The Core Assembly

The Core Assembly is an allotted body described by its organizers as follows:

The Core Assembly brings together 100 people from around the world, a snapshot of the planet’s population.

They will learn about and discuss the climate and ecological crisis, and present proposals at the COP26 climate conference in November 2021.

The members of the body were selected using a multi-stage process involving both allotment and co-optation:

Step 1. Global location lottery: On June 24, we selected 100 points on the globe by lottery, using a NASA database of human population density. The 100 points produced by this lottery (also called a sortition) are the locations from where we recruited participants for the Core Assembly. In the future we hope to perform this global lottery with 1,000 points. The data and the open source code used to do this are freely available.

Step 2. Finding community hosts: We then recruited local community organizations as close as possible to each point. We call them community hosts. These are trusted organizations in local communities that bring people together around common activities and beliefs, such as community centers, public libraries, cultural venues, sports clubs, co-working spaces, faith-groups, and educational institutions, among others.

These community hosts will accompany each participant through the Global Assembly.

Step 3. Recruiting potential participants: Community hosts then recruited a recommended 4-6 local potential participants, representing the diversity of their community. This was mostly done by having conversations on the street, and by door-knocking, as these methods could be used consistently anywhere in the world, to make sure recruitment was not biased towards mobile phone ownership, or those who have a formal address.

Step 4. Choosing the final participants: We then ran a second lottery (a sortition) selecting the final participants from the pool of 675 possible candidates. This was done using the free, open source code, Stratify Select.

This provided us with a final 100 assembly members, proportionally representative of the world’s population by gender, age, geography, attitude toward climate change, and educational level.

The process in which this body is involved is described as follows:

Timetable

The Core Assembly members will spend 68 hours together over 11 weeks between Oct 7th and December 18th 2021, understanding the climate and ecological crisis, reviewing possible future scenarios and developing principles to guide policy-makers.

The question

This year, the Global Assembly will deliberate on the following question: “How can humanity address the climate and ecological crisis in a fair and effective way?”

Learning

They will be guided through a learning journey developed by independent experts in science, economics, deliberation, learning and indigenous wisdom keepers. Find out more about our Knowledge and Wisdom Committee.

Proposals

Core Assembly members will both observe and speak at COP26 and go on to agree formal proposals. These will inform a final report on the 2021 Global Assembly, which will be released in March 2022, and presented at international governance forums throughout the year.

In an interview, one of the body’s organizers, Susan Nakyung Lee, says this:

Q: What are your hopes for the influence the Global Assembly can have on the COP process?

The main thing for me is that people realize that democracy goes beyond the bounds of pulling up to the ballot box every four years. One of the strong points of citizens’ assemblies is that they can unlink democracy from the labels and tethers that we’ve placed on to it. I grew up in Seoul, so to my parents, electoral democracy is the most watershed, powerful thing that they could hope for. They took part in student protests against martial law and I genuinely think that citizens’ assemblies and sortitions could be a similar touchpoint for people in my generation, for many people who are feeling democratic fatigue or feel unable to effect change though the electoral system. We have enough scientists and politicians who are chugging away at these problems, but what we don’t have enough of at the table right now is us – everyday people’s voices.

Q: What does democracy look like to you?

No one person can ever definitively say what democracy is, but growing up I was told about elections and that when you turn 18 you become a ‘political man’ and you can influence politics. That overwhelmingly consumed my understanding of democracy. Now, to me, democracy can be as simple as five people, connecting from five different countries on a Zoom room, co-working on a Miro board [like an online whiteboard] about what they think could be a solution to climate change. It feels much more like democracy than what I was told was democracy my entire life or anything else that I’ve been reading in textbooks. I love it.

9 Responses

  1. During the Core Assembly meetings, each participant is accompanied by a ‘companion’ from their Community Host organisation who will translate from English presentations (this year’s ‘exchange language’) into the chosen language of the participant.
    https://globalassembly.org/faqs

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  2. Q: What does democracy look like to you?

    From a conversation with Dimitri Courant https://ecpr.eu/profile/DimitriCourant : En effet il y a une différence énorme entre “pouvoir de proposer” et “pouvoir de décider”. Comme je le dis dans l’article, la question pour déterminer la nature d’un régime, peu importe l’échelle, c’est : ” à la fin qui décide? Qui détient le pouvoir souverain ?”
    Si c’est une personne c’est une monarchie, si c’est petit groupe c’est une oligarchie (avec ses différents types : ploutocratie, phallocratie, géontocratie, klérocratie..) ; si c’est le peuple c’est une démocratie.
    Une assemblée tirée au sort imposant ses vues au peuple sans ce dernier ne puisse avoir le dernier mot est une klérocratie, donc un type particulier d’oligarchie.

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  3. Paul, would you mind translating for us illiterate anglophones.

