Monthly Archives: December 2013

Deep Democracy

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Deep Democracy: Transforming Conflict into Collaboration

By Leah Snyder –  Mixed Bag Mag

Idle No More made Canadians more aware that there is some tough dialoguing to be done around the historical as well as the present day impact of broken treaties and residential schools. Many people have become entrenched around the issues of land and resources. As someone who writes about contemporary Canadian culture, including both Immigrant and Indigenous perspectives, I am interested in exploring how best to facilitate spaces of understanding between disparate positions which is why I was drawn to Design with Dialogue’s January event.

Deep Democracy is well…deep! Because of the complexity of the methodology the evening’s facilitator, Violetta Ilkiw, was only able skim the surface as to how it works. Violetta explained “facts don’t convince people.” If they did geopolitical spaces would easily shift to become more humane places.

So if facts don’t motivate people towards solutions what does? In a nutshell Deep Democracy is about emotionally moving people towards a place “where the polarities drop away momentarily”. DD is about arriving there to then sit with intent, hold that moment and use it as a way to bring us (safely) out of our entrenched positions. This is where I believe DD shows promise as a tool for facilitation – it understands the role that the dynamics of energy play and offers a methodology to shift the energy.

It sounds simple, and in a way it is. It has a lot to do with storytelling and having people share their own stories in order to find common ground – children, homeland, loss and abandonment. When storytelling is combined with the acknowledgement of the importance of energy dynamics, DD facilitators can work to move pain, trauma, and fear out of the body quite simply by moving the body. Subtle, unconscious, non-verbal cues are monitored by the facilitator and participants are encouraged to physically move during the sessions. One such exercise is the Soft Shoe Shuffle.

“involves a group standing around and someone makes a statement, typically in response to a powerful question put to the group. When someone makes the statement all other people either move towards that person if they agree with it, or move away from the person if they disagree with it…” (The Art of Hosting website)

During the exercise the participants may ‘shuffle’ back and forth between the person making the statement and someone else offering a counter argument. The purpose of the Soft Shoe Shuffle is to demonstrate that our positions are not fixed – we can be fluid and also truthful about how we feel. This fluidity allows us to understand our pliability around varying perspectives including those that arrive from inside ourselves.

Again, this may sound simple but when it comes to people taking a position out of emotion rather than making their decision based on facts you are dealing with individuals in a vulnerable state, perhaps feeling that if they show weakness in their convictions they are, in a way, internally threatening themselves. We are emotional beings often engaging in the world through our fears and desires – that’s a fact! If we can find a methodology of facilitation that accommodates this then there is power to move (emotional) mountains.


Sketchnotes by Charlotte Young

About the Session

Conflict is a common aspect of all our lives. Deep Democracy is a conceptual framework for analyzing group dynamics and conflict, and a set of methods for facilitating group interactions. In Deep Democracy, conflict is seen as an opportunity for growth and transformation.

The process of Deep Democracy values diverse leadership, bringing to the forefront voices that are not usually heard or can become lost in traditional decision-making models. The process focuses on the health and quality of participation – not just on how many people participate.

Deep Democracy training relies on building self-awareness, empathy and honesty. It is one of the few methods of facilitator training that focuses both on facilitator development and on tools and methods for facilitating conflict. The process helps us become stronger collaborative leaders, access the strength of any group, surface conflict and work toward more holistic community & group outcomes.

For January, the first event of the 2014 DwD series, we explored:

  • The basic principles of Deep Democracy
  • Ways and steps toward conflict resolution
  • Ways to explore conflict within ourselves
  • How to utilize these basic skills to ground ourselves as facilitators, in working with conflictual situations whether these are interpersonal, in small groups or in organizations.
Violetta Ilkiw brings 20+ years of facilitation experience, with a particular interest and focus on participatory multi-stakeholder processes. Her work is grounded in adult education principles, Art of Hosting & process design, and she is driven by a desire to see fundamental systemic shifts and change, ultimately resulting in healthier communities. Violetta has also acted as senior consultant to the Laidlaw Foundation for the past 14 years, and has been integral to bringing strategic vision, design, innovation and increased collaboration into the Foundation’s work with young people. Violetta is currently in the final year of a 3-year Masters in conflict facilitation and organizational change at the Process Work Institute in Portland, OR.