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2.17.2012

"The Demosophia Paradigm" by A.N.Christakis



The scientific revolution for the process of the dialogue started in the 1970s (Christakis, 1973). The new scientific paradigm has been called DEMOSOPHIA, which in Greek means the "wisdom of the people" (Christakis, 1993). The name implies a paradigm shift from "the power of the people", which is the Greek meaning of the word democracy, to the "wisdom of the people". The underlying premise of the new paradigm is that discovering the wisdom of the people is necessary if the people are expected to exercise their power. However, because of the escalating complexity of the contemporary societal situation, it is much more difficult today to uncover the wisdom of the people than it was two thousand and five hundred years ago during the golden era of the Athenian Republic.

In the early 70s a group of researchers working in a prominent research institute realized the importance of applying science to the challenge of reinventing the process of the dialogue. After conducting several experiments on complex tasks, such as using a group of experts to design a new city, they realized that a new "scientific paradigm" was needed if the experts from diverse disciplines were to engage in productive "interdisciplinary dialogue".

Dr. James Taylor, a social psychiatrist, was retained to observe the deliberations of the interdisciplinary team. Also, three other researchers, including the author, were asked to observe the team in order to determine whether any improvements could be made regarding interdisciplinary team effectiveness and communication.


One of the major findings of the researchers observing the deliberations of the team was that the rate of progress of the team was extremely slow. Each member would come to the interdisciplinary team meeting with proposals drafted during meetings that he held with other members of his discipline. For example, the economist would come prepared to present the results of an employment projection and distribution model for the population of the city. These proposals were based on a scientific model, and were drafted in collaboration with other economists during meetings which they held among themselves. The meetings involving only economists were very productive and effective. They were capable of translating the "mental models" of every participant into "a team mental model" representing the knowledge of their discipline.

The reason the dialogue among the team members belonging to any one specific discipline was very manageable and productive is that they used the scientific language of their particular discipline to communicate and agree on the recommendations to be submitted to the interdisciplinary team. The total breakdown in communications emerged during their efforts to engage in interdisciplinary dialogue in order to integrate the disciplinary contributions into a systemic design of the whole city.


The level of frustration among the various representatives of the disciplines in the interdisciplinary team meetings began to escalate. Some team members started to decline to participate in team meetings, or found excuses not to attend and sent another person to represent their discipline. The leader of the interdisciplinary team was changed three times, because selected leaders would resign from the position. As psychiatrist James Taylor wrote, after observing the deliberations of the team for over a year (Taylor, 1976): "... there appears to be a pressing, well- recognized need for a kind of social intervention, the interdisciplinary team which synthesizes knowledge in order to clarify complex problems. The promise of this social invention is clear, yet in fact no workable model has emerged. The question becomes obvious: why not? That has gone wrong in existing efforts to develop 'meaningful synthesis' of 'pertinent fields of knowledge'?"


Dr. Taylor and the other researchers observing the interdisciplinary team working on the design of a hypothetical city in the early 1970s realized that many other acute problems - certainly those confronting contemporary societies and organizations - could not be solved without the integration of knowledge and expertise originating from the different disciplines. However, without empowering the members of the interdisciplinary team to use rigorous and understandable language to communicate among them, just as each member was capable of practicing in meetings with people from their own discipline, the prospects of designing the hypothetical city were not good. This observation prompted the researchers to launch a long-range Research and Development program leading to the discovery of the DEMOSOPHIA paradigm.

It has been suggested that a shift to the new paradigm is inevitable (Christakis, 1993), because of the inability of organizations and the society as a whole to deal with the acute problems of today. It represents a paradigm shift from the democracy practiced over 2000 years ago in the Athenian Republic to the postmodern democracy advocated by leading scholars and management gurus today.


Brief Bio: 

Dr. Christakis has served on the faculties of Yale University, Georgetown University, University of Athens, and the University of Virginia. He also spent five years at George Mason University as the Director of the Center for Interactive Management. A keynote speaker at several international symposia, he is also the co-author of two books on "Technology Assessment," and the co-founder of the Club of Rome. He has published over 100 papers on the management of complexity in refereed journals. He serves on the Editorial Boards of Systems Research and Behavioral Sciences, Systems: Journal of Transdiscplinary Systems Science, and the Journal of Applied Systems Studies. He has received numerous awards and distinctions including the "DEMOSOPHIA Award," the "Creative Programming Award" from the National University Continuing Education Association, to name a few. He is currently serving as an Advisor to "The Technology of Social Systems Design," a new Certificate Program of the Saybrook Graduate School, and the Ambassadors Program of the Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO). He is also a Founding Board member of the Institute for the 21st Century Agoras. 

Notes:
Christakis A.N., A New Policy Science Paradigm, Futures, 5(6), 1973, pp. 543-558.
Christakis A.N., The Inevitability of Demosophia, [In:] A challenge for Systems Thinking: The Aegean Seminar, Loanna Tsivakou (ed.), University of the Aegean Press, Athens, Greece, 1993, pp. 187-197.
Taylor J.B., Building an interdisciplinary Team, [In:] Arnstein, S.R., and Christakis, A.N., (Ed.) Perspectives on Technology Assessment, Science and Technology Publishers, Jerusalem, Israel, 1976, pp. 45-63.

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