Citizens’ juries can help fix democracy

Article by Martin Wolf: “…our democratic processes do not work very well. Adding referendums to elections does not solve the problem. But adding citizens’ assemblies might.

In his farewell address, George Washington warned against the spirit of faction. He argued that the “alternate domination of one faction over another . . . is itself a frightful despotism. But . . . The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual”. If one looks at the US today, that peril is evident. In current electoral politics, manipulation of the emotions of a rationally ill-informed electorate is the path to power. The outcome is likely to be rule by those with the greatest talent for demagogy.

Elections are necessary. But unbridled majoritarianism is a disaster. A successful liberal democracy requires constraining institutions: independent oversight over elections, an independent judiciary and an independent bureaucracy. But are they enough? No. In my book, The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism, I follow the Australian economist Nicholas Gruen in arguing for the addition of citizens’ assemblies or citizens’ juries. These would insert an important element of ancient Greek democracy into the parliamentary tradition.

There are two arguments for introducing sortition (lottery) into the political process. First, these assemblies would be more representative than professional politicians can ever be. Second, it would temper the impact of political campaigning, nowadays made more distorting by the arts of advertising and the algorithms of social media…(More)”.

Civic Participation in the Datafied Society

Introduction to Special Issue by Arne Hintz, Lina Dencik, Joanna Redden, Emiliano Trere: “As data collection and analysis are increasingly deployed for a variety of both commercial and public services, state–citizen relations are becoming infused by algorithmic and automated decision making. Yet as citizens, we have few possibilities to understand and intervene into the roll-out of data systems, and to participate in policy and decision making about uses of data and artificial intelligence (AI). This introductory article unpacks the nexus of datafication and participation, reviews some of the editors’ own research on this subject, and provides an overview of the contents of the Special Section “Civic Participation in the Datafied Society.”… (More)”.

Citizens’ Assemblies Could Be Democracy’s Best Hope

Article by Hugh Pope: “…According to the OECD, nearly 600 citizens’ assemblies had taken place globally by 2021, almost all in the preceding decade. The number has expanded exponentially since then. In addition to high-profile assemblies that take on major issues, like the one in Paris, they include small citizens’ juries making local planning decisions, experiments that mix elected politicians with citizens chosen by lot, and permanent chambers in city or community governance whose members are randomly selected, usually on an annual basis from the relevant population.

Sortition, also known as democracy by lot, has been used to randomly select citizens’ assemblies in the Philippines, Malawi and Mexico. Citizens’ assemblies were used in the U.S. in 2021 to debate the climate crisis in Washington state and to determine the fate of a fairground in Petaluma, California. Indeed, whereas few people had heard of a citizens’ assembly a few years ago, a late 2020 Pew Research poll found that in the U.S., Germany, France and Britain, three-quarters or more of respondents thought it either somewhat or very important for their countries to convene them.

Though a global phenomenon, the trend is finding the most traction in Europe. Citizens’ assemblies in Germany are “booming,” with over 60 in the past year alone, according to a German radio documentary. A headline in Britain’s Guardian newspaper wondered if they are “the Future of Democracy.” The Dutch newspaper Trouw suggested they may be “the way we can win back trust in politics.” And in France, an editorial in Le Monde called for a greater embrace of “this new way of exercising power and drawing on collective intelligence.”…(More)”.

The 2023 State of UserCentriCities

Report by UserCentricities: “Did you know that Rotterdam employs 25 service designers and a user-interface lab? That the property tax payment in Bratislava is reviewed and improved every year? That Ghent automatically offers school benefits to families in need, using data held by different levels of administration? That Madrid processed 70% of registrations in digital form in 2022, up from 23% in 2019? That Kyiv, despite the challenges of war, has continuously updated its city app adding new services daily for citizens in need, such as a map of bomb shelters and heating points? Based on data gathered from the UserCentriCities Dashboard, UserCentriCities launches The 2023 State of UserCentriCities: How Cities and Regions are Delivering Effective Services by Putting Citizens’ Needs at the Centre, an analysis of the performance of European cities and regions against 41 indicators inspired by The 2017 Tallinn Declaration on eGovernment.…(More)”.

German lawmakers mull creating first citizen assembly

APNews: “German lawmakers considered Wednesday whether to create the country’s first “citizen assembly’” to advise parliament on the issue of food and nutrition.

