Notes from the Field

Bjarni S. Jonsson

Iceland National Assembly
by Bjarni S. Jonsson

A Short History from a Personal Perspective

jonssonEvery member of the organizing group, of the National Assembly, called the Anthill, has their own story to tell prior to the actual foundation of the group, since they had all been working one way or another towards some sort of a dialogue on a national scale. Here is my story of the background for the formation of the Anthill which then jointly pulled of a unique event; an assembly comprised of 1200 people randomly chosen from the Icelandic national registri, plus about 200 members of social organizations.

Ever since 2005, when I got acquainted with Dr. Don E. Beck and Spiral Dynamics, I have been studying the cultural elements within Iceland based on one of his tools; the Global Values Monitor. The company I work for, Capacent, is a large Nordic consulting house, with excellent capabilities in market and social research. Therefore, it was pretty straight forward to start researching the society based on a statistically significant sample. This was done in 2005, 2007 and 2009.

It became rather clear, that some major shifts were occurring in the vMEME profile within the society. The egocentric values systems (RED and ORANGE) were on the move with an alarming significance and the more socio centric (PURPLE , BLUE and GREEN) thinking systems were giving in.

At the time this was published the first time, no one really was that interested. In fact, some researchers within the University of Iceland maintained their research showed nothing was really changing. In 2007, the GVM showed a stronger move towards the RED/ORANGE. Still the only thing registered was that this would probably lead to increased tension within the society, especially between those who were becoming rich beyond any previous experience and the ones felt left behind.

In August 2008 we made a different study based on Richard Barrett’s work, where we measured the personal values against perceived current values within the society and desired values. The result was equally alarming showing a so called cultural entropy at 54% and zero alignment between personal, current and desired values. I presented these results to the authorities, which did not make much of it as previously. At that time, however, I was urging that a public dialogue be initiated where people would discuss values and values based approach to developing the society.

This was in September 2008.

In October 2008, all hell broke loose in the world financial system, affecting Iceland extremely hard. The nation was experiencing a major breakdown of the financial and economic system, which in fact, had in many ways been fuelled by the extreme imbalance in the vMEME profile as explained above. Shortly after this happened I received an email from Dr. Beck suggesting that Iceland started a Meshwork process to deal with the situation. However, he cautioned that “the key will be to turn the negative feelings, revenge factor, and blame game into positive efforts to design, collaborate, and literally shape the future”.

In early November 2008 I put a formal proposal for the Prime Minister to organize a National Assembly to discuss the basic foundation for Iceland resurrection referring to my research on values and thinking systems within Iceland. He was interested, but over his head in urgent matters so that the project was kept being postponed. In the end, the Government broke apart and after election a new government came to power, which put everything on hold. The situation was very much like described by Dr. Beck: “negative feelings, revenge factor and blame game”, and there was little space for positive collaboration.

In January 2009, 4 months into the crisis, we made yet another GVM test, showing very intersting results especially with regard to the Change State Indicator, but also from the point of view of direction of change in the vMEME profile. Understandably the GREEN was now on the move, whereas the BLUE was even more suppressed and the RED and ORANGE were now equals to GREEN. Not a very comforting result, I must say. In the prioritization, BLUE scored lowest by a margin. What was worrying was that the GREEN response to the crisis, could lead to the RED/ORANGE “coalition” taking hold of the situation again by “bullying” the lenient GREEN. We see signs of that already happening.

In May 2009, I again made attempts at the Employers’ Organization and the National Association of Labor Unions, that they would front an assembly where a random sample of the Nation would be invited to attend. The format of the meeting was more or less worked out, but funding was needed. I received, again, positive reaction, but not enough focus on behalf of the leadership of these associations, since they were occupied with the urgent matters at hand.

In March 2009, however, I had formed a group with two other persons, which came about as a result of our common interest in Spiral Dynamics. At that time, I had conducted large scale dialogue meetings for two of the major banks in their efforts to regenerate and recover from the collapse. These meetings ver involving all employees, each amounting to between 800 and 900 people. Thus, I had seen the large format dialogue working very well and had developed my ideas for a National Assembly quite a bit, based on that experience.

