Wisdom Council Process

September 14, 2020 Jaskiran Gakhal, Participedia Team
September 13, 2020 Rosa_Z
August 27, 2020 Rosa_Z
November 10, 2019 Jaskiran Gakhal, Participedia Team
November 10, 2019 Rosa_Z
June 29, 2018 Rosa_Z
April 17, 2018 Rosa_Z

The Wisdom Council Process is a method designed to creatively solve sensitive problems and strengthen community's self-organization and sense of responsibility in an inexpensive, understandable, and quick way.

Problems and Purpose

The Wisdom Council Process offers a relatively simple and inexpensive way to strengthen the self-organization and sense of responsibility among members of a larger system. In addition to being useful within community settings, [1] it also offers organizational applications. [2]

In both settings, Wisdom Councils are suitable for developing and implementing creative solutions to sensitive topics. In a community setting, it can additionally strengthen community members’ engagement with and understanding of participatory democracy. [4]

Origins and Development

The Wisdom Council Process was originally developed by U.S. consultant Jim Rough. [4] [5] The method has been further developed in the State of Vorarlberg, in Austria, by their Office of Future-Related Issues (Büro für Zukunftsfragen). Their adapted model is called a Bürgerrat, sometimes referred to in the feminine plural as BürgerInnenRäte. In English, this translates as Citizens' Councils or Civic Councils. 

Participant Recruitment and Selection

The original Wisdom Council design was for twelve randomly selected citizens.

While the original design is based on simple random selection, in Vorarlberg and elsewhere in Europe, the random selection process is carried out in a way that ensures that the mix of participants reflects the mix of the larger population. There have also been Councils with as many as 30 people, conducted in two separate groups which are then brought together at a later stage in the process.

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. [6]

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

The Wisdom Council Process has been a significant influence in the creation of the Bürgerrät model in Vorarlberg, which has been spreading in Austria and Germany due to its powerful and cost-effective results.

The typical outcomes of Wisdom Councils include a high energy level among participants, a strong sense of "we", a desire to take greater responsibility for addressing collective challenges, a greater appreciation of the complexity involved in public issues, along with a paradoxical sense of possibility. [7]

Analysis and Lessons Learned

The first Wisdom Council in the civic domain was in 2003 in Rogue Valley, Oregon. It was sponsored by a small handful of local citizen volunteers. Until that time, the founder of this method had thought that the process would need to be sponsored by governments to be successful, but was impressed by the value obtained through a purely citizen-led effort that still included expert facilitation.

Another community application took place in Port Townsend in 2005, with the members of a local food co-op who were experiencing internal strife.

The most extensive application in North America has been in the city of Victoria, where the process has been used a total of six times. The first three Councils used the original Wisdom Council format of beginning with a more open-ended question about improving collective well-being, while the next three used a slightly modified format called the Citizen Insight Council where the randomly-selected group focuses on a specific topic.

Despite the first example of the Rogue Valley Wisdom Council which was a grassroots effort, and a later attempt at such in Asheville, North Carolina, the most successful applications of the Wisdom Council model to date have been the Bürgerräte in Austria, which have all been sponsored by local governments.

Note: the Wisdom Council model has also been used successfully to catalyze organizational learning within business organizations such as Swisscom; and also within government departments. including the Department of Agriculture in Washington State. Yet as that is not the focus of this site, we will not delve into those applications further other than to simply mention them.

See Also

Dynamic Facilitation is the "operating system" of the Wisdom Council Process, since it creates psychological safety for divergent perspectives and thus evokes a high level of creative collaboration from participants.

The Vorarlberg Bürgerrät model has grown out of the Wisdom Council Process, and is one of the most successful applications of it to date.


[1] Hellrigl, M. & Lederer, M. (2014). Wisdom Councils im öffentlichen Bereich. In R. Zubizarreta and M. zur Bonsen (Eds.) Dynamic Facilitation: Die erfolgreiche Moderations-methode für schwierige und verfahrene Situationen: 150-162. Beltz Verlag. English translation at <>

[2] zur Bonsen, M. (2014). "Wisdom Council – der Rat der Weisen", in R. Zubizarreta and M. zur Bonsen (Eds.) Dynamic Facilitation: Die erfolgreiche Moderations-methode für schwierige und verfahrene Situationen. Beltz Verlag. 137-149 English translation at <> [retrieved 15 January 2016].

[3] Strele, M., Lüdeman, M, and Nanz, P. (2012). BürgerInnen-Räte in Österreich: Gemeinsames Forschungsprojekt des Lebensministeriums und des Büro für Zukunftsfragen. Ergebnisbericht zur begleitenden Evaluation. Original at <> [retrieved 15 August 2015]; English translation at <> [retrieved 15 August 2015].

[4] Rough, J. (2002). Society's Breakthrough: Releasing essential wisdom and virtue in all the people. 1st Books.

[5] Rough, J. (1995). The Wisdom Council. In K. Gozdz, (Ed.) Community building: renewing spirit and learning in business, pp. 154-163. New Leaders Press, Sterling & Stone.

[6] Zubizarreta, R. (2013). Co-creative dialogue for meeting practical challenges: New approaches, OD Practitioner, 45:1, 47-53.

[7] see [3] above.

External Links

Jim Rough's Center for Wise Democracy