Today I had the pleasure of discussing Peter Block's Community: A structure of belonging with a group of students from UW-Madison, and my research colleague, Rob Asen. Rob wondered if Block was just a little too optimistic and that he didn't really allow for much deliberation in his model of community engagement. One perceptive student referred to a section on appreciating paradox, that Block was not suggesting that a community engaging in successful discourse had no room for disagreement. Rob mentioned "reasonable hostility" an idea proposed by Karen Tracy, who suggests that disagreement is productive, particularly since people tend to pay more attention when there is disagreement. In Who wants to deliberate--and why, Neblo et al argue that citizens are turned off by the adversarial nature of partisan politics; that they are interested in participating when political activity engages in deliberation. Groups like America Speaks or Everyday Democracy practice this deliberative form of engagement.
One interesting twist on the whole idea of solving the world's problems is presented by Jane McGonigal who argues that gamers are developing the skills (including the ability to collaborate) needed to address the complex issues facing the world today.