Paper by Vincent Jacquet et al: “This article explores the prospects of an increasingly debated democratic reform: assigning political offices by lot. While this idea is advocated by political theorists and politicians in favour of participatory and deliberative democracy, the article investigates the extent to which citizens and MPs actually endorse different variants of ‘sortition’. We test for differences among respondents’ social status, disaffection with elections and political ideology. Our findings suggest that MPs are largely opposed to sortitioning political offices when their decision-making power is more than consultative, although leftist MPs tend to be in favour of mixed assemblies (involving elected and sortitioned members). Among citizens, random selection seems to appeal above all to disaffected individuals with a lower social status. The article ends with a discussion of the political prospects of sortition being introduced as a democratic reform…(More).”
Essay by John S. Dryzek et al at Science: “Genome editing technologies provide vast possibilities for societal benefit, but also substantial risks and ethical challenges. Governance and regulation of such technologies have not kept pace in a systematic or internationally consistent manner, leaving a complex, uneven, and incomplete web of national and international regulation (1). How countries choose to regulate these emergent technologies matters not just locally, but globally, because the implications of technological developments do not stop at national boundaries. Practices deemed unacceptable in one country may find a more permissive home in another: not necessarily through national policy choice, but owing to a persistent national legal and regulatory void that enables “ethics dumping” (2)—for example, if those wanting to edit genes to “perfect” humans seek countries with little governance capacity. Just as human rights are generally recognized as a matter of global concern, so too should technologies that may impinge on the question of what it means to be human. Here we show how, as the global governance vacuum is filled, deliberation by a global citizens’ assembly should play a role, for legitimate and effective governance….(More)”.
The Economist: “In 403bc Athens decided to overhaul its institutions. A disastrous war with Sparta had shown that direct democracy, whereby adult male citizens voted on laws, was not enough to stop eloquent demagogues from getting what they wanted, and indeed from subverting democracy altogether. So a new body, chosen by lot, was set up to scrutinise the decisions of voters. It was called the nomothetai or “layers down of law” and it would be given the time to ponder difficult decisions, unmolested by silver-tongued orators and the schemes of ambitious politicians.
This ancient idea is back in vogue, and not before time. Around the world “citizens’ assemblies” and other deliberative groups are being created to consider questions that politicians have struggled to answer (see article). Over weeks or months, 100 or so citizens—picked at random, but with a view to creating a body reflective of the population as a whole in terms of gender, age, income and education—meet to discuss a divisive topic in a considered, careful way. Often they are paid for their time, to ensure that it is not just political wonks who sign up. At the end they present their recommendations to politicians. Before covid-19 these citizens met in conference centres in large cities where, by mingling over lunch-breaks, they discovered that the monsters who disagree with them turned out to be human after all. Now, as a result of the pandemic, they mostly gather on Zoom.
Citizens’ assemblies are often promoted as a way to reverse the decline in trust in democracy, which has been precipitous in most of the developed world over the past decade or so. Last year the majority of people polled in America, Britain, France and Australia—along with many other rich countries—felt that, regardless of which party wins an election, nothing really changes. Politicians, a common complaint runs, have no understanding of, or interest in, the lives and concerns of ordinary people.
Citizens’ assemblies can help remedy that. They are not a substitute for the everyday business of legislating, but a way to break the deadlock when politicians have tried to deal with important issues and failed. Ordinary people, it turns out, are quite reasonable. A large four-day deliberative experiment in America softened Republicans’ views on immigration; Democrats became less eager to raise the minimum wage. Even more strikingly, two 18-month-long citizens’ assemblies in Ireland showed that the country, despite its deep Catholic roots, was far more socially liberal than politicians had realised. Assemblies overwhelmingly recommended the legalisation of both same-sex marriage and abortion….(More)”.
