Understanding how culture works is vital for the kind of movement building the GDProject envisions for growing democracy. As Benjamin Franklin sort of noted, the parts have to hang together in order for there to be a whole. Stand-alone Transformative Communities of Democratic Practice (TCs) would have very little chance to sustain themselves over time, or develop small dynamic cultures. 

We have drawn on current evolutionary thinking and Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel prize winning work in economics throughout the first chapter of the Workbook. Both of these approaches tell us that the power of selfishness is too great in the isolated small group context. 

Maximizing cooperation in small groups like the TCs calls for being part of dense and complex networks. This is one of Elinor Ostrom’s eight Core Design Principles, what she calls a polycentric network

Therefore, we see a Growing Democracy Network (GDN) to be a core element of the transformative approach we are proposing. It’s function would be to connect and integrate all of the TCs. It would play three essential roles:

  1. provide ongoing mutual support, training, and multi-group bonding for the TCs, 
  2. house a participatory management coordinating system, and
  3. serve as a participatory action research project for continuous development of transformative learning and culture-building practices and theory. 

We discuss the GDN’s supporting and connecting functions in the subsection on the TC, and also in chapter seven of the Workbook (where much revising is needed.) That chapter also focuses on the coordination of the project. 


For here let’s focus just on the Participatory Action Research (PAR) dimension of the GDNetwork. It addresses what is probably the biggest challenge in making democracy the dominant political force in our country. 

How so? 

To grow our democracy to the scale the GDProject is proposing would require a large-scale R&D endeavor as well as Transformative Learning programs for deepening the democratic practice of our citizens.

Let’s take a moment to understand this well.

Our democracy is buckling under the burden of its underdevelopment. This is happening in the midst of our global world spinning through waves of massive transition. Even though there is much we know about personal and system change, there is so much we do not know. 

In fact, our ignorance is such that we have to develop new ways of thinking to find out what it is that we need to know to do this job. This in itself calls for developing extraordinary focus of attention, skillful means, and perseverance, not to mention a passionate love of life. 

So we need to be scrambling at every level to figure out how to grow our democracy and love to new levels. Fortunately, PAR, like the community of practice, is a well-developed tool we can use to begin addressing this demand. Above all, it is an accessible practice for everyday citizens. Ph.Ds are not required to be a participatory action researcher. Not even BAs. 

Wikipedia captures how PAR is a distinctly participant-driven mode of research. To begin with, 

Participatory action research (PAR) is an approach to action research emphasizing participation and action by members of communities affected by that research. It seeks to understand the world by trying to change it, collaboratively and following reflection. PAR emphasizes collective inquiry and experimentation grounded in experience and social history. Within a PAR process, "communities of inquiry and action evolve and address questions and issues that are significant for those who participate as co-researchers". 

The entry goes on to spell what participants do:

PAR practitioners make a concerted effort to integrate three basic aspects of their work: participation (life in society and democracy), action (engagement with experience and history), and research (soundness in thought and the growth of knowledge). 

Further, these three aspects can interact in various ways, which makes way for flexibility and diversity in using the PAR tool:

The way each component is actually understood and the relative emphasis it receives varies nonetheless from one PAR theory and practice to another. This means that PAR is not a monolithic body of ideas and methods but rather a pluralistic orientation to knowledge making and social change.

All of this stands in contrast, but not in opposition, to mainstream research:

PAR contrasts with mainstream research methods, which emphasize controlled experimentation, statistical analysis, and reproducibility of findings. 

In a word, to grow our democracy to the scale the GDProject is proposing would require a large-scale R&D endeavor as well as an educational program for deepening the democratic practice of our citizens. PAR would be a major component of this endeavor.

Major components