Soon, things started happening very fast. The two new Spiral friends, Maria Ellingsen, an actress and director and Larus Ymir Oskarsson, a film director, were extremely well connected but also experienced in producing complex events, so they immediately grasped the idea. Maria was especially well connected to other grass root organizations which had been making attempts for turning the negative to a positive collaboration and development. The efforts of these NGOs did not get much attention, because these organizations were tied to particular issues such as environment, sustainability etc. where their narrow focus was causing suspicion and even hostility.

In May things started moving mostly as a result of the great connector abilities of Maria, and In June 22nd, a meeting was called for by the Minister of Environment, where a group of people from different directions gathered and discovered that they all shared the same dream, i.e. to “turn the negative feelings, revenge factor, and blame game into positive efforts to design, collaborate, and literally shape the future”. These were people from all directions, but all very resourceful and with lot of contacts to further strengthen the backbone of the initiative. Right there and then, the so called Anthill was conceived. The name was chosen from a Collective Intelligence and Wisdom of the Crowd perspective. We found the similarity striking in an Anthill, which can move if threatened by e.g. a river, without any single ant realizing when, why or how.

In a short time this group united strongly around a common dream, a mission, to really make an impact in the social dialogue in Iceland. It made the group extremely cohesive and determined to follow through, despite profound differences in political beliefs and background.

Individual members of the Anthill also had connections with international experts within the group, such as Don Beck, Paul Hawken and Bruce LaRue, which freely provided their extensive and valuable insight and experience to a great benefit for the project.

The Anthill

The Anthill was in the beginning comprised of a minister, world renowned pop artist, well known entrepreneur in Iceland, consultant, Chairman of a specialized asset management company, university associate professor, actress and theater director and a film director. The group covered the spectrum from outspoken social activists to business people, with opinion ranging about 180°. All were powerful individuals with lots of capacities both professionally and mentally and big egoes, so there was no small task to keep this group together.

Early on, the Anthill discussed its own mission and set up a manifesto, inspired by Dr. Beck and Elza Maloouf in their Israel/Palestine initiative. The main points in the mission were following:

Through the National Assembly we will develope a national vision built on strong core values shared among the nation

We will…

  • Define main priorities for the future.
  • Create an experience which awakens a strong sense of unity, positive tension and hope for better times.
  • Harness the forces needed for revival and innovation.
  • Connect different but interrelated forces within the society.
  • Regain the trust of the international community by showing in real terms that the nation faces its current position and deals with it jointly in both a coherent and responsible manner…Harness the wisdom of the crowd through proven methodologies

We also defined our inner manifesto which described the shared philosophy behind the project:

  • Healthy and natural evolution of the Icelandic society is only possible through a concerted efforts and insight of the nation.
  • Through the National Assembly, we wish to harness these forces and bring the nation tools for a fresh start for recovery, based on shared core values and vision.
  • We contribute our work to the nation and the cause without asking for anything in return. We strongly emphasize that the National Assembly is and will always be an asset shared among the nation and that no individual or association can claim praise for its success.
  • We build on clear core values among ourselves to secure results, cohesion and sustainability.

It proved very important to set out mission and values in this manner, since we often had to remind ourselves of the core of our mission to get on with issues we had problems with. Having this strong mission and that no one had individual financial interest in the project, helped the group greatly live its values of integrity, equality and initiative. No one was the „leader“, but everyone took the lead automatically as required from time to time or as the task at hand required in terms of capacities, connections or experience. There was a high degree of mutual respect and trust which also resulted in the group being able to move forward despite decisions taken with some members absent from time to time.

These traits within the group were the key to being able to actually implement this huge project as a pure grass root phenomenon. Later on others joined as well, which were needed for their specific capabilities, and they automatically joined the strong culture which had evolved within the group, and became part of the dynamics.

The Assembly

The Icelandic society is at a turning point. New conditions call for re-evaluation of the basic balues upon which the society rests, as well as a clear vision for the future.

