Austria’s Climate Jury – A Mixed Effort

Austria has now joined the circle of democratically-minded countries planning a government-sponsored Climate Citizen Jury (“Klima-Bürger*innenrat”) to tackle climate change. This follows a national popular initiative signed by 380.000 citizens of election age. At this stage, the envisaged process and timing is still quite unclear, what little has transpired is a mixed bag of some good and regrettably also some bad.

What is clear is that this mini-public shall consist of 100 random citizens and be “representative” for the general electorate of 6.4 million. Two issues here: the target number is underpowered, for comparison, Austria’s parliament consists of 183 representatives. And seeking “representativeness” in these numbers is a turnoff for those who know about statistical sampling requirements needed for this highly elusive adjective. An unnecessary weakness, the use of the word “representative” is entirely unnecessary when a simply “stratified” jury will serve the democratic purpose perfectly fine.

Clear is that the jury shall be tasked – similar to France – “to discuss and elaborate specific proposals for political measures to reach climate neutrality by 2040”. As I have noted in this forum so often, this fashionable brief is doomed to fail, just as it failed in France. An institution composed of random citizen juries is simply out of its depth with such a broad task and of such complexity. Like in France, well-meant but half-baked proposals will not impress those knowledgeable of consequences or charged to implement them. The elaboration of political proposals should be part of an open innovation competition in which any citizen or organisation is entitled to compete. Only then it is the turn of citizen juries to hear two-sided expert testimony, to judge and select between these, a task to which they are perfectly suited.

For the recruiting plan there is some encouraging information. The ministry’s intention is to recruit these random citizens proactively instead of the problematic oversampling of activists. Proof in point: a hundred of the usual suspects have already knocked at the ministry’s door but were sent away with the promise of some parallel participation process.

Recruiting will be put into the hands of a professional social research institute after a public tender – although rumours have it that SORA Institut will get the contract, anyway. There seems to be awareness of the distortions resulting from low invitation vs. acceptance rates in France.

Whether the future selected institute knows how to ensure the correct stratification for a jury is up in the air. An indicator for methodic accuracy will be that the final jury should seat 6 signatories of the public initiative (380k / 6.4m) and 43 members which see an immediate need to act on climate protection, corresponding to the ex-ante percentage of the general public which do so, according to pollsters.

Nothing is known as of yet about deliberative process design, organisation and moderation.

Finally, the Citizen Jury’s “proposals” will be sent to a committee of national and regional government representatives. There is no information about any commitment or obligation to proceed with the proposals. Sadly, and in light of the unrealistic mission definition, this may be a lesser issue due to the likelihood of failure.

Here is to an article from an Austrian daily newspaper (in German language):

https://www.derstandard.at/story/2000125369666/klimapolitik-als-demokratisches-experiment-parlament-ebnet-weg-fuer-buergerrat

34 Responses

  1. The elaboration of political proposals should be part of an open innovation competition in which any citizen or organisation is entitled to compete. Only then it is the turn of citizen juries to hear two-sided expert testimony, to judge and select between these, a task to which they are perfectly suited.

    Given the specific mandate (“to discuss and elaborate specific proposals for political measures to reach climate neutrality by 2040”), that seems reasonable. Note that this is a technical, rather than political issue, in that the goals have already been set (or, more accurately, the political choices are highly constrained). The fundamental political choice — whether or not to seek climate neutrality at all or by a particular date — is predetermined.

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  2. Keith: “Note that this is a technical, rather than political issue”

    Respectfully and strongly disagree. Every single one of the laundry list of proposals this random sample group will come up with (or, more accurately: Chinese-whisper their superficial understanding of others’ proposals) will very much have a political impact on the politiy, possibly the intended one, certainly many unintended negative consequences.

    Not to mention that the brief already is loaded: It forces the 2040 goal on the jury as if it were general public’s mandate. Prima facie it is not, if I look at the polls. So this would be the first priority to clarify.

    So, it is very much a political issue, plus an illegitimate and an unrealistic brief. Thus this endeavour will fail, just as it did in France, sadly tarnishing the public perception of a crucially important institution of future democracy.

