The experts making sure that the disadvantaged get heard

Annabelle Lever, researcher at Cevipof and professor of political philosophy at Sciences Po, writes in The Conversation about the lengths into which the organizers of allotted bodies have to go in order to overcome “cultural imperialism” and give the disadvantaged a voice.

Creating a citizens’ assembly that truly reflects society as a whole isn’t so simple, however. In particular, only a very small percentage of those invited to participate actually agree to do so.

To create an assembly that is more descriptively representative of the population – or one that looks more like us – several approaches are used. One is to have an initial phase of unweighted selection followed by a second phase that uses weighted lotteries. Another is to use stratified sampling or forms of stratification from the beginning.

Because citizen assemblies are very small compared to the population as a whole – France’s Convention for the Climate was made up of just 150 people – the descriptively representative character of the assembly can occur on only a few dimensions. Organisers must therefore decide what population characteristics the assembly should embody and in what proportion. Randomisation thus does not preclude difficult moral, political and scientific choices about the assembly to be constructed, any more than it precludes voluntariness or self-selection.

The use of weighted lotteries means that individuals will not have a formally equal chance to be selected to it – nor, of course, a substantively equal one. Assemblies created by stratified random selection offer a much wider set of opportunities to serve than is typical of other deliberative bodies. It is thus important to remember that even when a randomly selected assembly “looks like us”, everyone will not have had the same chance to be selected to it, nor to take up the invitation if they want to.

[D]emocratic equality does not require that deliberative bodies be composed of social groups in proportion to their share of the population.
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