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.

Berlin tests citizen participation according to Austrian model

A post by Timo Rieg.

The Berlin district of Tempelhol-Schöneberg (population 301,000) has been experimenting with a new kind of citizen deliberation, where the members are chosen by lot. The method known as “Bürgerrat nach dem Vorarlberger Modell” was developed in the Austrian state of Vorarlberg and has been practised there for 13 years. It has been part of the constitution of Vorarlberg since 2013.

For such a process of deliberation the administration chooses 12 to 15 residents by lot and allows them to debate the issue for two days. The discussions are moderated by one or two facilitators. What makes the method of “Dynamic Facilitation” unique is that the participants can only speak directly to the facilitator and not with each other. This is to ensure that everyone can speak for as long as they want and to alleviate conflict. The facilitators write every idea or keyword on a flipchart so that no thought is lost.

This is being trialed in seven sub-districts of Tempelhof-Schöneberg from August 2019 to February 2020. The results of every citizens’ assembly are presented in an open civic meeting (a so-called “Bürgercafé”), to which those interested are invited by the mayor to contribute. Because it is an experiment, the process is being observed by researchers from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam.

The idea started with a group of five retirees who were unhappy with the political developments such as the rise of the far-right (AfD) and populist leaders (Donald Trump). They were worried about democracy and saw it as a problem of disconnection between politicans and ordinary people. So they looked for a process that would give people a voice and make the politicans pay attention to them. They discovered sortition and the David Van Reybrouck’s book Against Elections, which proposes the allotment of citizens as representatives (and what has been known in Germany since the 1970s under the name “Planungszelle”).
http://www.aleatorische-demokratie.de/planungszelle/
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The first meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland takes place this weekend

Gareth Jones writes in Third Force News:

A new era for democracy in Scotland is set to begin this weekend

The first meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland is being held this weekend (26 and 27 October), with 100 people taking part in a unique project that will help shape Scotland’s constitutional future.

The assembly, convened by David Martin and Kate Wimpress, has recruited people from across Scotland who are representative of the wider public as a whole to consider three key questions for the nation.

These are: What kind of country are we seeking to build?; How can we best overcome the challenges the challenges that Scotland and the world faces, including those arising from Brexit?; and What further work should be carried out to give people the detail they need to make informed choices about the future of the country?

The members were recruited through a process of random selection to broadly reflect the adult population of Scotland in terms of geography, age, gender, ethnic group, educational qualifications, limiting long term conditions/disability and political attitudes towards Scottish independence, the UK’s membership of the EU and Scottish Parliament voting preferences.
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