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  3. Your interpretation of the French CCC as a failure seems a little premature! Their recommendations were well-received among experts, and polling showed the public viewed them as fairly legitimate. Where the project really fell down was in its toothlessness (much like this measure’s). And while I’m inclined to agree with you about the best roles for juries to play in a political system, we ought not to let our theoretical inclinations prevent us from fairly assessing the evidence these experiments in democracy produce. It may be that, as in France, the citizens’ jury method yields a perfectly adequate set of prescriptions.

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  4. French CCC as a failure seems a little premature

    @Oliver, I hear what you say and it’s a good point. Apparently, this forum lacks agreed criteria on success and failure. Let’s try. We could look at this on specific project level and for sortition on a meta level:

    My assessment as a failure above is strictly evidence-based on project level, looking at the reality, not at merely constructs of cheap claimed talk or polls:
    (1) Have the proposed measures actually been implemented and to what degree?
    (2) Have the implemented measures achieved their goals?
    (3) Are positive outcomes consistent with predicted ones?
    (4) Do they outweigh the negative consequences (the “General Bad”).

    @Yoram has recently given us a bleak report and forecast when it comes to real success criterion #1 which means #2 #3 #4 will be obsolete before starting.

    Is this what you call “toothless”, we might be in agreement?

    See here:

    The French Citizen Climate Convention: a provisional analysis

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  5. Hubertus, by “technical” I meant that the political goal (“climate neutrality by 2040”) had been decided elsewhere.

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  6. There is always a hierarchy of goals, in this case above and below “2040”. We would not even need the tool “mini-public” if we only have a technical problem instead a political one.

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  7. That is what I would call toothless! I think I might be taking a broader view of the overall usefulness of these experiments, though – they may be toothless, but if the recommendations they produce are high-quality, that’s a point in favour of these institutions’ being given actual power.

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  8. How do you judge the quality of a national policy, given that the problem is global and the time frame indeterminate? If Austria achieved zero emissions immediately it would have no effect on global warming although it might be thought “good” in the unilateral sense.

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  9. Keith: How do you judge the quality of a national policy?

    I was going to ask @Oliver the same thing. Particularly as I have stated a rigorous quality assessment method above which follows Popper’s scientific principle. We need a change to evidence-based politics, just like medicine had to change at some time.

    Regarding “it would have no effect”. This brings us to the emperor/clothes point. If a proposed measure has no positive impact on a goal then I am sure this will give the JC pause for thought. As it should.

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  10. If Austria achieved zero emissions immediately it would certainly have an effect on global warming, and that effect would probably be measurable. The quality of a recommendation that is not implemented cannot be measured by your metric, Hubertus, but that is not a function of the recommendation’s quality as a recommendation. As for how to judge the quality of proposals for reducing emissions, the metric is conceptually simple: if implemented, how much would this reduce emissions, and how fast? This is something the scientific community have quite a good handle on.

    Perhaps I’m misinterpreting here, but the two of you sound like Yoram when he maintains that the only way to tell whether a state is democratic or not is to measure how well its government polls. There are experts in these fields, who publicly express opinions and make arguments about this. It’s not a big mystery!

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  11. The quality of a recommendation that is not implemented cannot be measured by your metric.

    Oh yes, it certainly can be measured by mymetric: The quality of such a recommendation is zero. Nilch.

    Of course the creator will continue to dream on and subjectively believe it’s the best thing since sliced bread. But the objective evidence of “no implementation” is undeniable.

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  12. Oliver:>the two of you sound like Yoram when he maintains that the only way to tell whether a state is democratic or not is to measure how well its government polls

    My definition of democracy is that the people should have power — not just in the final decision but also in setting the agenda. If the agenda is set by an unelected body or the unrepresentative speech acts of an unrepresentative sample then it is not democratic. Note that David (Common Lot Sortitionist) believes the unrepresentativeness could be a virtue of a deliberative body.

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  13. Hubertus:> Apparently, this forum lacks agreed criteria on success and failure.

    Indeed it does. For the purposes of this forum, actual implementation is a secondary issue. The real question is who is winning the duel between sortition as a lap dog for elite rationalization and sortition as a way to generate democratic outcomes that surprise and possibly anger status quo politicians. By this standard, the CCC was a modest success: it did irritate Emmanuel Macron, and it does seem to have carried some credibility with the French public.

