Ahead of this Friday’s EACD Dialogue, Communication Director editor, Dee O’Sullivan, talks to Inge Wallage about the Deep Democracy model she will use to facilitate the discussion and the powerful benefits she believes it brings.


In our discussions and from reading your blog, your work has been transformed by your training in Deep Democracy. Could you outline the key concepts?

I got introduced to the philosophy of the Lewis Method of Deep Democracy a few years ago. It was developed in South Africa at the end of Apartheid as a set of pragmatic tools and processes based on Process Orientated Psychology. The aim was to help disparate and polarised groups have a deeper understanding and appreciation of one another in order to be able to grow and move forward together.

Essentially, it looks for the wisdom that lives within the whole group, embracing the minority whose voices are often overlooked or marginalised in decision-making. It is ‘deep’ democracy for this reason. Even in the most proportional democracies, the viewpoints of losing parties and their voters are often marginalised and excluded from the public debate and policy decisions. In the last few years, we have seen just how easily this can lead to unchecked polarisation and alienation among populations across much of the world.

Deep Democracy recognises that no one has a monopoly on the truth. By going deeper and challenging the resistance, conflict, fear and doubt which we all feel at times as individuals, both consciously and sub-consciously, and encounter in our organisations, we can uncover our commonalities, harness our vulnerabilities and have real co-operation. Addressing polarisation can be a powerful means to get through to one another, but it needs to be done safely and sensitively so the confrontation is not personalised, which are the techniques and approach that the Lewis Method of Deep Democracy provides.


How has it made a difference to your own working practices and approach to communications?

It’s beyond communications as it has so many lessons that we can apply to our understanding of how we interact, react and co-operate in our working and personal lives. It totally fits the journey I embarked upon when I set up The Butterfly Effect – strategies for transformation. I knew I wanted to use my years of experience as a change agent, combine it with my communications expertise to guide companies and organisations in their change processes. When I started this journey, I did not exactly know where it would take me. I just knew I did not necessarily want to continue to do the things that I had always done. I wanted to build on my experience as a communications professional and where appropriate use that, but I wanted to concentrate on change.

We all know good communication is a two-way process – dialogue over monologue – but listening has been lost a bit recently. Top-down management styles still largely prevail, but when true engagement (listening and learning from employees, partners and stakeholders) is enabled, although very resource intensive, it pays dividends in better workforce morale and performance. Deep Democracy facilitates real conversations and will hopefully enable us to have a richer discussion on Friday.

Ignoring conflict or trying to exclude ‘difficult’ people in an organisation is not viable long term. Conflicts unaddressed tend to spiral and removing ‘difficult’ people doesn’t stop others taking over the role. So, we need to embrace the challenge of learning from and defusing confrontation by harnessing the wisdom of everyone in the group.


In relation to this Friday’s EACD Dialogue, which you will be facilitating, what are you hoping the Deep Democracy approach will bring to the group discussion?

Neutrality is key, as a Deep Democracy facilitator; it’s not about me, it’s for the group to learn, as well as me. It is crucial to gather all viewpoints and the virtual setting allows multiple means to do that. Via the chatbox, for example, for those who don’t like to verbalise their opinions, or instant polling which we’ll launch to find out how people are managing during the corona crisis and how they’ve been affected.

Although Deep Democracy is usually applied in face-to-face meetings where human contact and energy are powerful forces to work with, I have been pleasantly surprised how well it still works in a virtual setting.