Fairer Democracy: Designing a Better Citizens’ Assembly

Press release by The Fannie and John Hertz Foundation: “Last winter, 80 residents of Washington State convened virtually to discuss the best ways for their state to tackle climate change. Their final recommendations were shared with state legislators, who are now considering some of the ideas in their policymaking. But the participants of the Washington Climate Assembly were neither climate experts nor politicians. Instead, they were randomly selected citizens from all walks of life, chosen carefully to reflect a range of demographics and views on climate change.

Such citizens’ assemblies are an increasingly popular way, around the world, of engaging average people in their democracies. But ensuring that participants are truly representative of society at large is a daunting analytical challenge. 

That’s where Bailey Flanigan, a Hertz Fellow and a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, comes in. Flanigan and colleagues at Carnegie Mellon and Harvard University have developed a new algorithm for selecting the participants in citizens’ assemblies, a process called sortition. The goal of their approach, she says, is to improve the fairness of sortition—and it’s already been published in Nature and used to select participants for dozens of assemblies, including the Washington Climate Assembly….

The researchers have made their algorithm, which they dubbed Panelot, available for public use, and Procaccia said it’s already been used in selecting more than 40 citizens’ assemblies. 

“It’s testament to the potential impact of work in this area that our algorithm has been enthusiastically adopted by so many organizations,” Flanigan said. “A lot of practitioners were using their own algorithms, and the idea that computer scientists can help centralize efforts to make sortition fairer and more transparent has started some exciting conversations.”…(More)”