Washington state climate assembly

Washington state is having a Climate Assembly.

While the rhetoric around the assembly is by now standard, the sortition methodology employed is interesting, and notably includes video documentation (above, starting about 11 minutes in) of the randomization process.

The WA Climate Assembly called 6,333 households via Random Digit Dialing (RDD) recruiting using a longtime RDD sample provider, Scientific Telephone Samples, for RDD sample development. These samples are based on assigned numbers (for landline) or billing zip codes (for cellphone) to ensure the numbers we targeted were within the target market for this assembly.

Once call recipients who were willing and able RSVP’ed to the WA Climate Assembly team, a volunteer team (Panelot) from Carnegie Melon University and Harvard University used an algorithm they developed to generate a list of 10,000 panel compositions. Each one of these panel compositions had a mix of 80 potential Assembly members that reflected the make-up of Washington State, including:

  • Approximately half men/women
  • Age range from 16+
  • Congressional district
  • Income level
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Education level
  • A range of opinions backed by earlier studies about whether global warming is happening; is caused mostly by human activities; and whether the individual is worried about global warming.

Each panel composition also includes a set of 10 backups, or Alternates, who could act as substitutes for panel members who drop out of the process. The algorithm ensures that (within the limits of what is possible while generating representative assemblies), no pool members appears in too few panel compositions. What that means is that each of the pool members had a probability of at least 29% to be chosen for the Assembly, and a chance of at least 39% to be chosen at all (for the Assembly member or the backup or Alternate). Each of these possible combinations was identified by a unique number from 0000 through 9999. To get to our unique four digit number, we rolled four dice, one at a time. Each of the four 10-sided dice selected just one digit of the four-digit number. Together these four, ten-sided dice gave us a four-digit number which we used to determine the group of 80 that was been chosen for the Assembly along with the 10 Alternates.​

A linked document provides more details.

5 Responses

  1. There is a proverb in German: “Warum einfach, wenn es auch kompliziert geht.” This translates roughly to: Why keep it simple if it also works in a complicated way?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What the stratification algorithm failed to do is to control for the personality factors that affect the ability to influence others, what Austin (1955) called the perlocutionary effects of speech acts. This is the principal reason that small voluntary randomly-selected panels cannot accurately “describe” their target population. This is particularly the case in a culture which valorises speaking over listening.

    J.L. Austin (1955), How To Do Things With Words (Oxford: Clarendon Press).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Keith,

    These sorts of citizens’ assemblies can play a very valuable role on vexing policy matters that politicians either ignore or are at loggerheads over. Due to size and possibility of group-think and information cascades, etc., their final product still needs a later democratic ratification (ideally by a large mandatory service mini-public). But these sorts of smaller mini-publics with stratified samples are ideal for weighing multiple policy concepts to select a final draft. Since this citizens’ assembly is NOT making final binding decisions, your contempt for the design is misplaced. it is ONLY through “speech acts” that a diverse body can learn from each other, combine knowledge and garner this particular sort of wisdom of crowds.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. (1) Good to see that our language in this esteemed circle has shifted from the elusive “representative” to the much more useful, manageable, and Bayesian “stratified”.

    (2) With digital technology we are not limited to “speech acts” any longer. One of the first things which pioneers of digital democracy noted with excitement was that new media formats for debate are great levellers of the playing field. E.g. Per Norbäck from DemoEx Sweden described how an initial debate between students and a professional politician felt so much more democratic than a later live debate of the same participants.

    I say let’s go for better digital formats and stay away from stratification by personality.


  5. […] in Austria as well. Ireland held a citizens’ assembly on gender equality. Washington state allotted a climate assembly. In the wake of the protests following the murder of George Floyd, allotted police oversight […]


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