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Colombia has been in a state of civil war for more than 50 years. And this week they rejected peace.

The government in Bogota and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia had negotiated for over four years to deliver a comprehensive deal to end the conflict. The final stage of this process was a referendum on the deal, a public yes, no vote where there was only ever going to be one answer right?

Well by a margin of .42 per cent the people of Colombia rejected this deal in favour of the uncertainty that a “no” vote brings. And make no mistake that is exactly what this vote is; a vote for uncertainty, a vote for a plan B that no one has articulated. It is not so much a preference for an alterative but a complete rejection of the so far only viable option. Nobody knows what this will mean for Colombia much less what will happen next.

So why did this happen? Why would Colombians reject a deal that would see guerrillas hand in guns and give up drug trafficking? There aren’t any simple answers, but one of the issues appears to be complacency on the part of the Colombian government.

The government of President Juan Manuel Santos didn’t feel the need to sell the deal to the Colombian people. Figuring it to be a done deal they celebrated it’s signing and toasted its success before the crowd had its say. The deal was negotiated in secrecy in Havana and not thoroughly or properly explained to Colombians so for many of them, it was a choice between an uncertainty they have lived with for 52 years and a new reality with equal uncertainty.

This is a significant issue that faces all parties who engage in broad consultation and especially for participative democracy. Failure to engage with people and bring them along on a journey, explaining complex issues and involving them in decisions, will inevitably lead to a sense of alienation from the resultant decision and/or policy. It’s something we see all the time in domestic politics. A thought bubble that we agree with when first mentioned often turns into a policy we can’t recognise and something to which we feel no ownership or acceptance.

It’s why we often find ourselves nodding our head when politicians say we need to boost the minimum wage, or increase income for the middle class, or reform superannuation — but when weeks later they detail their plan to achieve just this, we feel a little apprehensive, sceptical and reluctant to accept it as our plan.

It’s imperative for government at all levels to ensure that they involve the crowd, consult with the public and develop a sense of ownership — otherwise they run the risk of reaching a point where they find themselves all alone, out on a limb wondering where their mandate went.

Originally published at on 8 October, 2016.

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Bruce Muirhead is the CEO of Eidos Institute and the Founder of — More Blogs here:

Mindhive | ex — Eidos, Boilerhouse, Basement, Margaret Marr | Speaker, Author | Bringing the shared economy to problem-solving #collectiveintelligence

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