    Unfortunately, I could easily make the opposite case. Even though it caused some irritation to the right people, it also bought Macron some time to suppress the gilets jaunes. I don’t know much about Austrian politics, but it doesn’t seem as though they are responding to such an immediate crisis as Macron was. This, coupled with the fact that authorities are taking the participation rate problem more seriously, gives me some hope.

    Look, I don’t want my children to live in a bbq pit. But the goal here isn’t to solve the climate problem, it’s to win political battles with the broken status quo. Let’s stay focused.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. @Alex, I am not sure that ‘angering politicians’ is a universal goal of this forum. Not for me, anyway. I could not care less. Politician will be an obsolete profession in a true democracy. The smooth-talkers will be replaced by “Impact entrepreneurs”.

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  15. Hubertus,

    Are you deliberately being obtuse? If a doctor recommends I eat better and exercise more to reduce my risk of heart failure, the quality of that recommendation is unaffected by whether I pay it any heed. The fact that these climate juries’ recommendations will be memory-holed by elected politicians doesn’t make them bad recommendations. What it does mean is that, *because they’re good recommendations and politicians ignored them*, they will serve as evidence for the public that allotted assemblies and juries are good and elected politicians bad. In that sense they are steps in the right direction.

    Keith, my point comparing you and Hubertus to Yoram was not about the democratic credentials of the CCC process, but the possibility of our judging the quality of its output. Like him, the two of you seem to be pushing a position that we cannot reasonably judge the matter at hand, which seems absurd to me.

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  16. Yoram’s view is that we can judge the quality (by polling the public), whereas I’m more sceptical, given both the global nature of the problem and the long time scale. I guess Yoram is taking a positivist perspective whereas I’m more interested in Gaia.

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  17. There’s an entire field of scientific study that disagrees with you on that! It’s not particularly hard to work out whether a policy would cut emissions. Unless you’re proposing to saunter into outright climate change denialism, your position is very strange. (If that’s what you *are* proposing, that’s very strange in itself!)

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  18. I don’t want to get into the specific issue, but my general point is that every policy has to be seen in the light of trade offs and opportunity costs (as we have seen with the Covid-19 pandemic). Whether “we” should and how we could achieve carbon neutrality by a certain date are political, not scientific decisions.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Oliver, you seem to be reading our responses here from a climate activist’s viewpoint.

    Let’s focus: we are not talking about climate here, at all. Or what may be a solution to whatever or not. Ergo there is no need to invoke denialism or the usual partisan filter bubble insults.

    We are concerned here with the meta level, with democracy as method.

    Your medical example is completely unsuitable in this context. Why? Medicine has objective evidence on what happens to people follow such recommendations. It has been done before, so it is a conservative recommendation, not a reformist one.

    But even assume it were a valid analogy, let me ask you: Imagine a handicapped person dying of cancer in three months who is a gourmet, eating is about the only thing he can enjoy in his life. Now your doctor recommends him this standard “eat better and exercise more” to reduce his risk of heart failure. The patient choses to ignore this.

    Would you call this a “high-quality recommendation”?

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  20. “Yoram’s view is that we can judge the quality (by polling the public).”
    Really? That would be an untenable position.

    Why would we need Kleroterian/Sortitionist methods in first place if simple polling can give us all the solutions?

    Polling is part of the problem. In combination with mass media control by elitists and plutocrats, polling gives rise to populist “solutions” which sound nice on surface but bring us on a dark path.

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  21. >Why would we need Kleroterian/Sortitionist methods in first place if simple polling can give us all the solutions?

    Yes, indeed. Yoram used to define democracy in sortititionist terms, but has taken a different tack of late.

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  22. Oliver,

    > There are experts in these fields, who publicly express opinions and make arguments about this.

    Yes – in both cases (climate science and political science) there are experts (although, obviously, political science is nowhere near as well-founded and well-developed as climate science is). In both fields it is the role of the scientists to theorize, collect the empirical data and analyze that data in order to determine the state of world.

