Citizen Assembly for Food Policy in Switzerland

In June Switzerland is going to convene a Citizen Assembly for Food Policy (Assemblée citoyenne pour une politique alimentaire). [Texts quoted below are my translations from the original French. -YG]

With the Strategy for Sustainable Development, the Federal Council has declared its commitment to a fundamental change toward a more sustainable food system in Switzerland. In order to set out strategies for this change, national dialogs have already taken place in 2021. The Citizen Assembly for Food Policy is a continuation of these dialogs with the direct involvement of the Swiss population.

Some details about the process:

The Citizen Assembly for Food Policy convenes 100 allotted Swiss residents who will discuss in an open-forum process what a sustainable food policy in Switzerland in 2030 could look like.

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Guides and standards of good practice for allotted assemblies in politics

As the use of allotted assemblies (also called juries, or similar terms) in politics grows by the year, so does the number of guides and standards of good practice for those bodies. It seems therefore necessary to provide an evaluation tool for this kind of publication.

In this post I list relevant publications. Future posts will be devoted to the development of the evaluation tool. No doubt this will be a challenge. Then we will be able to evaluate the each of the publications in subsequent posts.

  1. The Alliance for a Diverse Democracy, Dr. Antoine Vergne: Citizens’ Participation Using Sortition: A practical guide to using random selection to guarantee diverse democratic participation.
  2. newDemocracy and the UN Democracy Fund: Enabling National Initiatives to Take Democracy Beyond Elections.
  3. ‘meer democratie’ (Belgium), Paul Nollen: Code of Good Practice for allotted mini-publics involved with legislation.
  4. Sortition Foundation: How to run a citizens’ assembly.
  5. Marcin Gerwin: Citizens Assemblies: Guide to democracy that works.
  6. Extinction Rebellion: The Extinction Rebellion Guide to Citizens Assemblies.
  7. Innovation in Democracy Programme (UK): How to run a
    citizens’ assembly
    : A handbook for local authorities based on the Innovation in Democracy Programme.
  8. Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) and The newDemocracy Foundation: An introduction to deliberative democracy for members of parliament.
  9. OECD: Innovative Citizen Participation and New Democratic Institutions.
  10. Sciences Citoyennes: La convention de citoyens (French), The Citizens Convention (English).

Citizens’ Assembly in Bosnia and Herzegovina

The EU delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina reports:

The EU in BiH [Bosnia and Herzegovina] has launched the Citizens’ Assembly, an innovative model of deliberative democracy, which offers a unique opportunity for citizens in BiH to directly express their views on constitutional and electoral reform, to recommend concrete solutions for elimination of the discriminatory provisions in the BiH Constitution as well as for improvement of the Election Law. This process is based on two rounds of sortition, practice of random selection of citizens as a representative sample of a country’s population. During the preparatory phase of the process a team of local and international experts and the independent company specialized in polling representative samples of the BiH population (IPSOS) jointly developed the methodology for random selection of citizens’ and completed the first round of sortition. The letter signed by the EU, the US and OSCE Ambassadors in BiH was sent to 4,000 randomly selected households in BiH, inviting citizens to express their interest in participating in the Citizens’ Assembly.
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Leydet: Which conception of political equality do deliberative mini-publics promote?

A 2016 paper by Dominique Leydet from the department of philosophy at the University of Québec at Montréal:

Which conception of political equality do deliberative mini-publics promote?

My objective in this article is to achieve a clearer understanding of the conception of political equality that informs at least some of these democratic designs in relation to equality of opportunity, but also in relation to agency, both individual and collective.

To do so, I will focus, in the first section, on the methods of participant selection advocated to secure equal presence. According to what principle is participation distributed? If it is according to the equal chance or equal probability principle, rather than equal opportunity, what difference does this make in terms of the underlying conception of political equality? Is ‘equal presence’ conceived strictly in individualist terms or is it related to groups? And, if so, how?

In the second section, I consider the issue of voice. Achieving equality in this context is conceived in terms of equalizing opportunities for influence among participants (Smith 2009: 21-22; Fishkin 2009: 100-101; Fung 2003: 348). I intend to clarify the conditions the designs establish to achieve this objective despite the existence of background inequalities. How is the political agency of participants understood and facilitated in this respect? And what does this say about the underlying conception of political equality?

Altman: Strengthening Democratic Quality: Reactive Deliberation in the Context of Direct Democracy

A 2014 paper by David Altman, professor of political science at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, proposes using citizen juries as part of the intiative/referendum process in a way that goes beyond Citizen Initiative Review.

Strengthening Democratic Quality: Reactive Deliberation in the Context of Direct Democracy

David Altman

Kellogg Institute for International Studies – Working Paper Series #400

Abstract: Acknowledging that mechanisms of direct democracy can fall prey to narrow and egoistic interests (regardless of how legitimate they may be) and that legislatures do not always have the incentives to articulate responses to those narrow interests, I propose a hypothetical reform: any time a popular vote (i.e., initiative, referendum, or authorities’ referendum) is held, representative and direct institutions should be supplied with a stratified random sample of eligible voters convened to advance citizens’ counterproposals. This original institution—which does not exist even in the places where direct democracy is most developed—would discuss, deliberate, and offer an alternative or an improvement to a policy question that is to be decided in the near future; it would refine and enlarge public views on a contentious topic, providing meaningful political choices, and thus strengthening democratic quality. In arguing for this, my research takes insights from two real-world situations—Uruguay’s two 2009 initiatives for constitutional reform—in which citizens’ counterproposals could have played a crucial role in informing public views on a contentious topic and offered an alternative to both sides of the debate.

