Proposing and disposing in the real world

A flow chart of the citizens’ jury process for determining compulsory third party insurance in the Australian Capital Territory.

Alex Kovner and Keith Sutherland have written some interesting things on the importance of separating the process of proposing policies and that of deciding which ones are implemented. I’ve not thought as much as I clearly should have about this myself, but I’ve certainly noted it as something I should think more about, and as a fertile and possibly indispensable idea in trying to introduce more sortition into our politics.

But, as readers of my posts will know, I’m also keen to leaven theoretical considerations with the question of how we get there. In that regard I’m interested in approaches to this question that are being tried by practitioners in the field, tied as they are to their own practical and political exigencies. So I was interested to read this case study by my friends at of their participation in helping the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government solve its problem of how to .

The essence of what happened is in the diagram above, though you need to read the case study to fully understand the way things were done. Of course this isn’t life according to the strict logic that I’ve seen proposed. For instance the proposer and the disposer are the same citizens’ jury. But I still think what was done was an interesting step forward in articulating practical options in seeking to inject more sortition into political decision making. I’ll be interested in what comments it attracts from this highly informed community.

14 Responses

  1. Nick,

    Thank you for sharing this case study, it looks interesting. The requirement for four separate proposals certainly is a big improvement over other deliberative methods which rely on reaching a “consensus”, which is so often reflection of chaotic personality dynamics.

    As you point out, the proposers and deciders are the same group. One simple addition would be to add more members for the deciding phase to get some new perspectives that are not invested in the proposing process. Add, say, 50 more people so that the disposing jury is half proposers and half new deciders. This would force the proposers to craft their policies with some sense of targeting the abstract citizen, while allowing the deciders to be informed by the proposers.

    Of course, Keith and I prefer a completely separate deciding jury, but I think a mix would work in the format given here.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The range of compromise designs is vast, but the principles involved make it clear that there is a clear dividing line. The people who design a proposal become psychologically ill-suited, if not unable, to fairly judge their own handiwork. The deciders must be a separate group who have open minds to genuinely absorb pro and con arguments about the proposal(s). The designers can play a useful role in presentation and arguing on behalf of their preferred design, but should not be mixed in with the deciders in voting or deliberating.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Terry:> The people who design a proposal become psychologically ill-suited, if not unable, to fairly judge their own handiwork.

    Agreed. I’m going to submit a new post on the ‘argumentative theory of reasoning’ showing why this is the case.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. It seems like it’s not quite true that the proposers and deciders are the same group here – the broad policy direction was set by the same people who decided on the final proposal, but in between, if I’m reading correctly, a separate group of stakeholders came up with a selection of proposals to answer the brief the deciding group set. In that respect, it appears there was the proposer-decider split required for good decision-making.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks guys – all helpful comments.

    Alex – “another 50 members” don’t grow on trees alas. They cost money which I expect those running this weren’t offered.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Nick,

    Sadly, these efforts are run on a shoestring, which is ridiculous considering the importance of the issues they decide.


    I don’t disagree with you about the separation of proposers and deciders. But we can’t be purists, we should look for ways to improve things even when they don’t meet our ideals.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This model seems to me to have some good features. As Oliver notes, there is a separation, or at least a partial separation, between proposers and deciders (the jury decides the objectives and which of the four proposals to recommend, whereas the “stakeholders” group works out the four proposals based on the objectives decided by the jury).

    Four concerns.

    One. Was the “stakeholders” group free from conflicts of interest? For example, did representatives and allies of the insurance industry have a de facto veto on which proposals were made to the jury, or the ability to modify the proposals that were made? Boss Tweed: “I don’t care who does the electing, as long as I get to do the nominating.” Similarly, if vested interests can decide or tailor what gets proposed, those who do the disposing can be denied an open democratic choice. ( seems to have considered this problem, but I don’t see in the link what steps, if any, were taken to prevent it.)

    Two. Did the four proposals each have to get majority support in the stakeholders group in order to be proposed to the jury (if so, that could have screened out a proposal the jurors might have preferred to those that were proposed)?

    Three. Were there any first rate consumer advocates in the stakeholder group, and were they able to make at least one proposal to the jury regardless of whether the rest of the stakeholders group liked it or not? Would a consumer advocate like Ralph Nader have suggested something different from the four proposals that were made?

