Civic intelligence

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Civic intelligence is an "intelligence" that is devoted to addressing public or civic issues. The term has been applied to individuals and, more commonly, to collective bodies, like organizations, institutions, or societies.[1]

The concept[edit]

Civic intelligence is similar[1] to John Dewey's "cooperative intelligence" or the "democratic faith" that asserts that "each individual has something to contribute, and the value of each contribution can be assessed only as it entered into the final pooled intelligence constituted by the contributions of all".[2] Civic intelligence is implicitly invoked by the subtitle of Jared Diamond's 2004 book, Collapse: Why Some Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed[3] and to the question posed in Thomas Homer-Dixon's 2000 book Ingenuity Gap: How Can We Solve the Problems of the Future?[4] that suggests that civic intelligence will be needed if humankind is to stave off problems related to climate change and other potentially catastrophic occurrences. With these meanings, civic intelligence is less a phenomenon to be studied and more of a dynamic process or tool to be shaped and wielded.[1]

Robert Putnam, who is largely responsible for the widespread consideration of "social capital", has written that social innovation often occurs in response to social needs.[5] This certainly resonates with George Basalla's findings related to technological innovation,[6] which simultaneously facilitates and responds to social innovation. The concept of "civic intelligence," certainly an example of social innovation, is a response to a perceived need and the reception that it receives or doesn't receive will be in proportion to its perceived need by others.

Civic intelligence focuses on the role of civil society and the public for several reasons. At a minimum, the public's input is necessary to ratify important decisions made by business or government. Beyond that, however, civil society has originated and provided the leadership for a number of vital social movements. Any inquiry into the nature of civic intelligence must be collaborative and participatory. Civic intelligence is inherently multi-disciplinary and open-ended. Cognitive scientists address some of these issues in the study of "distributed cognition." Social scientists study aspects of it with their work on group dynamics, democratic theory, on social systems generally, and in many other subfields. The concept is important in business literature ("organizational learning") and in the study of "epistemic communities" (scientific research communities, notably).

No atlas of civic intelligence exists, yet the quantity and quality of examples worldwide is enormous. While a comprehensive "atlas" is not necessarily a goal, people are currently developing online resources to record at least some small percentage of these efforts. The rise in the number of transnational advocacy networks,[7] the coordinated worldwide demonstrations protesting the invasion of Iraq,[8] and the World Social Forums that provided "free space" for thousands of activists from around the world,[9] all support the idea that civic intelligence is growing. Although smaller in scope, efforts like the work of the Friends of Nature group to create a "Green Map" of Beijing are also notable.

The term[edit]

Like the term social capital, civic intelligence has been used independently by several people since the beginning of the 20th century. Although there has been little or no direct contact between the various authors, the different meanings associated with the term are generally complementary to each other.

The first usage identified was made in 1902 by Samuel T. Dutton, Superintendent of Teachers College Schools on the occasion of the dedication of the Horace Mann School when it noted that "increasing civic intelligence" is a "true purpose of education in this country." More recently, in 1985, David Matthews, president of the Kettering Foundation, wrote an article entitled Civic Intelligence in which he discussed the decline of civic engagement in the United States.

A still more recent version is Douglas Schuler's "Cultivating Society's Civic Intelligence: Patterns for a New 'World Brain'".[10] In Schuler's version, civic intelligence is applied to groups of people because that is the level where public opinion is formed and decisions are made or at least influenced. It applies to groups, formal or informal, who are working towards civic goals such as environmental amelioration or non-violence among people. This version is related to many other concepts that are currently receiving a great deal of attention including collective intelligence, distributed intelligence, participatory democracy, emergence, new social movements, collaborative problem-solving, and Web 2.0.

When Schuler developed the Liberating Voices[11] pattern language for communication revolution, he made civic intelligence the first of 136 patterns.[12]


  1. ^ a b c Schuler 2007
  2. ^ Dewey 1938
  3. ^ Diamond 2004
  4. ^ Homer-Dixon 2000
  5. ^ Putnam 2000
  6. ^ Basalla 1988
  7. ^ Keck & Sikkink 1998
  8. ^ Moore 2003
  9. ^ Sen et al. 2004
  10. ^ Schuler 2001
  11. ^ Schuler, Douglas (2008). Liberating Voices: A Pattern Language for Communication Revolution. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-69366-0.
  12. ^ Schuler, Douglas. "Civic Intelligence". Public Sphere Project. Retrieved 26 October 2015.


  • Basalla, G. (1988), The Evolution of Technology, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Dewey, John (April 3, 1937), "The Democratic Form", School and Society.
  • Diamond, Jared (2004), Collapse: Why Some Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, New York: Viking.
  • Dutton, S. (1902), "Dedication of the Horace Mann School", The Teachers College Record.
  • Homer-Dixon, T. (2000), Ingenuity Gap: How Can We Solve the Problems of the Future?, New York: Knopf.
  • Keck, M.; Sikkink, K (1998), Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
  • Matthews, David (November–December 1985), "Civic Intelligence", Social Education.
  • Moore, James F. (March 31, 2003), The Second Superpower Rears its Beautiful Head, retrieved 2007-12-14.
  • Putnam, Robert D. (2000), Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Schuler, Douglas (Summer 2001), "Cultivating Society's Civic Intelligence: Patterns for a New "World Brain" (PDF), Journal of Society, Information and Communication, 4 (2).
  • Schuler, Douglas (2007), "Civic Intelligence and the Public Sphere", in Tovey, Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace, Oakton, Virginia: Earth Intelligence Network, ISBN 978-0-9715661-6-3.
  • Schuler, Douglas (2008), Liberating Voices: A Pattern Language for Communication Revolution, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, ISBN 978-0-262-69366-0.
  • Sen, J.; Anand, Anita; Escobar, Arturo; Waterman, Peter, eds. (2004), World Social Forum: Challenging Empires, New Delhi, India: Viveka Foundation.
  • Wells, H.G. (1938), World Brain, London: Meuthuen & Co. Limited.