Citizen assemblies in Bristol

Adam Postans and Matty Edwards report in The Bristol Cable (January 15, 2020):

Experiment in democracy, as council to pilot citizens’ assemblies

Bristolians could be gathered to make decisions on issues such as the climate crisis.

One of the biggest shake-ups in years in how decisions are taken on the major issues in Bristol has been approved with the introduction of citizens’ assemblies.

It came as the city council’s ruling Labour group threw its weight behind the Green Party’s idea, with backing from the Lib Dems.

But the Tories voted against it amid fears it would become “consultation on steroids” and add an unnecessary new layer of bureaucracy when, they say, the power of the mayor should instead be returned to councillors.
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Residents will be chosen at random, like jury service for the assemblies and be paid to spend time hearing from experts on complex issues, including the climate emergency, before making decisions which could be binding on Bristol City Council.

Labour said it “radically strengthened” the Greens’ motion by assigning between £5million and £10million from the council’s capital budget to the “deliberative democracy” proposals, including giving communities more power over spending decisions in their areas.

But Tory group leader Cllr Mark Weston said: “We are going to end up with consultation on steroids. You will have opinions expressed from the centre of the city, all having the same view, and suburbs won’t have their say.”

Electoral redistricting by an allotted citizens commission in Michigan

The Monroe News from Michigan reports:

Applicants sought for Michigan redistricting panel

The Secretary of State’s office recently sent 250,000 randomly selected Michigan voters applications to serve on the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.

The 13-member commission will be responsible for drawing the boundaries for the state’s Senate and House of Representatives districts. It also will design the districts for the congressional delegation.

The commission is being formed as a result of the passage of Proposal 2 in November 2018. The ballot measure amended the state constitution to grant the authority to an independent citizen commission, taking the power away from the state’s governor and the Legislature.

Proposal 2 passed statewide 2,522,355- 1,593,556.

The commission will be composed of four Democrats, four Republicans and five voters who do not identify with either party. Districts are redrawn every 10 years in response to the U. S. Census, which will be conducted this year.

Per the proposal, the secretary of state’s office is required to mail out the applications to at least 10,000 randomly selected voters. Troy-based Rehmann LLC handled the selection process.

Residents within the state who weren’t part of the random mailing also may apply for the commission.

2019 review – sortition-related events

As I have done at every end-of-year of the last 9, I am offering my summary of notable sortition-related events that occurred over the last year.

As polls indicate that people continue to believe that governments do not represent them, the idea of the single-issue citizens’ assembly made strides in various European countries in 2019. In France, the Citizens’ Climate Convention is taking place, where 150 allotted people are tasked with selecting ways to address the climate crisis. This body is relatively high profile and received attention by various writers. A similar body is being demanded in the UK by the Extinction Rebellion movement.

Scotland had a citizens’ assembly for “shaping Scotland’s future”.

Participations journal devoted a special issue to sortition. 24 papers dealt with various aspects of the topic. The book Legislature by Lot, with the papers from a workshop by the same name was also published.

A citizens’ assembly on Brexit was widely discussed in the UK.

A permanent allotted body was instituted by the German speaking community in Belgium and by City Hall in Madrid.

The increasing use of allotted citizen bodies resulted in increasing scrutiny of the ways in which they are constituted and run, as well as their institutional role.

Fienberg: Randomization and Social Affairs: The 1970 Draft Lottery

A 1971 Science article by Stephen E. Fienberg, professor of statistics at the University of Chicago, deals with the problematic 1970 draft lottery and places it in a wider context of randomization in social affairs.

The Climate Convention: the allotted don’t want to be extras

An article by Béatrice Bouniol in La Croix, September 19 [Original in French].

The allotment of citizens tasked with making proposals for handling with the climate. This unprecedented experiment arouses excitement and high expectations.

“A woman, 65 years old or older, retired, no college education”. The target of the moment is inscribed on a whiteboard. 4 days remain for the pollsters of Harris Interactive to recruit 150 citizens to the Climate Convention. For now, this means randomly selecting a sample representative of the French population.

It is in fact one of the lessons of the Grand Debate and the regional citizen conferences. Volunteers can be easily recruited in some categories of the population – college educated urban men, for example. In order to avoid bias, several criteria were added to the random generation of telephone numbers: age, gender, education, social-professional categories as well as place of residence.

“A real will to participate”

In the locations of Harris Interactive, the voices mix. The eyes are fixed on the computers, the pollsters proceed step by step. They present the objective of the convention: to come up with proposals to fight global warming. Explaining the availability required of the participants – six week-ends during six [sic] months, starting in October and ending in January. Then detailing all that is provided in order to facilitate participation: payment as for trial juries, reimbursement of expenses including childcare.
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A Citizens’ Assembly on climate change is the coward’s way out

Interesting article by Melanie McDonagh in The Spectator on citizens’ assemblies. In response to the demands of Extinction Rebellion, letters inviting 30,000 households across the UK to join a citizens’ assembly on climate change were sent out last week by an alliance of six Commons select committees, chaired by Rachel Reeves. The author (an Irish Catholic) has some alarming claims to make regarding the citizens’ assembly on the repeal of the eighth constitutional amendment (on abortion). It’s a short and interesting piece, so I won’t bother to post extracts.

All the comments posted after the Spectator article are critical of the design of such deliberative assemblies which (IMO) run the danger of bringing the entire sortition movement into disrepute.

Dean, Boswell and Smith: Deliberative systems design

A post on the LSE website by Rikki Dean, John Boswell, and Graham Smith introducing a recent paper of theirs is a very useful and provocative piece.

One example of the post’s value is its ability to describe the systemic and inherent problems that are involved in the creation of a democratic process, seemingly without either using those problems manipulatively as a way to justify the oligarchical character of the existing system or falling back on the cliched feel-good formulas of leadership, participation, empowerment, etc.:

In our recent paper in Political Studies, we take a pioneering case of such a systems-oriented approach to democratic innovation – the NHS Citizen initiative – and explore how it played out in practice. Did this approach mitigate the aforementioned perennial problems of institutionalisation? And did it create new problems?

NHS Citizen was a participatory initiative launched by the appointed Executive Board of NHS England. Echoing the systemic emphasis on the distribution of functions across settings, the eventual design consisted of several interacting parts categorised into three broad stages – called Discover, Gather and Assembly – each of which had its own function.

There was initial enthusiasm both from participants and from the Board for this exciting new form of innovation. However, over time, a series of obstacles emerged, and the initiative for all intents and purposes shut down less than three years into its run. The way the process developed over the period demonstrated the ever-present difficulty for participatory organisation to connect both with public space and empowered space.

For the first Assembly, the agenda-setting process was not fully operational, meaning the Assembly dealt with issues that largely reflected the Board’s concerns. The Board were very positive about this first Assembly. Once Gather was better established, it genuinely did shift the agenda so that is was more reflective of civil society concerns. However, this culminated in the Board losing faith in NHS Citizen and choking off funding for the process. In addition, an unanticipated effect of the separation into different parts was that some of the participants in the earlier stages were unhappy about being prevented from taking part in the Assembly, which planned to use random selection. Their rebellion in the end forced a change to the selection mechanism for the Assembly. NHS Citizen thus pioneered some promising practices for better connecting deliberative assemblies to civil society, but this was at the cost of institutionalising some irresolvable tensions.