Germany’s three governing parties back the idea of appointing consultative bodies made up of members of the public selected through a lottery system who would discuss specific topics and provide nonbinding feedback to legislators. But opposition parties have rejected the idea, warning that such citizen assemblies risk undermining the primacy of parliament in Germany’s political system.

Baerbel Bas, the speaker of the lower house, or Bundestag, said that she views such bodies as a “bridge between citizens and politicians that can provide a fresh perspective and create new confidence in established institutions.”

“Everyone should be able to have a say,” Bas told daily Passauer Neue Presse. “We want to better reflect the diversity in our society.”

Environmental activists from the group Last Generation have campaigned for the creation of a citizen assembly to address issues surrounding climate change. However, the group argues that proposals drawn up by such a body should at the very least result in bills that lawmakers would then vote on.

Similar efforts to create citizen assemblies have taken place in other European countries such as Spain, Finland, Austria, Britain and Ireland…(More)”.

Deliberating Like a State: Locating Public Administration Within the Deliberative System

Paper by Rikki Dean: “Public administration is the largest part of the democratic state and a key consideration in understanding its legitimacy. Despite this, democratic theory is notoriously quiet about public administration. One exception is deliberative systems theories, which have recognized the importance of public administration and attempted to incorporate it within their orbit. This article examines how deliberative systems approaches have represented (a) the actors and institutions of public administration, (b) its mode of coordination, (c) its key legitimacy functions, (d) its legitimacy relationships, and (e) the possibilities for deliberative intervention. It argues that constructing public administration through the pre-existing conceptual categories of deliberative democracy, largely developed to explain the legitimacy of law-making, has led to some significant omissions and misunderstandings. The article redresses these issues by providing an expanded conceptualization of public administration, connected to the core concerns of deliberative and other democratic theories with democratic legitimacy and democratic reform…(More)”.

Is Participatory Budgeting Coming to a Local Government Near You?

Article by Elizabeth Daigneau:”.. It’s far from a new idea, and you’ve probably been reading about it for years, but participatory budgeting has slowly been growing since it was first introduced in the U.S. in Chicago in 2009. Many anticipate it is about to see a boom as billions of federal dollars continue to pour into local communities…

But with the influx to local communities of billions in federal dollars through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act, many experts think the time is ripe to adopt the tool.

“The stakes are high in restoring and rebuilding our nation’s crumbling civic, political and economic infrastructures,” wrote Hollie Russon Gilman and Lizbeth Lucero of New America’s Political Reform Program in a recent op-ed. “The long overdue improvements needed in America’s cities and countries call for remodeling how we govern and allocate federal funds across the country.”

ARPA dollars prompted the city of Cleveland to push for a participatory budgeting pilot. 

“Cleveland is a city that has one of the higher poverty rates for a city of their size in the United States. They have over 30 percent of their population living below the poverty line,” Kristania De Leon, co-executive director at the Participatory Budgeting Project, said on The Laura Flanders Show’s podcast last July. “So when they found out that they were getting American Rescue Plan Act funds allocated to their municipal government, they said, ‘Wait a minute, this is a huge influx of relatively flexible spending, where’s it going to go and who gets to have a say?’”

A community-led push culminated in a proposal by Cleveland Mayor Justin M. Bibb to the city council last year that $5 million in ARPA funds be allocated to pilot the first citywide participatory budgeting process in its history.

ARPA dollars also elicited Nashville’s city council to allocate $10 million this year to its participatory budgeting program, which is in its third year.

In general, there have been several high-profile participatory budgeting projects in the last year. 

Seattle’s project claims to be the biggest participatory budgeting process ever in the United States. The city council earmarked approximately $30 million in the 2021 budget to run a participatory budgeting process. The goal is to spend the money on initiatives that reduce police violence, reduce crime, and “creating true community safety through community-led safety programs and new investments.”

And in September, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced the launch of the first-ever citywide participatory budgeting process. The program builds on a 2021 project that engaged residents of the 33 neighborhoods hardest hit by Covid-19 in a $1.3 million participatory budgeting process. The new program invites all New Yorkers, ages 11 and up, to decide how to spend $5 million of mayoral expense funding to address local community needs citywide…(More)”.