    In climate the data is measurements of temperature, CO2 concentration, etc. In politics the data is the opinions of inhabitants of the polities that are being investigated. The notion that one can tell how democratic a country is without collecting observations about the opinions of its inhabitants is about as sensible as the notion that one can tell whether climate change is taking place without observing the temperature record.

    The disagreement between us is not whether political science requires expertise, careful theorizing and analysis. It is rather about the substance of that expertise, theory and analysis.

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  23. While I agree with Keith’s concept that the AGENDA as well as final decisions must be made in a democratic way, I strongly dispute his notion that a disqualification would be “If the agenda is set by an unelected body” (or unrepresentative speech acts by an unrepresentative body). elected bodies are EXACTLY the sort of unrepresentative bodies that cannot democratically set an agenda. Elected bodies are more akin to the aristocrats of Sparta who controlled the agenda, than they are similar to the randomly selected Athenian Council of 500, which set the agenda in Athens. Again, I am not advocating a simple import of Athenian procedures. I am merely stating that the word “democracy” was coined by the Ancient Greeks to describe a system of government in which any citizen could try to advance an agenda item (without a filter of election), and a large random assembly of citizens set the agenda. Inserting elections of an elite into agenda setting makes the system undemocratic.

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  24. Terry,

    We both agree on the definition of democracy (the people have power) and that the agenda should be set democratically — and this must surely mean by the people in their collective capacity.
    Alex has presented a plausible model (The Superminority Principle) as to how this might be achieved in a large modern state — how it worked in small ancient poleis is of little relevance. The Superminority Principle uses the electoral mechanism in a completely different way to the ancients and the resulting assembly would also be very unlike its modern counterparts.

    P.S. Finley and other historians do suggest that agenda setting in classical-era Athens was primarily an elite function. But in every case (ancient, Harringtonian and Kovnerian) elite spokespersons are obliged to put forward agenda items that would be like to curry favour with both the rationally-ignorant masses and the nomothetai. Whilst that may be distasteful from an epistemic/deliberative perspective, it sure as hell is democratic.

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  25. “Agenda should be set democratically — and this must surely mean by the people in their collective capacity.”

    @Terry, @Keith, Gentlemen: We are getting to the core of the matter, I think. And yes, it should. And it can. I designed and organised such an exercise in 2017. The organisation for which I did this adopted the mini-public’s agenda recommendation unanimously. The mini-public itself agreed 100% that this is the right aganda (8% abstentions).

    Here a few slides to document the poll distortions: https://bit.ly/39UKbFJ
    21: The outcome, a deliberated agenda of the mini-public
    13, 14: Traditional poll ranking n=1000 (dark blue bars)
    Obviously, quite a difference!

    Back to the Austrian CJ: Are we in agreement that the agenda for the mini-public has been undemocratically imposed? I will be interviewed by National TV on Monday and will demand that the mandate should be changed. It should not b a cheap copy of what has been done in France and failed. Instead, we must start with agenda setting:

    “Which of the Paris goals do we support in Austria, which not?”
    “Which ones are missing?”
    “What should be the process for proposals how tho reach these?”

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  26. Hubertus:> The mini-public itself agreed 100% that this is the right aganda (8% abstentions).

    My concern is representing the “voice” of the overwhelming majority of citizens who don’t get to participate in the mini-public.

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  27. Keith: “the overwhelming majority of citizens who don’t get to participate in the mini-public”

    But they did get to participate!

    I will elaborate:

    Please look again at slides 12, 13, 21. There were 5 parallel processes:
    1. The mini-public
    2. A representative poll n=1000 (dark blue)
    3. A closed prediction market populated by the sample 2 (dark green)
    4. An open-invitation poll (light bliue)
    5. An open-invitation prediction market (light green)##

    4 and 5 are the “voice” (4=undeliberated, 5=deliberative) of the any citizen who wanted to participate.

    Which brings us back to the agenda imposed on the CJ. Any comments?

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  28. >4 and 5 are the “voice” (4=undeliberated, 5=deliberative) of the any citizen who wanted to participate.

    Sorry to keep repeating myself, but my concern is for the overwhelming majority who neither want nor have the rhetorical skills to participate effectively. At the moment they can choose to delegate their “voice” to a political agent and the project that Alex and I are engaged on is how to improve the quality of this voice to make it more representative. Bear in mind also that the perceived legitimacy of the democracy project requires it to be easily comprehensible to the Average Joe (who wouldn’t have a clue what a prediction market is).

