Understanding the policy impact of Citizens’ Assemblies: a dispatch from Gdansk

Article by Adela Gąsiorowska: “Whilst Citizens’ Assemblies are spreading in practice, significant doubts remain about the extent to which they and similar processes actually influence public policies. My research investigates Poland’s first Citizens’ Assemblies, finding that although on the surface, they seemed to achieve a high level of policy impact, a closer look reveals a less clear-cut picture, and reasons to be cautious about the claims we can make about them.

The Gdansk Citizens Assemblies in 2016-17 were the first Citizens’ Assemblies organised in Poland and they led to popularisation of this participatory tool in other Polish cities. After Gdansk, nine more Citizens’ Assemblies were organised in seven different Polish municipalities. The Gdansk Assemblies are an interesting case study to analyse policy impact for two reasons. Firstly, sufficient time has elapsed to allow us to track the implementation of policy recommendations. Secondly, the president of the city claimed that the recommendations would be treated as binding.

Such a declaration could suggest that policy impact of the Gdansk Assemblies would be stronger than in case of other, non-binding assemblies. However, my research suggests that the general impact of these processes was in fact, limited for several reasons. In particular, not all their recommendations influenced public policies to the same extent, and the process was perceived by some of its participants as a tool for legitimating the decisions made by public officials…(More)”.

From Happiness Data to Economic Conclusions

Paper by Daniel J. Benjamin, Kristen Cooper, Ori Heffetz & Miles S. Kimball: “Happiness data—survey respondents’ self-reported well-being (SWB)—have become increasingly common in economics research, with recent calls to use them in policymaking. Researchers have used SWB data in novel ways, for example to learn about welfare or preferences when choice data are unavailable or difficult to interpret. Focusing on leading examples of this pioneering research, the first part of this review uses a simple theoretical framework to reverse-engineer some of the crucial assumptions that underlie existing applications. The second part discusses evidence bearing on these assumptions and provides practical advice to the agencies and institutions that generate SWB data, the researchers who use them, and the policymakers who may use the resulting research. While we advocate creative uses of SWB data in economics, we caution that their use in policy will likely require both additional data collection and further research to better understand the data…(More)”.

Evidence 2.0: The Next Era of Evidence-Based Policymaking

Interview with Nick Hart & Jason Saul: “One of the great—if largely unsung—bipartisan congressional acts of recent history was the passage in 2018 of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act. In essence, the “Evidence Act” codified the goal of using solid, consistent evidence as the basis for funding decisions on trillions of dollars of public money. Agencies use this data to decide on the most effective and most promising solutions for a vast array of issues, from early-childhood education to environmental protection.

Five years later, while most federal agencies have created fairly robust evidence bases, unlocking that evidence for practical use by decision makers remains challenging. One might argue that if Evidence 1.0 was focused on the production of evidence, then the next five years—let’s call it Evidence 2.0—will be focused on the effective use of that evidence. Now that evidence is readily available to policymakers, the question is, how can that data be standardized, aggregated, derived, applied, and used for predictive decision-making?…(More)”.

Hopes over fears: Can democratic deliberation increase positive emotions concerning the future?

Paper by S. Ahvenharju, M. Minkkinen, and F. Lalot: “Deliberative mini-publics have often been considered to be a potential way to promote future-oriented thinking. Still, thinking about the future can be hard as it can evoke negative emotions such as stress and anxiety. This article establishes why a more positive outlook towards the future can benefit long-term decision-making. Then, it explores whether and to what extent deliberative mini-publics can facilitate thinking about the future by moderating negative emotions and encouraging positive emotions. We analyzed an online mini-public held in the region of Satakunta, Finland, organized to involve the public in the drafting process of a regional plan extending until the year 2050. In addition to the standard practices related to mini-publics, the Citizens’ Assembly included an imaginary time travel exercise, Future Design, carried out with half of the participants. Our analysis makes use of both survey and qualitative data. We found that democratic deliberation can promote positive emotions, like hopefulness and compassion, and lessen negative emotions, such as fear and confusion, related to the future. There were, however, differences in how emotions developed in the various small groups. Interviews with participants shed further light onto how participants felt during the event and how their sentiments concerning the future changed…(More)”.

From Print to Pixels: The Changing Landscape of the Public Sphere in the Digital Age

Paper by Taha Yasseri: “This Mini Review explores the evolution of the public sphere in the digital age. The public sphere is a social space where individuals come together to exchange opinions, discuss public affairs, and engage in collective decision-making. It is considered a defining feature of modern democratic societies, allowing citizens to participate in public life and promoting transparency and accountability in the political process. This Mini Review discusses the changes and challenges faced by the public sphere in recent years, particularly with the advent of new communication technologies such as the Internet and social media. We highlight benefits such as a) increase in political participation, b) facilitation of collective action, c) real time spread of information, and d) democratization of information exchange; and harms such as a) increasing polarization of public discourse, b) the spread of misinformation, and c) the manipulation of public opinion by state and non-state actors. The discussion will conclude with an assessment of the digital age public sphere in established democracies like the US and the UK…(More)”.

Missing Persons: The Case of National AI Strategies

Article by Susan Ariel Aaronson and Adam Zable: “Policy makers should inform, consult and involve citizens as part of their efforts to data-driven technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI). Although many users rely on AI systems, they do not understand how these systems use their data to make predictions and recommendations that can affect their daily lives. Over time, if they see their data being misused, users may learn to distrust both the systems and how policy makers regulate them. This paper examines whether officials informed and consulted their citizens as they developed a key aspect of AI policy — national AI strategies. Building on a data set of 68 countries and the European Union, the authors used qualitative methods to examine whether, how and when governments engaged with their citizens on their AI strategies and whether they were responsive to public comment, concluding that policy makers are missing an opportunity to build trust in AI by not using this process to involve a broader cross-section of their constituents…(More)”.