Lisbon’s Citizens’ Council: Embedding Deliberation into Local Governance

Article by Mauricio Mejia: “Lisbon is joining cities like Paris, Bogota, and Milan in establishing new democratic institutions by convening Portugal’s first permanent Citizen Council. In April 2023, a new group of randomly selected citizens will deliberate on how to create a 15-minute city — one where citizens can easily access essential services such as education, health, commerce, culture, or green and leisure spaces.

Lisbon has taken the objective of reinforcing democracy seriously. Citizen participation is the first pillar of its Municipal Plan, intending to build “alternative mechanisms for democratic participation, capable of mobilising people’s knowledge.” To translate this into action, the City established its first Citizens’ Council, a decision-making body that is “representative of Lisbon’s population, while being impartial and independent from political parties.”

Lisbon’s Citizens’ Council is a microcosm of the city’s population

Anyone over 16 years of age who lives, studies, or works in Lisbon is eligible to become a member of the Citizens’ Council. For the first edition, the recruitment process consisted of two stages:

1. Voluntary enrolment to participate in the lottery. This process could be done online or at an in-person kiosk (Lojas Lisboa).

2. Random selection and stratification, using the following criteria: gender, age, academic qualifications, profession, area of residence, work or study, and level of political engagement.

Among the 2351 citizens enrolled, 50 citizens were randomly selected to form a microcosm of Lisbon’s population[i]:

Visual representation of the Council’s members by the gender, age and activity status criteria

Members were accompanied by an ecosystem of public servants, civil society stakeholders, academics, scientists, and experts to ensure deliberation was informed, facilitated, and objective. Participation in the Citizens’ Council was not remunerated, nor involved any financial incentives. However, members could request support to cover meals and transportation. The OECD suggests in its good practice principles for deliberative processes that participation should be encouraged through remuneration, coverage of expenses, and provision of childcare and eldercare…(More)”.

Reclaiming Participatory Governance

Book edited by Adrian Bua and Sonia Bussu: “…offers empirical and theoretical perspectives on how the relationship between social movements and state institutions is emerging and developing through new modes of participatory governance.

One of the most interesting political developments of the past decade has been the adoption by social movements of strategies seeking to change political institutions through participatory governance. These strategies have flourished in a variety of contexts, from anti-austerity and pro-social justice protests in Spain, to movements demanding climate transition and race equality in the UK and the USA, to constitutional reforms in Belgium and Iceland. The chief ambition and challenge of these new forms of participatory governance is to institutionalise the prefigurative politics and social justice values that inspired them in the first place, by mobilising the bureaucracy to respond to their claims for reforms and rights. The authors of this volume assess how participatory governance is being transformed and explore the impact of such changes, providing timely critical reflections on: the constraints imposed by cultural, economic and political power relations on these new empowered participatory spaces; the potential of this new “wave” of participatory democracy to reimagine the relationship between citizens and traditional institutions towards more radical democratic renewal; where and how these new democratisation efforts sit within the representative state; and how tensions between the different demands of lay citizens, organised civil society and public officials are being managed….(More)”.

The Role of Community Engagement in Urban Innovation Towards the Co-Creation of Smart Sustainable Cities

Paper by Bokolo Anthony Jr.: “One of the most recent topics in smart cities is community engagement which has been generally deliberated in both industrial and academic literature around the approaches and tools employed in urban environment. Accordingly, the purpose of this study is to advocate for community engagement as a key driver that supports the acquisition of knowledge and requirements needed for innovation and creativity towards achieving an equitable community for social sustainability. A semi-systematic review method is adopted to analyze 71 sources from Web of Science and Scopus databases. Secondary data from the literature is extracted and synthesized to provide narrative and descriptive analysis. Findings from this study presents a developed model that can support community engagement for urban innovation by specifying factors that influences community engagement for smart sustainable city development. The model enables citizens, policy makers, government, urban planners, academics, and enterprises in urban environment to connect, interact, engage, and co-create innovative services. More importantly findings from this research provides theoretical evidence on administrative and non-administrative stakeholder’s involvement towards co-creation of urban services towards smart sustainable cities. Furthermore, this study provides recommendation on how community engagement perspective involving different stakeholders can help to achieve resilient technological driven city by supporting sustainable development and ultimately actualizing a socially inclusive urban space…(More)”