Based on these facts, the Iceland National Assembly 2009 (INA) was called for on November 14th, where the task was to take on these urgent matters. A statistically significant sample of the nation was invited to the meeting, sufficient in size to get up to 1500 people registered. The mission of the INA was to harness the collective insight and consciousness of the general public, which is hidden to each individual in isolation. The INA was a grassrot initiative done for the nation itself and given back as its joint asset. It was also secured, that those who hold the position of power within the nation would participate, although as individuals and Icelanders, and commit to take notice of the conclusion of the meeting. A group of those were invited as well to establish a sense of ownership as well.

The meeting was not a traditional presentation (speech) and discussion meeting like political assemblies, which have been held over the past few months, nor was it like the town meetings which also have been held on many occations. Instead, the participants were divided into groups which worked together in the course of the day. Strong and well trained facilitators managed each group to secure a set of ground rules and provide a sense of security on behalf of the participants.

The organization of the meeeting was following:

The room was divided into two main areas, each with 9 sub-areas each with 9 tables each with 9 participants. In fact, the number 9 was a key number in all of the meeting and through coincidence the number 9 came through over and over again: The Tables were 1,8 m. in diameter (cross-sum 9). The date of the meeting was 14112009 (cross-sum two times 9), distance between tables was 1,8 m. (cross –sum 9) and the original number of the Ants was 9 (just to name a few).

Each table had assigned a trained facilitator and an Area Manager was responsible for each area with 9 tables. The meeting was basically split in two halves as outlined below:

  1. Welcome to participants and overview of the task at hand.
  2. The first part of the meeting (morning) was then dedicated to the question: „What core values will be our guiding light in developing the society and what is the purpose and vision of the future society of Iceland? People brainstormed for ideas which were collected and grouped. Each table chose three most important categories and also made a vision statement for Iceland.
  3. Nine so-called Pillars were chosen by an expert panel to capture the priorities turned in during the morning session. The latter half of the meeting (afternoon) was dedicated to discussing these main pillars of the society such as welfare, health, law and order, education, business etc, and how those can be reenginered to better manifest the core values and aspirations defined in the first half of the meeting. In this part, the 9 areas each with 9 tables were specialized to discuss each pillar where participants brought along the results from each table during the morning session.15Kristin

Additionally, a definition of main priorities, objectives and tasks necessary to secure an effective roadmap for the desired changes and initiatives. The expectations brought from the meeting is that it will signal a new beginning in developing a new model which is designed for the challenges at hand and the evident paradigm shift we are experiencing in the history of our society. It is expected, that the meeting will furthermore spark further discussion and dialogue, which all point to the overall goal of developing the society on the terms of the nation and in a way as can serve it best.

The success of the meeting itself and the recovery following rests on particular elements, which is important to keep in ming: Harness the underlying grassroot forces already widely spread all over the society. To secure a flow between the past, present and the future to keep a strong thread from what we have built our success on so far and the changes necessary to face new challenges. Also to make up with the past in terms of things that have gone wrong. Think long term without forgetting, that the short term issues need focus to cope with the immediate difficulties the society finds itself in. To create strong connections between the various parts of the society such as public institutions, corporations, interest groups, political parties and professional groups and thus unite the power of diverse stakeholders. Last, but not least, it is strongly emphasized, that the conclusion will be followed up on through visible actions and changes. This will build on the ruling forces in the societies uniting to support the effort and facilitate necessary changes. Here we are referring to stakeholders like the Parliament, Government, interests groups and more.

Understandably, many are asking: “What now?”. There is a demand that the Anthill do something about the results. At the same time, the Anthill has stated, that it has served its purpose, and there is time for others to step in and use the results for further discussions and dialogue. However, from the beginning, a certain chain of event was thought through, which would be part of the INA initiative called 52 weeks of recovery, where each week „a visible stone will be put in the wall“. Through this chain of initiatives, it is hoped that widespread connections throughout the society will form to secure increased momentum both in dialoge and changes, where each and everyone feels accountable for doing whatever possible to further the cause. The main objective will always be that whatever happens will be the responsibility of the nation itself.

