusion because there is far more intelligent participation in it. The next step is the municipality implementing the solution, fairly easily done due to Fullers concept of spontaneous cooperation, if it works well, people will do it. The municipality also has the responsiblity of promoting the solution, broadcasting it to other municipalities as there is a possibility that one of their charrettes may want to discuss it during their consultation.