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At the Small Planet Institute, we spread an empowering understanding of democracy as the wide dispersion of power, transparency in public affairs, and a culture of mutual accountability. We call it Living Democracy, as it enables each of us to act effectively on emerging solutions from electoral politics and economic life to the environment, hunger, agriculture, and beyond. Our vision is a future where all communities are thriving with dignity as Living Democracies, fulfilling our essential needs for personal power, meaning, and connection.


Living Democracy is not a finished state. It is a rewarding journey with clear direction, one based in evidence from diverse fields of inquiry as well as our own experience and observations of history. Together, they confirm that humans come “soft-wired” for cooperation, empathy, and fairness—all needed to realize a democratic way of life. At the same time, Living Democracy acknowledges our species’ anti- democratic weakness: our tendency to push blame onto those we perceive to be different.

Thus, at the Small Planet Institute we seek to further the social conditions enabling these positive aspects of our nature to flourish while keeping the negatives in check. We define three such conditions: the wide dispersion of power, transparency in public affairs, and a culture of mutual accountability rather than blaming. They bring forth our better selves, we believe, because they enable us to meet three essential human needs: for personal power (to know “we count”), meaning, and connection with others

When these needs are met across political, economic, and social dimensions of life, we experience dignity, the lifeblood of Living Democracy.


Living Democracy is thus the journey of fulfilling the social conditions essential to meeting our deepest needs.


Among Small Planet Institute’s biggest accomplishments are our books: Since 2001, we have released 10 books, including our newest, Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection for the America We Want. We have also contributed chapters to many other books. Both Frances and Anna have given hundreds of speeches at distinguished colleges and universities as well as Frances’ TEDxTalk and Anna’s ShiftCon keynote speech. They have also appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN.

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