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  29. Yoram>> “tell how democratic a country is without collecting observations about the opinions of its inhabitants”

    @Yoram: If you are referring to what I say above about traditional polls, I may have expressed it no clearly enough. I will try again:

    I have demonstrated, again and again, that traditional frequentist polls are a very bad measurement tool to collect “observations of opinions”.

    This formulation is already highly problematic. There are observations, and there are opinions, they are two very different things. We can observe real behaviour, but we cannot ever “observe” opinions. (That’s why “thought police” is metaphysical/unscientific.)

    Traditional polls collect mere “claimed” opinions, and I have shown in a series of 800 experiments how easily distorted these aggregations can be when it comes to future and prescriptive questions (diagnostic questions are ok). Not to mention intentional and subconscious elitist manipulation by the organisers of a poll.

    If you follow my link above, you can see that I usually pursue a gold standard in measurement methods for public opinions, of which a mini-public is but one. One of the good ones, of course. Polls are the worst.

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  30. @Keith: “choose to delegate their “voice” to a political agent”

    Well, I side with Rousseau here: Any “delegation of voice” is an entry vector for tyranny and aristocracy.

    I am an express “authentic voice” maximalist. If any citizen (even the vast majority) does not want to express an opinion voluntarily, we must respect that. Those voice will be represented by (mandatory) sample voices of sufficient statistical power..

    Why? And as a prediction market practitioner, I can demonstrate that (1) force-adding these voices introduces error and that (2) delegating their voice to supposed “representatives” increases error.

    BTW: That’s also why Liquid Democracy is a bad idea.

    PS: And I have not yet read your / Alex’ piece but if it is based on such “delegation” you will find me highly sceptical. We don’t need delegation in new clothes.

    Equality, decentralisation and division of power is the way to get to democracy.

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  31. Hubertus:> Well, I side with Rousseau here: Any “delegation of voice” is an entry vector for tyranny and aristocracy.

    Not so. The purpose of the assembly of the people was only to affirm or deny the proposals of the government (this required voting as opposed to speech acts). The government could take a variety of forms but Rousseau leaned towards the aristocratic (elected) model.

    >I have not yet read your / Alex’ piece

    There’s a highly abridged version on academia.edu, where we have just launched a discussion: https://www.academia.edu/s/50e6bc0edb

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  32. Keith, I am writing strictly in the context of the legislative as this post is about the planned Citizen Jury in Austria, specifically.

    When you say it “delegation” seemed to be undermining of one-head-one-vote in this context which would be highly problematic in a fully decentralised future democracy.

    Executive appointments are a different thing. And we read Rouseau identical here. (Although in a true democracy I would not call such appointment a “delegation”, it is of a different nature.)

    When strictly opposing any form of delegation in lawmaking (relying on statistical sampling instead), I refer to: “…if the general will is to be able to express itself, that there should be no partial society within the State, and that each citizen should think only his own thoughts” and lucidly: ““These precautions are the only ones that can guarantee that the general will shall be always enlightened, and that the people shall in no way deceive itself.” (TSC, Ch II.)

    At least, i hope we can agree that:

    – The first priority of the first CJ must be to set its own agenda and decide on the political goals instead of accepting the imposition of Paris goals?

    – There must be an open (voluntary) participative process in parallel to the (however mandatory) CJ mini-public process?

    – There must be an assurance how the parliament, being the formal body in charge, is to use the CJ outcome? (Specifically, vote on results secretly, personally and directly. Especially without “Klubzwang”, i.e. Austria’s enforced party Kadavergehorsam.)

    – There must be an absolutely neutral process with equal rights and speech and ex-ante stratification for the reformer side and the conservative side.

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  33. Hubertus,

    Rousseau was referring to the legislative process. As far as he was concerned all policy proposals originate from deliberations within the (delegated) government. The role of the general assembly is simply to deliver an up/down vote — and we all agree this could be the role of a representative sample.

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  34. Sorry Keith, I really need to prepare my comments on the Austrian CJ. Comments and debate on topic much appreciated.

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