Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland

The Scottish government has announced that it is going to set up a citizens’ assembly “to help shape Scotland’s future” (turns out this is also a business opportunity):

The process of establishing the new Citizens’ Assembly to explore some of the major challenges facing Scotland has begun.

A contractor is being sought to randomly select 120 members of the public to serve on the Assembly. The individuals will be broadly representative of Scotland’s adult population in terms of age, gender, socio-economic class, ethnic group, geography and political attitudes.

The Assembly will consider three broad issues:

* what kind of country should be

* how can Scotland best overcome challenges, including those arising from Brexit

* what further work is required to enable people to make informed choices about the future of Scotland

Schedule and remuneration:

Members will be identified by early September, with the Assembly meeting on six weekends between the autumn and Spring 2020.

Assembly members will receive a gift of thanks of £200 per weekend to recognise their time and contribution. Travel, accommodation and other reasonable costs, such as child care, will also be covered.

CommonSpace has some reactions from experts. Oliver Escobar, senior lecturer in Public Policy at the University of Edinburgh and an expert on deliberative/participative democracy inquires about the institutional context of the assembly and wants to make sure it reflects an elite consensus:

This is a momentous announcement – a potential milestone for democratic innovation in Scotland.
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Sortition in the press

Some recent media items mentioning sortition:

Verena Friederike Hasel, Politico, May 16:

Germany’s democracy problem: History has made Germans reluctant to let the mob decide.

BERLIN — Germany, like many places in Europe, is badly in need of democratic rejuvenation.

But where other countries are experimenting with bringing voices from the street into the political process, Germany’s dark history casts a shadow on efforts to break down barriers to political participation.

There’s no question Germany would benefit from listening to its citizens and engaging in some talk therapy. […]

In ancient Greece, that cradle of democracy, citizens’ assemblies consisted of 500 people who were elected by lot. After serving for a year, they were replaced by others. Lately, with democracy in crisis, the Greek model has served as an inspiration for modern-day democracies. Ireland, for example, set up a citizens’ assembly in 2016. […]

The Germans have been more reluctant to tinker with their political system. But on a Saturday morning in late February, 44 people gathered in Frankfurt. The choice of venue had symbolic value. Frankfurt, nowadays known as the country’s financial hub, was home to the first freely elected German parliament in 1848. This time around, people gathered for an event called Demokratiekonvent. It’s the brainchild of Dominik Herold, a 27-year-old politics major who wanted to take a cue from Ireland, knowing full well that “Germany still has a long way to go.”
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An Australian local community co-op allots board members

The Kyneton and District Town Square Co-op is an organization that was formed in order to manage a piece of land for community use. It has announced that three of the co-op’s board members will be allotted. (It seems that there are 4 additional board members who were elected.) The process is handled by a Sydney-based consultancy named ‘Deliberately Engaging’.

Van Reybrouck: Belgium’s democratic experiment

David Van Reybrouck has a piece in politico.eu about the new sortition-based bodies in Belgium.

Those looking for a solution to the wave of anger and distrust sweeping Western democracies should have a look at an experiment in European democracy taking place in a small region in eastern Belgium.

Starting in September, the parliament representing the German-speaking region of Belgium will hand some of its powers to a citizens’ assembly drafted by lot. It’ll be the first time a political institution creates a permanent structure to involve citizens in political decision making.
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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.

Hind and Mills: A citizen jury visits the secret castle

Dan Hind and Tom Mills write in openDemocracy:

Entering the secret castle: A small step towards democratic public media?

Last week the BBC gave a representative audience panel control of its Brexit output for one day. Could this ‘citizens juries’ type approach begin to transform our media?

It didn’t receive much attention, but last week the BBC tried something interesting. For one day, Friday 1st March, its Brexit-related output was overseen by a representative audience panel that would, as the BBC put it, ‘control’ coverage ‘across a range of BBC News outlets’. The initiative, branded Brexit: Your Stories, was intended, the BBC said, to reflect ‘how Britain really feels about Brexit’. Kamal Ahmed, the editorial director of BBC News, was quoted as saying:

Not only will it be a very different and thought-provoking way of reporting the news that day, but it will help inform how we shape our news coverage in the future. We want our news rooms across the UK to be less a set of secret castles where, to the public, mysterious things happen. We want to open up the process and this first day is just the start.

Does this unusual step from the BBC signal a genuine interest in organisational change? Will it be a first step in democratising its output, as the statement put it? Or was Friday’s experiment more an exercise in PR?

Time will tell. But the rather narrow focus suggests a significant motivation was to help the BBC navigate the choppy waters of Brexit reporting, which has presented enormous challenges for the broadcaster.

[…]

Sortition in Madrid

An article about the political activity of Pablo Soto in Madrid is mostly devoted to a popular initiative mechanism, but the last few paragraphs deal with an allotted body:

This month Madrid plans to launch Mr Soto’s most far-reaching reform yet – an “observatory” of 57 citizens selected at random to advise the city’s 57 councillors.

Mr Soto explains that an algorithm will ensure that observatory members will be representative of Madrid’s social diversity, with a one-year mandate and access to expert assistance to reach well-informed decisions.
Image caption A selection of the citizens’ proposals (translated from Spanish) featured on the platform in early January

The concept was inspired by the ancient Athenian practice of choosing citizens to form governing committees, and by more recent examples where governments have asked the people to decide on single issues to break political deadlock.

In Australia, a “citizens’ jury” was asked about the construction of a nuclear dump.

“The idea is as old as democracy itself,” he says. “A group of people chosen at random – if they have the time and capacity to study the issues in depth – can take very representative decisions.”