    Four. The stakeholders group does not appear to have a democratic mandate. It is not for example a law reform commission chosen by jury by multi-winner ranked choice voting. In general, I have thought that proposing ought to be either wide open to all, or done by bodies that are democratically chosen with minorities in such bodies (not just the majority) able to make proposals. Possibly, if the “stakeholders group” functioned purely as technical staff (which is not what the word “stakeholder” suggests) the model would fulfill this. That is, if the stakeholder group are just technical staff faithfully putting the jury-chosen objectives into the form of proposals, the jury is to a significant extent the source of the proposals, which gives those proposals a democratic mandate (given that the jury has a democratic mandate due to being chosen by sortition). (I think the selection of the jury in this case is democratic, though there are concerns, in particular that only a small minority of those sampled volunteered to serve, and the fairly small size of the jury.)


  8. Hi All
    Im from democracyCo – I designed the process for this citizens jury / stakeholder co-design process that Nicholas has shared with you.

    Is really interesting to hear all your reflections and thoughts. I thought i might respond to some of your points and questions.

    Re the point that the same people who designed the approach (the proponents) were also the deciders. I would agree that it is important that the proponents of the idea weren’t the deciders of which approach to move forward with – and this wasn’t the case in this project. The randomly selected group of community members developed a ‘brief’ – the brief was simply the objectives / outcomes they wanted from their CTP system. This was designed to be very high level – it in no way went to the ‘how’. We deliberately avoided them going to the ‘how’ in their brief. The 4 possible models of how to achieve those objectives- were developed by experts – an independent actuary, an independent scheme designer, the government, the regulator, 2 legal reps, 2 insurer reps, a health expert and a representative of injured people. It was this group that had the ‘ownership’ over the models. It is fair to say that whilst this group developed fall 4 models collaboratively – each of the stakeholder participants had different levels of support for each of the models. The community then chose from the 4 models developed by the stakeholders.

    The reason we had the same participants on the jury which made the decision about the model – was because we asked them to choose the model which best met their original brief … not which model they liked the best, but which model met their original brief. This was important, we wanted the group to objectively test the models against a set of relatively objective measures, rather than going with their emotions. Given this – it was important that the same people participated – as they understood their brief best. It would have also been challenging to bring in a new group – as we would have had to bring them up to speed with the same knowledge / information the other 50 had had. Remember the first Jury session ran over 4 days and the participants also undertook 10-20 hours of reading on top of that.

    Anyway – ill come back on again – later and respond to some of the questions – but i hope this explains why we went with the same group of 50.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Emma,

    Thanks for the explanation, I see I was mistaken about the source of the 4 proposals. The randomly selected group is therefore setting the specific agenda and evaluating proposals, without itself authoring any of those proposals.

    This is very much how a company functions when putting a project out to bid, as for example building a headquarters: it puts out a high-level request for proposals, waits for specialist firms (e.g. architects) to come back with full proposals, then evaluates them on the merits.

    I would note that there is nothing about the system that requires the high-level requirements to be written by the same group as the final deciders. High-level requirements are, by nature, easy to digest, and having a second set of eyes could be an advantage. But I can see why you went the way you did.

    To generalize your method, you will have to find a more democratic way of generating proposals. It’s all well and good to select experts for a single test case, but if this method is to be used more frequently, this will be a source of illegitimacy. My own solution, the superminoritymethod, is designed to generate a fixed number of proposals from a democratically elected legislature. The idea, then, is that the legislature itself would use the superminority principle to generate the four proposals (or perhaps use superminority to appoint the “experts”), and then the legislature as a whole would hold a mandatory, up-or-down vote on the option selected by the citizen jury. In this way, the “teams” induced by the superminority principle would act independently, but would be forced to compromise internally, knowing that if they present a maximalist proposal, the jury will likely reject their offering.


  10. Hi Alex – Thanks for your comments… i am going to enjoy pondering your superminority method. Worthy of some deeper thought – than i have time to give it right now.

    Certainty in the case of the ACT CTP project that is described – we felt the only way to develop the proposals for the Jury to consider was via involving the stakeholders. I note of course that that wasnt overly democratic – however, it was vital because these stakeholders all had very important knowledge of the system that was essential for designing a system that could functionally work.

    Their expertise / their knowledge was critical.

    In addition, there was of course a political imperative – we needed to bring the key stakeholders into the process – rather than having them feeling alienated on the outside – and the potentially creating political problems.

