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NCDD Commentary by Sandy Heierbacher

Driving Tom Atlee (or, Road Trip with a Visionary)
Submitted by Sandy Heierbacher, NCDD Convenor, on November 8, 2003.

I'm about to head off to Seattle for an Open Space gathering called the Practice of Peace, but I wanted to put something up about my recent road trip with Tom Atlee before I left. Many of you know who Tom is, but for those of you who don't, Tom is a member of NCDD's Steering Committee, and is well-known for his work with the Co-Intelligence Institute. CII has a resource-packed website ( and a large network of supporters.

Laura Chasin, Kathy Regan, Tom Atlee and Talia Inbar pose outside of the Public Conversations Project offices in Watertown, Ma.

Tom recently published a book called "The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World that Works for All." His recent work has focused on incorporating citizen-based dialogue and deliberation into democratic systems as feedback mechanisms and means for increasing the coherence of "We the People" as a living system. Tom has over 1000 people on his email list, and as one of his subscribers, I never cease to be amazed at the number, quality, length and intensity of the messages he sends out.

Carmen Siriani and Sandy Heierbacher outside of Au Bon Pain in Harvard Square.

Tom is based in Eugene, Oregon, so I was excited to learn about his trip to New England, initiated by a professor (NCDD member Len Krimerman) at the University of Connecticut who wanted to have Tom speak to his class. I offered to drive Tom around for a few days, accompanying him to meetings and presentations and getting to know him better in the process. Tom has such an inspiring intensity about him when he talks about dialogue and deliberation and its potential impact on our world; partly, I just wanted to see him in action and learn how he does it!

I don't have the time to go into detail about our various meetings, but I wanted to share a little bit about what we did that relates to dialogue and deliberation, and share some pictures from our visits.

Len Krimerman, Tom Atlee and Archon Fung outside of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

I met up with Tom in Boston in the afternoon of his second day in New England (September 30). That afternoon, we visited with Sherry Immediato at the Society for Organizational Learning (Peter Senge's organization). This meeting was mainly for me; I wanted to meet Sherry and explore with her how SoL may fit into the work of NCDD.

Next, we made our way over to Harvard's Kennedy School of Government to meet with Archon Fung. Also present at this meeting were NCDD members Carol Chetkovich, another a professor at the Kennedy School, and Len Krimerman. I already knew Archon and Carol, so I stayed quiet during this meeting so that Tom could get through all of the questions he had for Archon. Tom asked Archon about segments of his newest book, called Deepening Democracy: Institutional Innovations in Empowered Participatory Governance, as well as more personal questions about his hopes and goals for the impact of his work.

After this meeting, we had a quick visit with Tom Sander, Executive Director of the Kennedy School's Saguaro Seminar: Civic Engagement in America. The Saguaro Seminar has done pivotal work exploring why social capital matters in a society, and how some communities are able to develop healthy levels of social capital. The Seminar was inspired by Robert Putnam's book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.

Sandy Heierbacher, Sherry Immediato and Tom Atlee in a pink room at the Society for Organizational Learning.

The next day, Tom and I had a wonderful lunch meeting at the Public Conversations Project. Laura Chasin (PCP's Founder), Corky Roberts, Kathy Regan, Corky Becker and Talia ____ visited with us for well over an hour. Tom led a fascinating discussion with all of us about citizen deliberative councils, the need for reform in the foundation world, spiral dynamics and chaordic organizations.

Next, we went to Au Bon Pain in Harvard Square to meet with Carmen Sirianni, Co-Editor of the Civic Practices Network website and professor at Brandeis. He is also the co-author (with Lew Friedland) of a great book called Civic Innovations in America: Community Empowerment, Public Policy and the Movement for Civic Renewal.   This was my first time meeting Carmen, and I wasn't disappointed. We had a great talk about the overlap and nuances of the work that the three of us do, and an open discussion about our future plans and dreams and ways in which we may be able to collaborate to help increase the impact of our work.

Sandy, Ashley Johnson, Amy Malick, Tom and Molly Barratt at the Study Circles Resource Center.

The following morning, we drove to Storrs, Connecticut, and began our time at UConn with a brown bag lunch for the Philosophy Department (Tom was the guest speaker). We then drove over to Pomfret to visit with the good people at the Study Circles Resource Center. We met with a slew of people there, mainly to discuss co-intelligence and its implications for society. I got the opportunity to see Martha McCoy's new office and to meet some new staff members and visit with old friends, and Tom was given a boxful of SCRC publications.

Martha McCoy and Sandy Heierbacher post outside of the Study Circles Resource Center offices.

Back at UConn, Tom and I met with some staff members in the Honors program that evening for dinner (really delicious Chinese). The next day, I took a much-needed work/decompress day while Tom participated in a cross-disciplinary study group on "Participatory Democracy, Education, and Social Movements" and spoke to Len Krimerman's Rethinking Education and Democracy class.

The next morning, before driving home to Vermont (and dropping Tom off in Hartford, CT for the next leg of his trip), Tom and I were interviewed for Richard Sherman's UConn public affairs radio program “A Distant Shore.” Tom was kind enough to let me get a few words in during that interview (just kidding, Tom – kind of!).

Overall, it was a great week. Lots of fabulous meetings, inspiring conversations and opportunities to spark new relationships and rekindle not-so-new ones. But mostly, I was thrilled to have the chance to hear more about Tom's personal story, and to tell him about mine. Thanks, Tom, for a wonderful week!

Past Commentaries:

September 20, 2003:  Commentary by Cecile Andrews, author of The Circle of Simplicity, entitled "Simplicity Circles, NewsNite, and Grocery Line Activism: The Slacker's Guide to Dialogue for Social Change."

July 31, 2003:  Commentary by Libby and Len Traubman of San Mateo's highly respected Living Room Dialogue Group about the first Day of Global Arab Jewish Dialogue.

July 1, 2003: Commentary by Tom Atlee and Sandy Heierbacher entitled Declaring & Celebrating Our Interdependence. Outlines a variety of Interdependence Day celebrations and Declarations of Interdependence.

March 3, 2003:  Commentary by Sandy Heierbacher about her April 2003 trip to Seattle, during which she participated in Jim Rough's Dynamic Facilitation training and met with NCDD members Susan Partnow, John Spady and Vicki Robin.


Last Updated:  December 3, 2003.