Open Society Barometer: Can Democracy Deliver?

Open Society Foundation Report: “Between May and July of 2023, the Open Society Foundations commissioned a poll of more than 36,000 respondents from 30 countries to gauge the attitudes, concerns, and hopes of people in states with a collective population of over 5.5 billion—making it one of the largest studies of global public opinion on human rights and democracy over conducted.

The polling, conducted by Savanta as well as local vendors in Ukraine, surveyed participants on questions about democracy and human rights, major issues facing their countries and the world, and international governance.

The report, Open Society Barometer: Can Democracy Deliver?, finds that young people around the world hold the least faith in democracy of any age group.  

While the findings suggest that the concept of democracy remains widely popular, and a vast majority want to live in a democratic state, people cited a number of serious concerns that impact their daily life—from climate change to political violence or simply affording enough food to eat. At this critical turning point, the question becomes: can democracy deliver what people need most?…(More)”.

Artificial Intelligence, Climate Change and Innovative Democratic Governance

Paper by Florian Cortez: “This policy-oriented article explores the sustainability dimension of digitalisation and artificial intelligence (AI). While AI can contribute to halting climate change via targeted applications in specific domains, AI technology in general could also have detrimental effects for climate policy goals. Moreover, digitalisation and AI can have an indirect effect on climate policy via their impact on political processes. It will be argued that, if certain conditions are fulfilled, AI-facilitated digital tools could help with setting up frameworks for bottom-up citizen participation that could generate the legitimacy and popular buy-in required for speedy transformations needed to reach net zero such as radically revamping the energy infrastructure among other crucial elements of the green transition. This could help with ameliorating a potential dilemma of voice versus speed regarding the green transition. The article will further address the nexus between digital applications such as AI and climate justice. Finally, the article will consider whether innovative governance methods could instil new dynamism into the multi-level global climate regime, such as by facilitating interlinkages and integration between different levels. Before implementing innovative governance arrangements, it is crucial to assess whether they do not exacerbate old or even generate new inequalities of access and participation…(More)”

Satellite Internet Companies Could Help Break Authoritarianism

Article by In 2022, when Iran’s notorious “morality police” killed 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian Mahsa Amini, the act triggered nationwide protests around police brutality and women’s rights. The government tried to quell the unrest by shutting down mobile data communication and hampering the flow of information through social media channels. Iranian officials cut off Internet access entirely to Kurdistan.

With the first anniversary of her death in mid-September, the issue is still urgent. There were multiple protests all around the country. More than 200 people were confirmed arrested. There have been reports of shots fired by police. The Iranian government has increased Internet restrictions to stem protests and remembrances and to reduce interest in the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement Amini’s death sparked.

Internet access can be a matter of life or death under authoritarian leadership. When people lose Internet access, they lose freedom of thought, freedom of movement, freedom of knowledge and much more. In the face of shutdowns and government monitoring, access to satellite Internet can preserve both autonomy and freedoms. To preserve both democratic ideals and basic human rights, Western governments and nongovernmental organizations should incentivize and insist that satellite providers establish simple Internet access for people undergoing communications shutdowns.

During the unrest after Amini’s killing, protesters in Iran and their supporters elsewhere asked for help from Internet providers like Starlink, the low-Earth orbit satellite communications company. Owner Elon Musk had given the company’s services to Ukraine during the early days of the Russian invasion before asking the U.S government to reimburse him. To that end, the Biden administration announced negotiations with Musk about one year ago to provide Internet access for the Iranian people. Those talks do not seem to have yielded results.

That Internet access in Iran become a top priority in the wake of Amini’s death is not surprising. The Islamic Republic embraces new technologies when it can exercise complete control, and shuns them in others. As a journalist who has spent the past two decades covering science and technology in Iran, I have seen this firsthand. When I was a kid, owning a VCR player was a crime. Owning a fax machine required government approval. In 2009, during the Green Movement, I watched the government cut text messaging services for months, ban social media platforms, and monitor and record citizens’ communications to intimidate them.

The issue of Internet access extends well beyond Iran. According to Access Now, an Internet freedom advocacy group, 2021 alone saw 182 Internet shutdowns in 34 countries. According to Freedom House’s latest report on Internet freedom, out of the 70 countries the report assessed, only 17 are truly free based on criteria related to access, censorship and user rights. Unsurprisingly, these are mostly democracies…(More)”.

Supporting decision making with strategic foresight

OECD working paper: “… discusses strategic foresight initiatives and methodologies that support decision making and process design. It highlights case studies, international benchmarks, and best practices, as well as methodological recommendations and options for promoting the adoption and use of strategic foresight in government. The paper has four sections, each centred on a critical action to improve decision making through strategic foresight: (i) framing strategic foresight, (ii) building its fundamental components in governments, (iii) fine-tuning foresight interventions to specific contexts, and (iv) undertaking concrete activities to solve specific policy challenges. Given its exploratory nature, this working paper and its proposals should be seen as contributing to ongoing debates about the use of strategic foresight for decision making in government. The ultimate purpose of this paper is to help governments become more proactive and prospective…(More)”.