Lafont: Democracy without shortcuts

Cristina Lafont is a professor of philosophy at Northwestern University whose research is about normative questions in political philosophy concerning democracy and citizen participation, global governance, human rights, religion and politics.

Lafont is the author a new book, Democracy without shortcuts, devoting a fair amount of attention to allotted citizen juries.

This book articulates a participatory conception of deliberative democracy that takes the democratic ideal of self-government seriously. It aims to improve citizens’ democratic control and vindicate the value of citizens’ participation against conceptions that threaten to undermine it. The book critically analyzes deep pluralist, epistocratic, and lottocratic conceptions of democracy. Their defenders propose various institutional “shortcuts” to help solve problems of democratic governance such as overcoming disagreements, citizens’ political ignorance, or poor-quality deliberation. However, it turns out that these shortcut proposals all require citizens to blindly defer to actors over whose decisions they cannot exercise control. Implementing such proposals would therefore undermine democracy. Moreover, it seems naïve to assume that a community can reach better outcomes “faster” if it bypasses the beliefs and attitudes of its citizens. Unfortunately, there are no “shortcuts” to making a community better than its members. The only road to better outcomes is the long, participatory road that is taken when citizens forge a collective will by changing one another’s hearts and minds. However difficult the process of justifying political decisions to one another may be, skipping it cannot get us any closer to the democratic ideal. Starting from this conviction, the author defends a conception of democracy “without shortcuts.” This conception sheds new light on long-standing debates about the proper scope of public reason, the role of religion in politics, and the democratic legitimacy of judicial review. It also proposes new ways to unleash the democratic potential of institutional innovations such as deliberative minipublics.

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Code of Good Practice for allotted mini-publics involved with legislation

This text is meant as a start to discuss the problem, it is not even a draft. My hope is nevertheless that we will reach that point, or even farther.

Introduction: As the use of mini-publics appointed by sortition is spreading around the world, and is reaching the legislative level, a code of good practice is essential. A glossary is also necessary.

We know that not all essential criteria can always be met, but we have to know at least what to aim for and how to refute well-founded criticism and protect a valuable democratic system. Citizens must know that there are essential choices to make that are of significant impact on the outcome and on the reliability of the results.

The first question we have to ask ourselves is what the kind of application it is we have at hand. The participation ladder from Arnstein may be of help. The participation cube from Archon Fung is somewhat more complicated but more up to date. Or we can look for an answer ourselves.

– Is the proposed mini-public of significant influence on legislation? Answers may differ, but we have to make a decision.

The Oregon CIR system has a noticeable influence on legislative decision making (by referendum in this case). Providing information is a very important issue in any form of democratic legislation.

The Washington state panel that sets the wages of elected legislators has no influence on legislation.

The Irish panel is also not of direct significant influence on legislation. It makes non-binding suggestions to the elected body which decides to whether to initiate a referendum or not.

A Jury in the judicial system has no relation to legislative use.

For this reasons I suggest that the first code of good practice is about the lowest legislative level, the Oregon CIR (or alike).  Although the Oregon CIR is difficult to place at the Arnstein ladder I propose to qualify it at level 6 for the sake of comparing it with other initiatives.

McKay: Combining mini publics and multi stage popular votes

The section ‘Combining mini publics and multi stage popular votes’ in Spencer McKay’s new paper ‘Building a better referendum’ presents an interesting overview of several systems where the referendum is combined with mini publics.

Pairing a multi-stage popular vote with a mini-public – a process I refer to as an iterated popular vote (IPV) – may aid in bridging the gap between micro-deliberation and macro-participation. The IPV is an attempt at institutional design inspired by the notion of “designed coupling,” which seeks to “find the optimal strength of linkages between different parts of a deliberative system” (Hendriks, 2016, p. 55).

Invitation and call for posters: International conference Direct Democracy v. Populism, Geneva, 17-18 May 2019

On Friday and Saturday, May 17th-18th, 2019, the university of Geneva will hold a conference on the theme of “Direct Democracy v. Populism”.

On Friday evening there will be a public meeting in French, while an academic conference in English will be held on Saturday. The program: PDF.

Registration for the workshop is free but places are limited for catering purposes. If you would like to register please contact, before 2 May 2019, alexander.geisler@unige.ch.

Call for Posters: You currently work (or have worked or are planning to work…) on a project on direct democracy, democratic theory, democratic innovations, sortition or populism? Send us your
poster proposal by 15 April. Accepted authors will be notified by 17 April. Submissions and further information: nenad.stojanovic@unige.ch.

Two proposals for representative representation

Representative representation: a citizens’ jury appointed by sortition (v 2019.03.11). (For a fuller context, see the paper released by democratie.nu: ‘Sortition as a democratic system for the appointment of a real parliament, also called ‘Citizens’ Jury’).

Introduction

Proposal I: The principle of our proposals is derived from some aspects of the jury in its judicial application. The ‘Legislative Citizens’ Jury’ is only called when necessary and has a short term mandate with the power to make a decision in just one specific case.

During the national elections, voters can allocate a number of additional parliamentary ‘seats’ to a descriptively representative Citizens’ Jury of at least 500 citizens, appointed by sortition[1]. This Legislative Citizens’ Jury will vote, along with the elected parliamentarians, on all bills and proposals for implementing decisions that citizens consider to be of sufficient social importance. A new jury will be summoned for each vote.

Questions and answers

Q1. What does the legislative power look like after summoning a ‘Legislative Citizens’ Jury’?

A1. The Citizens’ Jury presents itself like a ‘party’ in the political structure. The citizen himself determines the balance of power during free elections.


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