Collective Decision-Making

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Valerie Brown
Australian National University

Divided decision-making underlies the disrupted personal relationships, fragmented communities, atomized specializations, and compartmentalized organizations which have become standard in Western society. A potential antidote, a united holistic focus, is rejected as impractical. Yet to resolve any serious issue in any community for the long-term, the collective voices of individuals, community, experts and organisations working towards a shared goal, are required for a harmonious response to the disrupted social and natural environments of our time.


At both global and local scales, major changes in the world


Case studies of the different knowledge cultures involved in Western decision-making provided details of the ways decisions are made about the future. Individuals reflect on their own lived experience. Communities provide first-hand knowledge of the effects of change. Specialized knowledge is objective and reliable, within single frameworks. Organizational knowledge offers the political and administrative systems that can ensure the desired change. Holistic knowledge illuminates the essence or core purpose. Yet all of these are needed for mutual decisions towards a healthy, just and sustainable future (Brown 2006). Each knowledge culture was found to reject the contributions of the others. Individual knowledge is dismissed as anecdote, community knowledge as gossip, specialist knowledge as jargon, organisational knowledge as plotting, and holistic knowledge as airy-fairy. Yet all five knowledge cultures have to learn to accept each other's contribution if there is to be a constructive synthesis. A sustainable synthesis calls for commitment to respecting their individual contributions while strengthening their connections. This represents a fundamental change in the way we think. Tools found to assist in this transformational change include David Bohm's Rules of Dialogue, namely, maintain open communication, suspend judgment, separate inquiry and advocacy, clarify assumptions, listen to yourself, and remain open to the unexpected Bohm 1996). Concerted change requires all the knowledge cultures to join in the stages of open learning, as described by David Kolb: developing principles, defining parameters, designing for potential and doing and reviewing the new practice (Keen, Brown, and Dyball 2005). These suggested strategies for collective thinking were tested in three sites: an isolated desert town wanting a green town park, a tightly-packed beach-side suburb needing to control oceans of tourist waste, and an Indigenous community wishing to become self-supporting. Three years later, all had achieved their goals and established pathways for collective thinking.


Collective decision-making towards a humane sustainable future requires the following: 1. Commitment to synthesis: Individuals, community, specialists, and organisations reach a shared understanding on . 2. Collective learning: The knowledge cultures learn from one another, following the stages of Kolb's open learning cycle, . 3. Future-direction.: All parties work towards a shared ideal state. 4. Dialogue: All participants use Bohm’s rules of dialogue in all communication.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Divided decision making can disrupt personal relationships, fragment communities, and compartmentalize organizations. Resolving serious issues in communities for the long term, requires the collective voices of individuals, experts, organizations and creative thinkers. To work together constructively, people from diverse knowledge cultures need to accept the legitimacy of people from others. 

Pattern status: 
Information about introductory graphic: 
An ESAF 'Sangam' Meeting in progress in Kerala; jaimoan67. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.