Thought Piece: Sharing Sortition With Some Soul

In a new essay, Sharing Sortition With Some Soul, Adam Cronkright and Simon Pek suggest we can make lot/sortition more accessible and appealing through savvy and emotive communication. Their goal to stimulate thought and debate, and also to start a practical conversation about framing and messaging to incorporate relevant insights from the well-developed art and science of persuasive communication into the Sortition Space.


All of us in the Sortition Space, from the organizations in Democracy R&D to the regular readers of Equality by Lot, are passionate about sortition and hopeful that it can empower everyday people and deepen democracy. The last decade has seen exciting advances on this front: mini-publics are on the rise, as are related books and articles, and we are connecting and collaborating with each other more than ever. But although we have grown and moved in from the fringe, we are still quite small and sortition is still quite marginal. And this should surprise us, especially given how desperate our societies seem for anything that could right the sinking ship of traditional electoral politics.

Political crises ripple through our countries and trust in government tanks, yet almost 50 years after its resurrection few people have even heard of sortition. Demagogues rise a wave of democratic disenchantment, yet few people who have heard of it seriously consider sortition. And we promote our cause everywhere from dinner parties to democracy conferences, yet few of our listeners seem to care about sortition. Some are surprisingly skeptical (given such frustration with the status quo), while others seem to find our case convincing but not compelling. 
But sortition is important and inspiring, so where are we going wrong?

In this short essay, drawing on research on political communication, we suggest that the primary stumbling blocks are an affinity to language that doesn’t always fit our audiences, and a lack of skill and comfort with persuasion—especially in the realm of emotion. We argue that the latter is likely due to our deep predisposition toward rational and objective communication. As illustrative examples, we offer concrete ways to overcome these challenges, juxtaposed with typical sortition speech. And we conclude with an invitation for others to join us in developing a suite of recommendations to make our messaging about sortition more captivating and memorable.

View or download the full essay with the following link (note: if you get a popup window that asks you to sign in or create an account, just click the ‘x’ in the upper right corner or “No thanks, continue to view” at the bottom). Link: Sharing Sortition With Some Soul (PDF)

If there is interest, they will follow-up with a future post suggesting ways to organize a larger conversation/collaboration.

Post Image: Randomly-selected participants in a debate run by Missions Publiques (France) 
© Rebecca Cosquéric.

9 Responses

  1. Very helpful, thanks Adam, particularly so for any “sortition party” like gilt ( which needs to talk to a general electorate. How do you feel about practical examples?


  2. In my experience the phrase “selection of decision-makers as a statistical sample of the population” makes a good opener for the conversation about sortition. Most people’s first reaction is still skeptical, but the conversation is made along reasonable lines, while mentioning a lottery sometimes makes people think the idea is a joke.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey Huubertushofkirchner,

    Thanks for pointing me to Gilt – was not previously aware of them, and glad you found our essay helpful. When you ask how we feel about practical examples, what do you mean?

    Hey Yoram,

    Interesting. As we stated in the piece, we think there is no perfect term or phrase – it depends heavily on your audience. I’m sure there are many spaces where your “selection of decision-makers as a statistical sample of the population” provides a good opener, but I have definitely been in some spaces where no one knows what a ‘statistical sample’ is. So in those spaces I think it would be a poor choice of words because it would just create confusion and a sense that I’m not like my audience (using “fancy” intellectual terms none of them understand).

    I too have seen some people take the word ‘lottery’ as a joke, which is why in my conversations with diverse Americans I am very careful to always combine it with ‘civic’, and almost no one has taken ‘civic lottery’ as a joke. But maybe this is particular to the United States, where the military draft used a ‘Draft Lottery’ to conscript young men for Vietnam – which was obviously no laughing matter.

    Lastly, I would reiterate another point we made in the essay when it comes to opening conversations: that at least in the US, a large body of evidence supports the idea that you can more effectively engage most people by putting principles before process. And I will note that whether you use “selection of decision-makers as a statistical sample of the population” or “civic lottery” or any other term for the selection process, unless you are talking with a very process-oriented audience it’s probably not a good opener. Start with principles and get to discussion of the process once you’ve established shared values with your audience.


  4. What a useful essay! Thank you, in particular, for the remarks on the power of story-telling.

    In the late 1950’s a popular television series in the U.S., “The Millionaire”, explored what might happen if an ‘ordinary citizen’ (a different one each week) were handed a check for a million dollars. As you suggest, transpose that to sortition: “Imagine if … (or “Once upon a time…”) you received a letter to serve in the legislature.”

    I would like to see a feature film or television series that sparked the imagination, emotionally, about what democracy is supposed to be. To that end I have written scripts that start off with a sortitionally-selected legislature and go from there. See

    I am currently seeking a production company to work with me. I would appreciate references. Contact me: dgrant AT thecommonlot DOT com


  5. Glad you found it useful David! Look forward to checking out more of your work!

    I too would love to see sortition brought to mainstream audiences through great fiction. I’ve often thought how cool it would be to have a mini-series set in a sortiton-based society, that would not necessarily be focused on sortition, but by telling the story of a few characters (who might not even participate in government) it would give a window into what society could look like if it was grounded in a different view of democracy. A gritty and realistic view, highlighting some of the theoretical advantages we are excited by but also showing and exploring unique pitfalls and problems that society has to deal with.


  6. In one of the man-on-the-street interviews in my video essay about sortition, one fellow — who accurately grasped sortition’s value to democracy — nonetheless complained, laughing: “It just wouldn’t be very interesting. Like watching non-professional baseball players play baseball.”

    Ignoring the fact that I happen to find watching amateur or juvenile baseball just as interesting as the pros, given an adjustment in expectations, the man has a point. Today’s political fights are as media hyped, and as popular, as any of the numerous sports championships. Most people, it seems, love a fight.

    It is, in fact, the lack of a fight that seems to accompany emphasis on sortition-as-a-process that turns off the value-oriented cohort noted in the Sortition Space article. Maybe we sortitionists need to put on boxing gloves!

    I leave it at that. Is it a dilemma?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have long thought that a well-functioning democracy could be quite politically boring… and that is a good thing. With thousands of short duration mini-publics making public policy decisions at national, state, municipal and neighborhood levels, most citizens would take a turn in some mini-public at some point along the way. They would know that no elite king-makers were pulling strings, but that people like them were doing the best they could. 90% (or more) of what passes as “news” on CNN would evaporate, with no more politician battles or posturing. There would be no more interest in covering “politics” than there currently is in covering petty crime jury cases in court. Occasionally, hot issues would arise, but generally politics in a true democracy SHOULD be boring, because things just get figured out, they work, or they get fixed. In short, I take the opposite view from demonstrations where they chant as they march down the street “This is what democracy looks like!” Actually that is what a LACK of democracy looks like.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Excellent point, Terry. I have thought the same. That baseball watcher has a diminished view of what democracy should be. My remark about boxing gloves was tongue in cheek.

    Nonetheless, some of my politically-engaged friends respond to the idea of sortition as the end of any reason for broad political civic engagement. Without something to fight for, as they see it (i.e., values as expressed by electing ‘the best’!), it’s not a democracy.


  9. Hey Adam – finally got the time to give this important piece of work a proper read through. Thanks to you and Simon for starting this process – some really useful thinking in there and some valuable comments in the follow up here. Cheers Patrick.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: