Citizens’ assemblies are open to manipulation

Naomi has just flagged up an interesting article from Village Magazine on the Irish experiments with constitutional conventions in 2011 and 2016 by Eoin O’Malley, one of the participants. The article adds to my concerns that ‘full mandate’ allotted bodies are open to manipulation:

Some research shows that the act of deliberating with others has an impact beyond exposure to arguments or evidence. That is people given the evidence and arguments don’t move as much as those who are asked to discuss that evidence and arguments with others. This sounds like something positive for deliberative mini-publics. But it might not be.

The reason for this is because (as Condorcet demonstrated), independence is the key to getting the ‘right’ answer and this suggests that communication between jurors should not be encouraged — all that is needed is exposure to balanced arguments and evidence (as Goodin and Niemeyer discovered in their study of the Bloomfield Track citizens’ jury). This is distorted by the need to come to collaborative conclusions:

Because they are not independent the same flawed thinking or arguments can be magnified. For instance we could see the citizens in the mini-publics engage in groupthink. Some opinions might be aired, but can be effectively suppressed by the atmosphere in the room. There is significant evidence in social psychology that groups can push opinion to extremes and silence minority opinion. To prevent this great care has to be taken that all views are respected.

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