    In general terms – I don’t think it is useful or politically possible to keep experts / stakeholders out of the process completely – for the reasons identified above. The usefulness of their knowledge / their perspectives on the system cannot be under estimated (they often have the best understanding of the systems / issues with that system than anyone) and it is impossible to ignore the powerful role they play in the political system as it stands.

    This doesnt mean i think we need to empower them more – quite the opposite – our processes are all about empowering people / the community … but our processes need to cleverly manage and address / shift the balance of power that normally exists.

    In the case of the CTP project I think this was achieved very successfully.

    Simon has raised some questions in his post above – re the details of how this stakeholder group worked. Ill respond to all these – which will provide more detail.

    I think one way we could have improved the stakeholder process where we developed the proposals was to bring some of the jury members into that process … to give the Jury more transparency over that process and improve understanding of the stakeholders of the nuances in the Jurys identified objectives.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks for your responses Emma – they make me pleased I posted the case study as it’s been a very useful discussion from my point of view.

    I like the idea of setting out the criteria in advance, but at the same time also wonder about it’s potential weaknesses.

    1) You mention that you want the jurors to use their reason, not their emotions. Of course that sounds sensible, but it’s difficult to understand if you think about it carefully. Our emotions are crucial in helping us make decisions when faced with difficult choices.

    2) The emotions might suggest we weight certain things differently than ‘reason’ would, and I’m not sure I’m confident that I prefer the latter to the former.

    Perhaps these qualms can be met satisfactorily if I say that I want emotions involved, but also then subject to careful reasoning about them. Anyway, I’m thinking aloud here – not suggesting I have a strong view.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. You are right Nicholas.

    I was being careful in my framing there…. was being a bit cautious and oblique!

    What I should have said – is that there was a concern raised that one or more of the groups with a significant vested interest in the outcome of the Jurys work would mount a campaign in between when the Jury developed their objectives and when they decided on the models – which could interfere with the independence of the Jurys work and the clarity of their thinking about what they were trying to achieve.

    To address these concerns – we decided to facilitate the process in such a way that the Jury was assessing the models against their original criteria – which they had been through a very careful and considered process in developing.

    Having said this – Emily and I were much less concerned about the impact of any possible campaign – as the Jury are taken through a process of ‘critical thinking’ – where we bring the skills they have in critical thinking to the fore. We trusted in the groups ability to assess any campaign with a critical lens.

    As it turned out – the campaign that people were concerned about didnt happen. There was some media attention – generated by a stakeholder who wanted to exert their preferred view and undermine the process – but the Jury viewed this through the lens of ‘self interest’ – and in my view it didn’t materially impact on the process – except to alert the Jury to the ‘political’ environment they were working in

    Liked by 2 people

  13. We are in a trial and error experimental phase of democratic lottery design. We are also hemmed in by costs (because citizens assemblies are viewed as EXTRA, on top of the expensive elected legislative law-making process). Because of the danger of lobbying (jury tampering) Emma discusses above, during an in-between period, the drawing of an entirely new mini-public may be beneficial on high-stakes (special-interest-motivated) topics. For some topics, it may be desirable to sequester the deciding jury, as in many criminal court cases. As Emma says, there is a risk of loss of understanding of the reasons behind the “brief,” if it isn’t the same group. But this can be limited by presentations from the initial jury to the deciding jury. AND there may be important benefits of having a separate jury take an independent look at the thinking behind the initial brief – perhaps finding manipulated or motivated reasoning or group-think.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Emma,

    The point of the superminority method is to have a democratic way of assembling groups of stakeholders.

    To take your case, since you want 4 options, the threshold in the legislature would be 20% + 1. Groups of this size would organize to write proposals, presumably along the lines of a group of stakeholders that are politically aligned with each group.

    I know there is a lot of desire to find stakeholders who are “apolitical”. This represents understandable dissatisfaction with democracy in its current form, but to be democratic stakeholder selection must be political to some degree. The superminority method allows smaller groups to have their proposals heard, while the jury renders final judgment, and hence constrains the proposing groups to look to the general good, not just their own preferences.

    Of course, superminority has never been tried before, but that’s the idea. Essentially, I believe the illness of democracy has been misdiagnosed. There is nothing wrong with politics per se, the problem is with winner-take-all. The solution is multiple smaller groups writing proposals with genuine suspense as to the outcome from a citizen jury.

    Liked by 1 person

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