Another flavor of “deliberative democracy”

An article regarding “participative budgeting” in Calgary makes good material for critical reading. Among other issues, random selection is mentioned:

It’s not enough to simply invite citizens to give input, she [Victoria councillor Lisa Helps] argued. The problem is that special-interest groups can too easily dominate the discussion.

Dan Doherty, a director with a non-profit called Wise Democracy, has already tested one possible solution.

In 2011, he was contracted by the city to build “citizens insight councils” tasked with giving input into the city’s official community planning process. He found participants through a random selection process.

By calling 60 people, selected randomly by address, Doherty found 24 willing participants who agreed to a half-day workshop.

“It gets at people whose voices are not usually heard,” said Doherty.

Following up on “Wise Democracy” yielded their website, with a table explaining how the Wise Democracy process is differentiated from other “deliberative democracy” processes.


Is anyone here familiar with the idea of plenarchy? This proposed political system apparently makes use of sortition. See–

FWIW, I am not personally very enamored with the fact that this system seems to place personal choice (a literal “social contract”) at its heart. I think it is a dangerous mistake to think that any political system could ever by voluntary (although I do believe that political system owe those who live under than an explanation for the way they handle things).

Criteria for a “good” legislative system?

I’d like to pose a question to everyone in this forum – what are your preferred criteria for a “good” legislative system?

The San Francisco Chronicle: Fishkin promoting a citizens advisory council

Lois Kazakoff, Chronicle Columnist, writes:

Concerned by California’s faltering government, a coalition of eight nonprofit good government groups conducted an experiment in June. They invited 435 Californians of every stripe from every corner of the state, from every political persuasion to spend three days in a Torrance hotel deliberating 30 proposals for government reform. The coalition raised $1 million to cover their travel costs.

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D.G. Martin: Replacing elections with lotteries

D.G. Martin, the host UNC-TV’s “North Carolina Bookwatch,” writes:

There has to be a better way.

Some of us reached that conclusion after discussing the mess our congressional and legislative governing systems have come to.


How could we find a system that frees our elective representatives from the servitude of full-time fundraising, from the draining of energy and spirit that go with permanent campaigns, and from the tribal commitments to political caucuses and parties? How could we free them from these things so they could spend full time working on legislation to make our state and nation better?

Somebody asked, what about a lottery? Why not just select our representatives by lottery?

That suggestion sounded like a joke. At first.
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How to design a democratic legislative system – order of questions

I think it will help us, and could help many other people, to have a useful order of questions for designing a democratic legislative system. I’m not saying “the right order of questions,” or even “the most useful order” – only “a useful order.” I’m also not suggesting that we should follow this order in our conversations. Instead, I think it could act as a useful reference point for those times when someone says, “Wait a minute – it’s premature to talk about x before we’ve settled y.”

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  1. Criteria – What criteria should define a “democratic” and “good” legislative system?
  2. Categories of actors – Which broad categories of actors (e.g. all the people, allotted representatives, elected representatives, all-purpose versus limited-purpose representatives, staff) should play important roles in the legislative process? What roles should they play?
  3. Activities – What are the main activities that must (or should?) be carried out in a democratic legislative process, and in what order? In some cases order will matter, in others it won’t.
  4. Bodies and offices – Which specific bodies and offices (e.g. allotted chamber, single issue panels) should carry out each activity, playing what roles?
  5. Processes – What processes should be used for each activity?

What do you think? I look forward to your ideas, and I’m hoping that maybe together we can create a simple structure that will not only help us, but many others as well.

Democracy and Social Justice

The new special issue of the journal Studies in Social Justice may be of interest to this forum, although only one of the papers (my own) is specifically on sortition. Full text freely available on line.


Guest Editor: Bob Brecher


Introduction: Democracy and Social Justice, Bob Brecher


Property, Propriety and Democracy, Mark Devenney
Jürgen Habermas and Bush’s Neoconservatives: Too Close for Comfort?, Vivienne Matthies-Boon
Inclusion and Participation: Working with the Tensions, Gideon Calder
The Two Sides of the Representative Coin, Keith Sutherland
The Dilemma of Democracy: Collusion and the State of Exception, Mark McGovern
Derrida, Democracy and Violence, Nick Mansfield

Guardians of the future

Green ‘super jury’ idea proposed to protect the future environment
by ClickGreen staff

A new report has been launched proposing the creation of a green ‘super jury’ of ordinary people to act as guardians for the country’s future.

The ‘Guardians of the Future’ report by University of East Anglia philosopher Dr Rupert Read calls for radical constitutional reform to safeguard the basic needs of future generations.

He proposes that a council of randomly picked members of the public, like a jury, should be placed above the House of Lords to oversee all government decisions – with the power of veto to stop legislation which threatens the interests of future generations.

George A. Christos: Democracy by random selection

The abstract of George Christos’s essay Democracy by random selection is:

Abstract: We propose a non-political parliamentary system where the parliamentarians are randomly chosen from the public, using computer technology, and there are no elections. In this ‘random parliament’, government is by ordinary people with proportional representation by all groups including women, men, workers, managers, old people, young people, and so on. The random parliament is the closest thing to true democracy that is currently attainable. Local government may be a suitable place to trial the idea of random representation.

French Political Scientist Advocates Sortition

The English version of the French web site “Books and Ideas” has an interview with Loïc Blondiaux about the increasingly apparent undemocratic nature of traditional electoral democracy. He says in part…

Elections do not always determine new directions, but they allow retroactive democratic oversight. So, in my opinion, there can be no democracy without elections, but a democracy in which, in addition to elections, random selection is practiced along with other forms of consultation and public debate, would start to resemble a real democracy.