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  4. Paul,

    Cela semble être une classification assez naïve des modes de gouvernance. Les tirés au sort ne ressemblent en rien aux riches ou à d’autres groupes d’élite, donc un gouvernement basé sur le tirage au sort ne ressemble en rien à une oligarchie.

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  5. Here’s my translation of Dimitri Courant’s claim:

    Indeed there is a huge difference between “power to propose” and “power to decide”. As I say in the article, the question in determining the nature of a regime, no matter the scale, is “in the end who decides? Who holds sovereign power? ” If it’s a person it’s a monarchy, if it’s a small group it’s an oligarchy (with its different types: plutocracy, phallocracy [or gynocracy], gerontocracy, klerocracy ..); if it’s the people it’s a democracy. An assembly drawn by lot imposing its views on the people without the latter being able to have the last word is a klerocracy, therefore a particular type of oligarchy.

    This is clearly true. From the perspective of political theory the sovereign is the decision maker, whereas those who propose policy options are merely advisors. This is always the case, irrespective of the numerical composition of the sovereign entity. Dahl goes further than Dimitri, in arguing that the demos should also have exclusive control of the proposal function — this would mean, in Rousseauian terms that the government as well as the sovereign must be democratic. But the demos cannot control the proposal function via an allotted body as proposals are individual speech acts, which are not subject to the law of large numbers. Although we don’t have much evidence regarding the internal functioning of the Athenian council, it’s hard to imagine it doing anything other than voting to determine the outcome of the speeches of individual councillors. Although the Boule was constituted to be a representative body by stratified sortition, the Athenians did not arrogate to it sovereign power, which was reserved for the general assembly.

    The proposer/decider distinction is also central to the Argumentative Theory of Reasoning, and is supported by a wealth of evidence from social psychology. The democratic case for sortition must acknowledge this distinction and it is hard to see a role for sortition in the proposing function.

    Yoram claims that the distinction is “naive” and that sortition-based bodies are not oligarchic as they don’t draw on pre-existing elites. But Dimitri’s point is that they become an elite as soon as they are constituted, unless there is some way of ensuring that the views of the assembly align with the views of the people. If the assembly was large enough, and participation quasi-mandatory, the case can be made for alignment of the decision function, but this cannot be the case for proposing, as there is no way of ensuring that the views of each speaker adequately represents her “constituents” and that imbalances of illocutionary force are equalised. An allotted body with proposing rights would be a form of oligarchy.

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  6. Keith,
    you ignore a key point about “the people” deciding. With millions of people and thousands of public policy decisions needing to be made at the neighborhood, municipal, state, national and global level, ALL of the people simply CANNOT be directly involved in all decisions that affect them (nobody has time for that, let alone the ability). If that is one’s definition of democracy, then it can never exist. However it can exist using sortition by having “the people” take turns making decisions such that the people as a whole (in an endless series of mini-publics), rather than any set group, has power. if a lottery selected a group to make all decisions for an extended period, then the oligarchic label fits, but when random groups make a few decisions and then many other random groups make other decisions, the people as a whole have power rather than an oligarchic elite.

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  7. Terry,

    As you know I’m wholly in favour of legislative decisions being made by randomly-selected subsets of the whole demos, iff it can be demonstrated that it makes no difference (within an agreed margin of error) which citizens are included in the sample — the outcome would be the same. What I’m wholly opposed to is the use of sortition in the agenda-setting process, as that would be entirely undemocratic, and it would seem that Dimitri is also of that view. Yoram claims that the distinction — between proposing and disposing — is “naive”, but

    a) it is analytically distinct (Harrington, Dahl etc)
    b) it works in practice (with judicial juries and Athenian nomothetai)
    c) it best matches our cognitive abilities (Mercier & Landemore, 2012)

    An agenda-setting body selected by sortition is oligarchic in so far as it arrogates power to individual persons, rather than statistically-representative aggregates. The fact that these persons are selected by lot (rather than by heredity, wealth or whatever) makes it a klerocratic oligarchy.

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  8. The entire enterprise has an amateurish let’s-just-do-it spirit, as if the very many details that are part of the implementation matter little. As just one example, the expressed ambition to increase the body’s size to 1,000 is mentioned off-handedly and without justification as if it is clearly a good idea. It is, of course, a very poor idea. Such a nonchalant attitude is, unfortunately, rather typical for applications of sortition.

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  9. Yoram:> the expressed ambition to increase the body’s size to 1,000 is, of course . . . a very poor idea.

    That may be obvious to you (“of course”), but for those of us who believe in descriptive representation, policymaking by 100 hand-picked volunteers is a klerocratic oligarchy. Perhaps you should create a new post explaining why you have abjured statistical representation in favour of a definition of democracy that nobody else can understand.

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