When voters pick representatives to engage in democracy, they hope they are picking people who will understand and respond to constituents’ needs. U.S. representatives have, on average, more than 700,000 constituents each, making this task more and more elusive, even with the best of intentions. Less than 40% of Americans are satisfied with their federal government.
Across Europe, South America, the Middle East and China, social movements have demanded better government – but gotten few real and lasting results, even in those places where governments were forced out.
In my work as a comparative political scientist working on democracy, citizenship and race, I’ve been researching democratic innovations in the past and present. In my new book, “The Crisis of Liberal Democracy and the Path Ahead: Alternatives to Political Representation and Capitalism,” I explore the idea that the problem might actually be democratic elections themselves.
My research shows that another approach – randomly selecting citizens to take turns governing – offers the promise of reinvigorating struggling democracies. That could make them more responsive to citizen needs and preferences, and less vulnerable to outside manipulation….
For local affairs, citizens can participate directly in local decisions. In Vermont, the first Tuesday of March is Town Meeting Day, a public holiday during which residents gather at town halls to debate and discuss any issue they wish.
In some Swiss cantons, townspeople meet once a year, in what are called Landsgemeinden, to elect public officials and discuss the budget.
For more than 30 years, communities around the world have involved average citizens in decisions about how to spend public money in a process called “participatory budgeting,” which involves public meetings and the participation of neighborhood associations. As many as 7,000 towns and cities allocate at least some of their money this way.
The Governance Lab, based at New York University, has taken crowd-sourcing to cities seeking creative solutions to some of their most pressing problems in a process best called “crowd-problem solving.” Rather than leaving problems to a handful of bureaucrats and experts, all the inhabitants of a community can participate in brainstorming ideas and selecting workable possibilities.
Digital technology makes it easier for larger groups of people to inform themselves about, and participate in, potential solutions to public problems. In the Polish harbor city of Gdansk, for instance, citizens were able to help choose ways to reduce the harm caused by flooding….(More)”.