Paper by Tamara Ehs, and Monika Mokre: “The yellow vest movement started in November 2018 and has formed the longest protest movement in France since 1945. The movement provoked different reactions of the French government—on the one hand, violence and repression; on the other hand, concessions. One of them was to provide a possibility for citizens’ participation by organizing the so-called “Grand Débat.” It was clear to all observers that this was less an attempt to further democracy in France than to calm down the protests of the yellow vests. Thus, it seemed doubtful from the beginning whether this form of participatory democracy could be understood as a real form of citizens’ deliberation, and in fact, several shortcomings with regard to procedure and participation were pointed out by theorists of deliberative democracy. The aim of this article is to analyze the Grand Débat with regard to its deliberative qualities and shortcomings….(More)”.
Sally Hussey at BangTheTable: “Last year, Sherry R. Arnstein’s “A Ladder of Citizen Participation” celebrated its 50th anniversary. Originally published in the Journal of American Planning Association (JAPA) and one of its most cited articles to date, the longevity and impact of Arnstein’s Ladder can be recognised in the emergence of 60 public participation models since its inception.
Yet, Arnstein’s vision from 50 years ago bridges decades in more ways than one. Not only through its dynamic iteration in the history of public engagement frameworks and practices. Indeed, it provides a foundation for many of the central concepts that shape public engagement research and practice today. For just as current public participation spectrums continue to engender the work of shifting power in public decision-making – central to Arnstein’s vision – they also open out onto theories, methods and ideas that exist between the spectra.
But the inception of Arnstein’s Ladder in 1969 coincided with a shift in focus of the role of ‘citizens’, or public, and the conception of ‘participation’. Published at a “major inflection point” in the United States, with the Civil Rights Revolution, Vietnam war protests, the devastation of urban renewal, urban riots (Watts Riots and Newark Riots, for instance) and the increasing awareness of global environmental and ecological disasters, it demarcates the shift in the activation of citizens. Outgoing JAPA editor, Professor of Community and Regional Planning, University of Texas, Austin, Sandra Rosenbloom recently notes: “One result of the tumultuous events and major societal changes challenging the country at that time was a greater focus on the role of citizens in determining their own destiny and that of the neighborhoods and communities in which they lived. Citizen participation became both a duty and a rallying cry, but one that Arnstein viewed with great scepticism.”
While, in some countries, terminology has evolved to address exclusivity and divisive categorisation in the shift to from ‘citizen participation’ to ‘public engagement’, the link to contemporaneous challenges is evident in the need for people to determine their own destiny – to have their say – cutting across major changes posed by Black Lives Matter, climate chaos and increasing inequity resulting from population densification and urbanisation – not to mention the coronavirus pandemic that, in forcing a reset, prioritises equity considerations for marginalised and other equity-seeking groups and renewed efforts at fortifying community resilience. With democracy in crisis, public participation, it can be argued, has again become a “rallying cry” as governments scramble to connect to a disconnected public and, in a wake-up call to correct the balance of widespread mistrust, strive towards transparency, increased trust and legitimisation of public decisions.
As democratic societies across the globe increasingly commit to collaborative governance, public participation has thereby emerged as a rich arena. This includes the “deliberative wave” that has gained ground since 2010 that seeks ongoing, continuous and open dialogue and engagement between the public and public decision-makers. The recent focus on democratic innovations as a result of increased digitisation, too, emphasises a concern for the deepening of public participation in decision-making, where inclusive online engagement is one of the ways in which governments can engage communities. For benefits of online public engagement include improved governance, greater social cohesion, informed decision-making, community ownership, better responsiveness and transparency as well as increasing legitimacy of public decision-making.
Grounded in the democratic notion that public decisions should be shaped by people and communities affected by those decisions, public participation models have emerged not only to better map engagement in practice and theory but to ensure that people can shape decisions that affect their everyday lives….(More)”.
Paper by Jaeyoon Song, Christoph Riedl and Thomas W. Malone: “Even though many people have found today’s commonly used videoconferencing systems very useful, these systems do not provide support for one of the most important aspects of in-person meetings: the ad hoc, private conversations that happen before, after, and during the breaks of scheduled events—the proverbial hallway conversations. Here we describe our design of a simple system, called Minglr, which supports this kind of interaction by facilitating the efficient matching of conversational partners. We also describe a study of this system’s use at the ACM Collective Intelligence 2020 virtual conference. Analysis of our survey and system log data provides evidence for the usefulness of this capability, showing, for example, that 86% of people who used the system successfully at the conference thought that future virtual conferences should include a tool with similar functionality. We expect similar functionality to be incorporated in other videoconferencing systems and to be useful for many other kinds of business and social meetings, thus increasing the desirability and feasibility of many kinds of remote work and socializing…(More).” See also https://minglr.info/
Nathan Heller at the New Yorker: “Imagine being a citizen of a diverse, wealthy, democratic nation filled with eager leaders. At least once a year—in autumn, say—it is your right and civic duty to go to the polls and vote. Imagine that, in your country, this act is held to be not just an important task but an essential one; the government was designed at every level on the premise of democratic choice. If nobody were to show up to vote on Election Day, the superstructure of the country would fall apart.
So you try to be responsible. You do your best to stay informed. When Election Day arrives, you make the choices that, as far as you can discern, are wisest for your nation. Then the results come with the morning news, and your heart sinks. In one race, the candidate you were most excited about, a reformer who promised to clean up a dysfunctional system, lost to the incumbent, who had an understanding with powerful organizations and ultra-wealthy donors. Another politician, whom you voted into office last time, has failed to deliver on her promises, instead making decisions in lockstep with her party and against the polls. She was reëlected, apparently with her party’s help. There is a notion, in your country, that the democratic structure guarantees a government by the people. And yet, when the votes are tallied, you feel that the process is set up to favor interests other than the people’s own.
What corrective routes are open? One might wish for pure direct democracy—no body of elected representatives, each citizen voting on every significant decision about policies, laws, and acts abroad. But this seems like a nightmare of majoritarian tyranny and procedural madness: How is anyone supposed to haggle about specifics and go through the dialogue that shapes constrained, durable laws? Another option is to focus on influencing the organizations and business interests that seem to shape political outcomes. But that approach, with its lobbyists making backroom deals, goes against the promise of democracy. Campaign-finance reform might clean up abuses. But it would do nothing to insure that a politician who ostensibly represents you will be receptive to hearing and acting on your thoughts….(More)”.
Paper by Jane Suiter, Lala Muradova, John Gastil and David M. Farrell: “This paper tests the possibility of embedding the benefits of minipublic deliberation within a wider voting public. We test whether a statement such as those derived from a Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR) can influence voters who did not participate in the pre‐referendum minipublic deliberation. This experiment was implemented in advance of the 2018 Irish referendum on blasphemy, one of a series of social‐moral referendums following the recommendations of a deliberative assembly. This is the first application of a CIR‐style voting aid in a real world minipublic and referendum outside of the US and also the first application to what is principally a moral question. We found that survey respondents exposed to information about the minipublic and its findings significantly increased their policy knowledge. Further, exposing respondents to minipublic statements in favour and against the policy measure increased their empathy for the other side of the policy debate….(More)”.
Paper by David Farrell et al: “Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly (CA) of 2016–18 was tasked with making recommendations on abortion. This paper shows that from the outset its members were in large part in favour of the liberalisation of abortion (though a fair proportion were undecided), that over the course of its deliberations the CA as a whole moved in a more liberal direction on the issue, but that its position was largely reflected in the subsequent referendum vote by the population as a whole….(More)”
Paper by Adrian Smith & Pedro Prieto Martín: “Digital platforms for urban democracy are analyzed in Madrid and Barcelona. These platforms permit citizens to debate urban issues with other citizens; to propose developments, plans, and policies for city authorities; and to influence how city budgets are spent. Contrasting with neoliberal assumptions about Smart Citizenship, the technopolitics discourse underpinning these developments recognizes that the technologies facilitating participation have themselves to be developed democratically. That is, technopolitical platforms are built and operate as open, commons-based processes for learning, reflection, and adaptation. These features prove vital to platform implementation consistent with aspirations for citizen engagement and activism….(More)”.