Herefordshire: The cost of sortition

Christopher Baily, from Weston under Penyard, writes the following in a letter to the Hereford Times:

How much did Climate Assembly cost Herefordshire Council?

ACCORDING to the Herefordshire Council website the Herefordshire Citizens’ Climate Assembly discussed last month how Herefordshire should meet the challenges of climate change.

The people taking part were chosen from households invited to register their interest by an independent organisation called the Sortition Foundation, who were to make sure the final group represented the diversity of Herefordshire’s population.

On its website the Sortition Foundation says that together we can fix our broken politics.

May I ask whether David Hitchiner, the leader of the council for the past three years, subscribes to the view that our politics are in fact broken and, if so, what the council has been doing about it?

Perhaps he might also tell us, in the spirit of openness and accountability, how much of our money has been spent on engaging Sortition in this way, along with Impact Consultancy and Research and the Involve Foundation helping to run the assembly.

Disclosure of costs may be a rather trivial matter, and the obsession with this issue reflects the “broken politics” we are saddled with. But the issue of transparency around the application of sortition is crucial. Without transparency, it is easy to suspect that the whole process is being manipulated behind the scenes by established powers.

A secure and inexpensive method for sortition

Our association (l’APRES) organizes discussions every Sunday either on the internet, in real life, or both. Every Monday, a week in advance, we randomly pick someone to choose the next discussion’s theme. We thus needed a cheap and secure way to carry out this weekly selection. This post demonstrates how this is done.

The first step consists in going to this website. On this page, you need to enter a “seed” number to produce the output. As a seed we use the CAC 40 value at the market opening of that day – Monday. This value is publicly available and easy to determine and verify. Importantly, the same seed produces the same output (i.e., the same selected person) but at the same time two very close by seeds produce different, wholly unrelated, outputs (see why here).

In the demonstration shown in the following images, I employ a few names of people from this blog.

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San Francisco recalls school board members who replaced exams with a lottery

A year ago the San Francisco board of education voted to replace admission exams at Lowell High School, “regarded as San Francisco’s top public high school”, and one of two public schools using exams for admissions, with a lottery. The school has a high proportion of Asian students and a low proportion of Black students, and, naturally, the change was presented as both being unfair to the former and as being a way to address discrimination against the latter.

On Tuesday some of the board members behind this change (as well as some other more symbolic changes) were recalled by large majorities of the San Francisco voters.


The number 1,000 seems to have some kind of charm when it comes to allotted bodies. There is of course the G1000 – “a Belgian platform for democratic innovation” backed by the renown of David Van Reybrouck. But more generally, there is somehow the notion that 1,000 is a good size for an allotted body. Supposedly, 1,000 is how big a body has to be in order to be “representative”. This intuition may be to some extent reinforced by the fact that opinion polls often use (or claim to use) samples of a similar size. There is also the fact that when one is surrounded by 1,000 people there is a feeling of being in the presence of a crowd and one becomes an anonymous, insignificant point in that crowd – and maybe that seems to reflect what membership in a mass community is about.

In fact, the number 1,000 is completely arbitrary. Its use in opinion polling is rather coincidental, and there is certainly no reason to use it when allotting political bodies. Indeed, the feeling of being lost in a crowd of 1,000 people is a strong indication that 1,000 is too many.

As is generally the case when considering the design of allotted bodies (and when thinking about sortition on the whole) it is most fruitful to consider the issue of body size via the model of extending self-representation. For the decision-making body to make policy that represents the interests of the people, two things have to happen:

  1. The body has to be internally democratic. That is, there has to be an equality of political power within the body.
  2. The membership of body has to reflect the population in the sense that its values and world view match those of the population.

Those two conditions generate two conflicting considerations: since large groups of people tend to generate spontaneous inequalities within the group, the first condition implies that the size cannot be too large. The second condition implies that the makeup of the body has to be statistically representative, so that it should not be “too small”.
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Meeting February 24th – International Network of Sortition Advocates (INSA)

The International Network of Sortition Advocates (INSA) will have its next meeting Thursday, February 24, 2022 at 19:00 GMT [20:00 Europe, 21:00 Israel, 14:00 EST (2:00 PM), 6:00 AEDT].

Google Meets Link:

To make our time together more productive and to limit the amount of work done outside of meetings, there will be a new format for our regular monthly meetings. Beginning this month, instead of a meeting primarily to discuss issues and then dividing up work to complete on our own time, we will use the hour together to actually complete the work that needs to be done. We’re hoping that this new format, requiring only an hour a month commitment, will attract greater numbers of interested people. Future agendas will be set by meeting participants.

Meeting Agenda – February 24, 2022 – Research and select an online platform to facilitate an exchange of information and ideas.

Please let us know if you plan to attend. We welcome your active participation and look forward to seeing you at the February 24th meeting! For more information contact:

Benny Nissen at or Rich Brown at

Our Mission: To advocate for the use of Sortition, across the globe, as a better way to make political decisions by:

  • Creating an international collaborative platform for groups advocating for the use of sortition to share successes, resources, and inspiration to impel a shared global narrative.
  • Helping to establish and nurture groups to further spread the word about sortition in their local and national context.

Action: Reject the “this is a democratic country!” mental habit

In a previous post I listed some proposals for actions that activists can take to promote the idea of sortition. In this post and future ones I’d like to expand a bit on some of those ideas and open them for discussion.

From birth, citizens of Western countries are indoctrinated into thinking about their countries as being democracies. As they grow, citizens have to face a never-ending stream of pieces of evidence which falsify this idea. And indeed, they tend to become more and more disillusioned and cynical about the political systems of the societies in which they live.

And yet, it seems it is incredibly hard for Western citizens to break the habit of thinking of their societies as being essentially democratic, even if severely flawed ones. Each one of those flaws is perceived as a point in which the system does not function as it should, as it is expected, often as it has previously did.

The simple and stark fact that the Western system is not democratic and was never designed to be democratic – in fact, designed explicitly to be not democratic – is somehow almost never internalized. As they read or hear about another outrage of government, citizens keep repeating in frustration and indignation: “This shouldn’t happen! This is a democratic country!”.
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