Wisdom Councils / Civic Councils

First Submitted By Lucy J Parry, Participedia Team

Most Recent Changes By Lucy J Parry, Participedia Team

The Wisdom Council or Civic Council offers a simple, inexpensive and rapid way to strengthen community members’ self-organization and sense of responsibility.

Problems and Purpose

The Wisdom Council or Civic Council offers a simple, inexpensive and rapid way to strengthen community members’ self-organization and sense of responsibility.

Wisdom Councils are suitable for:

     • the creative development and implementation of solutions to sensitive topics
     • to strengthen community members’ engagement with and understanding of participatory democracy

Origins and Development

The Wisdom Council was originally developed by U.S. consultant Jim Rough. The method has been developed further in the State of Vorarlberg, in Austria, by their Office of Future-Related Issues (Büro für Zukunftsfragen). 

Participant Recruitment and Selection

The Wisdom Council is composed of twelve randomly selected citizens. In Vorarlberg, for example, the random selection process is carried out in a way that ensures that the mix of participants reflects the mix of the larger population.

How it Works: Process, Interaction, and Decision-Making

In the two-day working phase, the participants identify topics of public interest in their environment and develop suggestions for improvement / solutions. They are supported by a moderator trained in Dynamic Facilitation, an approach designed to support creativity by creating psychological safety through deep and attentive listening.

The moderator supports participants in creatively developing collaborative solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems. The focus is on the group's self-organization dynamics. With the help of this empowerment approach and its focus on group energy, the process has been found in practice to produce good results with a favorable cost-benefit ratio.

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

This approach has been spreading in Austria, due to its powerful, cost-effective, and well-documented results. However, little information exists about in in English to date.

Analysis and Lessons Learned

Between the 32 different instances in Vorarlberg as of 2014, and the 24 non-Voralberg case studies on the website, this means that as of April 2018, there have been at least 56 different instances of this method being used. Kairos and the European Institute for Public Participation conducted an external evaluation of Civic Councils in Vorarlberg as of 2011. Anecdotal evidence is of mostly positive outcomes, which seems to be further evidenced by the method's growing popularity in Austria. Clearly, more research needs to be done; and more English-language translations of these growing numbers of case studies would be very helpful as well.

Since the assessment in 2011, there have been very significant projects utilizing Civic Councils. One of the most notable was in Mauthausen in 2013, as part of a larger participatory project at the site of a former concentration camp. A more recent Council was held in Voralberg in 2015 on the topic of the influx of refugees into the State. 

See Also


External Links


Much of this material has been translated from That site also contains 27 case studies using this method, yet only one case study on that site is currently available in English.

In May of 2014, a report was produced in Vorarlberg that summarizes the findings from 32 different instances in which this method had been applied in that State, prior to that date. Here are the beginnings of an English-language translation of that report: