Savoring Collaborative Intelligence: Report from the Civil Society Working Session

Our Pathway to Paris World Bank Working Session, held at the Civil Society Policy Forum on Wednesday, April 15, focused on the role of direct citizen participation in the global climate negotiations. For many reasons, direct citizen participation has been limited:

  1. One is there are already tens of thousands of people participating, representing interests, issues, places, solutions, grievances, and legal constructs.
  2. Another is that intergovernmental negotiations generally treat the interests of citizens and stakeholders as the province of their government officials. The sovereignty and political process of nations stand in for direct engagement.
  3. A third is that citizen participation is often equated to referenda, which are not always the best expression of the will of the people or the safest route to the policy that most benefits those voting.
  4. But a fourth, and perhaps most significant, is that we just don’t have a strong tradition of such engagement in multilateral negotiations.

Our working session produced powerful practical insights into the value of inclusive policy-making, stakeholder engagement, and outcomes that account for and embrace the complications of difference and variability.

Susanna Cafaro

Prof. Susanna Cafaro set the tone, discussing her vision of “supranational democracy”, whereby individual citizens and stakeholders participate as global citizens beyond the boundaries of their own national political systems. For Prof. Cafaro, this is a process of building, and each individual human being has a role to play in making our civics not only more active and engaged, but more global.

She called citizens, as individuals, “fundamental actors at the global level”, and observed that our institutions are not attuned to this reality. She characterized the Pathway to Paris project as a laboratory, and added that when you have individuals from more perspectives participating, you finally have a democratic space, between and among nations. A major concern driving the call for supranational democratic engagement is that national governments often fail to represent the real interests of their people.

Sarabeth Brockley

Prof. Cafaro was followed by Sarabeth Brockley, an experienced youth leader, returned Peace Corps volunteer, and participant in the global climate policy process. She now works with UN DESA (the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs) and the Adopt a Negotiator platform. Sarabeth made the very significant observation that each of us is a disaggregated data set, saying “That’s what we all are” and noting that the policy process doesn’t adequately consider this.

Access to the global process is one constraint on the treatment of this information. Where institutions look for macro-scale data, they often discount the value of direct stakeholder engagement. There are too many individuals to count every disaggregated data point relating to each activity of each individual, so such realities are examined more in demographic and macroeconomic trends than through the lens of individual experience.

The UN climate negotiating process fluctuates in its level of civil society participation: civil society constituencies are given status under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, but levels of access vary from conference to conference. During the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP), there might be room for 10,000, 20,000 or 30,000 civil society representatives, depending on the design of the specific COP.

Engagement becomes a technological and economic question. Systemic biases help to determine levels of access. There are barriers to entry. But each person can make choices about whether to continue to engage or to surrender to difficulties that are built into the process.

Bruce Parker

Bruce Parker, a Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteer, shared his experience of choosing not to surrender. By engaging the policy process, by working with others and forming a team, with the deliberate aim of building relationships with elected officials, his role as a citizen was transformed. No longer was citizenship simply a status; it was now a realm of possibility, a right, a power, a capability, and a way to achieve better outcomes for society and for the world.

Bruce is part of a network of thousands of volunteers, who have made the choice to band together to expand the reach and potential of their citizenship, to support each other’s efforts to ensure that democratic engagement means having real working relationships with their elected representatives. This changes what is possible, because voters and legislators are not guessing or prejudging each other’s character, but getting to know each other, and working to support each other’s better instincts and moral ambitions.

Jim Parks

Jim Parks, founder of the Parksonian Institute and an accomplished leader, investor, and executive coach, showed how what we see matters. When looking at a landscape of possibility, the degree to which your mind is able to see both variation and coordination can determine the degree to which your aims and aspirations are achievable.

Jim offered a simple, experiential example. On a sheet of paper, a series of words, and a question: How many times does the letter ‘F’ appear? Most people saw 3; in fact, there are 6. 75% of people in a given case study saw only 3, because their sensory/emotional brain discounted the ‘V’ sound in the word “of” as different from the ‘F’ sound.

But of course there are also more than 6: the letters B, R, E, and P, all contain the letter F in their form, and B and E contain it both right-side up and also up-side down. The lowercase q does as well, as does the lowercase g, and depending on the typeface, the lowercase t can be an upside down f. The exercise is interesting, because people can actually disagree about what is there and what is not there, right in front of them.

What qualifies as real, actual, present, observable? Who determines this? What are the ramifications of such a choice? All of these are potential areas of conflict, flowing from this exercise, and all of these come into the picture when we add competing view points to a discussion about policy.

What is the climate system? Can it be disrupted? If so, can we do it? If so, what responsibilities do we have? To whom? Does it matter if people are more significantly harmed than natural systems that affect people indirectly? To some people, that distinction matters a great deal. It’s not that all values are relative, but all views are relational. It matters a great deal what you can see, what you allow yourself to see.


In the room, there was a lot of interest in the problem of marginal excluded views and lived experience. We have to say “marginal excluded”, because marginal views might be less well thought of, or simply less commonly examined, but the issue was really the exclusion of certain views because they don’t reach into the spaces where the dominant thinking is determined. Entire communities, cultures, nations, can be excluded from consideration.

A fair question might be: can citizen engagement change this?

The first response, for many, would be: that depends on the powerful. Do people in power care enough to consider what “ordinary people” want them to consider? This is actually not a response to the question, but a description of the status quo: too often, the insights people have gained from experience are excluded simply because they don’t have the title, the political position, the accreditation, required to let them have a voice.

A second view, which seems upon relfection more honest, would be: citizen engagement immediately brings about this change.

Where citizens were not engaged, and now they are, the consciousness inherent in the discussion shifts. A missing interlocutor is now present; the dialogue is now dialogue not only between decision-makers, but rather between the realm of decision-making and the realm of those on whose behalf decisions are being made. This is a fundamental change.

In practice, there are complications, which is what leads decision-makers to seek to exclude those whose views they don’t understand or who might oppose them. But those complications can be deepened by exclusion. The first result of limiting people’s access to the realm of authority is that the realm of authority becomes less well informed. While this might appear to be “ease of use” to some decision-makers, there is a loss of capability, a loss of scope, a fog of lost resolution, that can create real problems.

So, can citizens of individual nations be actors on the global stage?

To understand the question, you have to first ask another: have we become accustomed to the idea that the global community is a space where there are no citizens, no constituents, no rights to direct participation?

Can it be that we have not carefully enough examined our own interactions with power to really see whether we have surrendered this ground? Can it be that we are not seeing all the occasions where there is a letter F, because we are being too literal about what it means to be engaged, about what global power structures should be, about the “efficiency” of adding voices to the mix? Does a false sense of expediency lead us to relegate our own views to the space of the marginal excluded?

Here, the question starts to change: aren’t we already, as Susanna says, “fundamental actors” in global policy, whether anyone recognizes it or not? What we do affects not only others, but the fabric of values and resources on which others’ possibilities depend. 

Saving what we savor

In Citizens’ Climate Lobby group start volunteer training workshops, we talk about the problematic split between what we seek to save and what we want to spend time savoring. If you don’t know what you savor in this world, it can become more difficult to figure out what you need to be doing to save those things you value and to prevent degradation, loss and damage. The reasons for your political action become blurred.

We brought this into the working session, and asked participants to think about their environmental, climate and political values in these terms. The three savored values that stood out were:

  1. the deep spiritual value of an indigenous people largely ignored by the outside world,
  2. the transformational experience of “global moms”—women working together from across the world to raise awareness about the impact of policy on their lives and the world around them
  3. and a young Brazilian delegate’s affection for working with people of diverse backgrounds and diverse viewpoints.

Respect difference, she said, spend time listening, and you can find that from these marginal excluded groups, or from people who have never had contact with the policy realm before, or in mapping out the scope of our own thinking, we discover applicable insights with more diversity, more reach, and more wisdom.

Not only were people there focused on savoring and saving the ecological value of a stable climate, but the unique ways in which diverse human intelligence makes us a more sustainable contributor to the landscape of natural life-support systems. A closing question: can our politics support this kind of thinking?


The supposed expediency of popular exclusion does not necessarily move good policy faster. The climate negotiations are a prime example: after 23 years, the UNFCCC has still not been fully implemented. Now, in 2015, there is great hope that a more inclusive process will result in 195 nations introducing comprehensive, measurable, effective climate response plans, enabling us to build a worldwide low-carbon economy, as had been intended in 1992. A major part of that hope is the increased level of popular civics going into the examination, adoption and implementation of solutions.

Governments are not left to make all the necessary choices on their own. By adding business, academics, civil society, communities, marginal groups, subnational governments, and many other constituencies, to the policy arena, the policy arena becomes more diverse, more vast, more capable.

The real outcome from the Pathway to Paris working session at the Civil Society Forum of the World Bank / IMF Spring Meetings was: together, we are more intelligent. With more viewpoints coming into the policy arena, our view of the landscape can achieve a higher resolution, take in more information, depict the realm of lived experience and human need more accurately. 

>>> Further Discussion 

After this working session, we added the following question to the IMF's discussion forum on Energy and Climate Policy: 

In the Pathway to Paris working session on April 15, during the Civil Society Policy Forum held as part of the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings, we heard from Prof. Susanna Cafaro that “Citizens are fundamental actors” on the global stage, though this is often not how we look at their role, and structures are designed not to recognize that role. Individuals are fundamental actors in all economic dynamics. Can we focus some attention on ways to use carbon pricing policy to build value in the lives of individuals, so their everyday economic activity becomes a driver of an efficient energy transition?

If you are a subscriber to the eLibrary, please log in and contribute your ideas to this discussion. If you are not, you can post comments here, and we will feed them into the ongoing IMF discussion forum. 

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