Conclusions from the Meeting

Some general conclusions were formed during the meeting and published the same day. The following word cloud shows the most important values chosen during the meeting:


As earlier stated, each table chose 3 priorities and out of thata 9 themes were developed which was the subject of themeeting in the afternoon. Here is a word cloud which shows the different priorities and the ones being the most common:


Below is the summary for each pillar which was published at the end of the meeting. All in all, about 30,000 different items were generated in forms of values, visionary ideas, action ideas and priorities. All of that has been registered in a databased and published on the website for the Assembly: . The database is open for everyone to study and is grouped by age groups, gender and place, so ideas can also be demographically studied. The conclusions for the pillars were the following:

Equal access to education, irrespective of income or social circumstances | Emphasis on financial literacy and how society functions | Emphasis on ethics in education | added regard for practical and vocational training | an educational system where individuals can thrive
Guaranteed housing for families | flexible and balanced working hours | a community that recognizes that the family is the cornerstone of society | access to extracurricular activities to be guaranteed in the same way that basic education is | respect for senior citizens | targeted measures against bullying and other abuse | a community that supports the bridging of the age gap | 12-month maternity leave
Strong welfare system utilizing proactive preventative measures | equal access to health care, irrespective of income or social circumstances | strong social safety net for young and old | personal home-care for seniors | support for minorities | improved support for youngsters with drug-related issues | free dental care
Sustainable use of our own resources and green energy | more support for innovation | diversity in the economy | protection of fishing grounds| fair distribution of fishing rights and fisheries management | improved business ethics | use of resources for the good of the Icelandic nation | strong knowledge-based society instead of reliance on heavy industry | research and innovation to create strong alternative industries | support for small businesses and agriculture | processing of raw materials domestically | adjustment of public policy to support hothouse farming and changes to quota system
Formulate non-partisan comprehensive policy with emphasis on sustainable utilization, nature conservation and education | transparent utilization of natural resources | Iceland to be leading in sustainable utilization of energy | eco-friendly public transport | nature and resources owned by the Icelandic nation! | be the first country to power all cars and ships with green, domestic energy
Sustainable use of all resources | independent in energy needs | increase education & training to reduce reliance on imported energy | sensible use of resources to benefit all Icelandic residents | formulate realistic plan for efficient and sustainable use of resources | temporary tax breaks to boost use of green energy | sustainability and consumer ethics taught in schools | long-term benefits for subsequent generations
For Iceland to become a model of peace and tolerance | optimistic, powerful, independent nation and well-run society | participation in international community while retaining ownership of resources | Iceland’s wealth lies in culture and arts | Iceland as part of the EU | more transparency and new constitution | take responsibility and learn from experiences | stand unified guided by optimism, integrity and hope | independent democracy, outside the EU | non-biased discussion about EU membership | a stable currency and free media | emphasis on innovation and creativity
Communal responsibility | honest welfare society with equal rights irrespective of gender or location | respect for human rights and rights of children | equal opportunity and wages for all | community free of prejudice and bias | equal treatment of individual debtors and professional investors | Iceland should be one constituency where votes have equal weight | freedom of expression and gender equality | everyone equal before the law
Public Administration
Transparency [this word was in just about every suggestion handed in] | democratic administration that is free of corruption resulting from strong monitoring and judicial system | public referendum on the EU | responsibility of public servants | no selling of public resources or taxing of future generations | real democracy and more election forms | constitution created by the people | strong judicial system and monitoring of public bodies | ethical public servants who protect the nation’s natural resources!! | simplification and greater efficiency | stricter penalties for sex offenders | genuine division of power between executive, judicial and legislative branches

Two interesting websites to further explore the subject, these have references to more content

About the Author

Bjarni S. Jonsson is a Management consultant and focuses primarily on large-scale systemic change. He is a partner at Capacent, a Nordic consulting firm with about 500 specialists in Denmark, Iceland Sweden and Finland. Bjarni is a Doctoral Candidate at the Adizes Graduate School in California, His doctoral research is on Prescriptive Diagnosis of Social Systems. His doctoral committee is chaired by Adizes faculty member, Dr. Bruce LaRue. He and Dr. Don E. Beck, also a committee member, and the Adizes faculty are mentoring Bjarni in his dissertation research. Bjarni is currently living in Iceland, is married with three children and one grandson. Prior to his current position as a partner within Capacent Iceland, he was CEO of Capacent Denmark.

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