Anticipatory Democracy (AD)

The term “Anticipatory Democracy” came from the seminal futurist Alvin Toffler, famous for his solution to what he considered to be “future shock”. Because Toffler considered anticipated changes to be so disruptive, he argued for large-scale citizen engagement in diagnosing change and influencing society.

As Bezold (2006) explains:

“The simplest definition of anticipatory democracy … is that it is a process for combining citizen participation with future consciousness” (Bezold, 1978 in Bezold, 2010).

Bezold “argued that representative government was the key political technology of the industrial era and that new forms must be invented in the face of the crushing decisional overload, or political future shock, that we faced.” (Bezold, 2006, p.39)

Anticipatory democracy (AD) developed in the 1970s in the United States. Bezold (1978) documented dozens of projects across the United States which engaged citizens, community leaders, business owners, religious, networks, community organizations, and policy makers in processes of formulating policy development and political direction in the context of emerging futures. Some of the processes would engage hundreds of citizens (in a few cases thousands) within a state or region, thus enacting a large scale participatory development of alternative futures and visions, which would leads to policy preferences and budget priorities in the style of participatory democracy.

But AD shouldn’t simply be seen as having purely US origins. Indeed, the development of the World Future Studies Federation in the late 1960s contained aspirations for democratizing knowledge and capacity in futures thinking. Eminent scholars and WFSF founders, such Robert Jungk with the development of future workshops (Jungk, 1987), Johan Galtung’s Transcend Method, and Fred Polak’s (1961) work, further developed by Elise Boulding (Boulding, 1978), provided impetus for citizen engagement in understanding and envisioning change and deliberating on new directions.

AD can be seen as part of a broader critique of representative democracy in the face of the rising social complexity that could not be absorbed or effectively addressed by representative systems of governance (Dator, 2007).

One of the key points of dynamism and challenge with a process such as this, is the deep diversity it engenders in the process. People with very different values come together in a public deliberation on futures. Tensions and conflicts are inevitable, or as Bezold argues:

“many individuals live within levels or memes that do not value those at other levels. Becoming conscious of these levels will be important for enhancing effective democracy.” (Bezold, 2006, p.49)

Bezold therefore argues that making AD work requires making values explicit through foresight tools and techniques that deal with social complexity, perception, values and worldviews (e.g. using Causal Layered Analysis, Integral Theory, etc.) And by using this processes, build common ground between participants for a shared vision.

On a more pragmatic basis, Baker’s analysis (Bezold, 2006, p.39) of success criteria for anticipatory democracy projects included the following important points:

  1. Obtain adequate funding ($100,000USD per year in the mid 1970s – or about $360,000 USD in 2005 dollars
  2. Face political realities
  3. Decide on the major research/goals topics early
  4. Build ties with the bureaucracy
  5. Design and implement a process that involves policy makers from the start;
  6. And present findings early and throughout the life of the process.


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