Now you might be wondering…
What happens during a citizens’ assembly?
They take a representative mix of everyday people, chosen by lottery and bring them together for 40-50 hours over the course of a few months to address a specific challenge posed to them by the government. They’re asked to consider a lot of information from a wide range of sources, discuss that information with expert speakers and among themselves. They work together to find common ground around trade-offs and proposals that address their problem, ultimately finding agreement on recommendations they write themselves and handing those to decision-makers with supporting evidence and rationale.
What is a democratic lottery? How are people chosen?
Democratic lotteries are a method for fairly choosing a mix of people to participate in an assembly. We can’t invite everyone to deliberate so to fairly narrow down the group to something like 40 people, we use a computer to generate a list of names or addresses and send out invitations. From those that accept the invite, we do another computerised draw that matches the group to the wider community. This means the group will be broadly representative of the wider population by a few important measures like age, gender, education, and location. This ensures fair representation for everyone.
Can anyone get selected for a citizens’ assembly? Or would there be qualifications and prerequisites?
The only people ineligible to participate are those who are already professional politicians.
What if ‘bad’ or ‘stupid’ people get selected?
We hear you, your neighbour can’t get their recycling right so you’re worried about us putting them in charge of budgeting for the whole State.
This really doesn’t happen. Citizens’ assemblies have shown again and again that when given respect, responsibility, and a chance to listen and learn from one another, people selected by democratic lottery are sensible and civil. They tend to think passionately about what’s best for everyone and have all the right incentives to find common ground with the help and assistance of wide range of experts.
Wait, what about voting?
We can still have some of that. Voting should still be used to select our professional politicians. Making use of citizens’ assemblies will unlock many of the issues that vex our parliaments and has the potential to revitalise electoral politics – placing the emphasis back on solutions and away from political spin and empty promises.
But don’t we need professional politicians to represent us?
From city councils to Parliament, lawmaking bodies deal mostly with questions of morals, values, and priorities. How do we want to live together? How should we spend our hard-earned tax dollars? What kind of future do we want for our children?
The people best suited to make those decisions on behalf of all of us are people exactly like us. Everyday Australians with the same hopes, dreams, and concerns as us.
When it comes to executing policy and running government day-to-day, we do need professionals, that’s why we recommend making use of citizens’ assemblies alongside elected officials to help address the issues politics-as-usual isn’t well suited to.
Has this really been proven to work?
It has. All over the world citizens’ assemblies are increasingly being used to find solutions for complex problems like climate change in France; city planning in Toronto, Canada; waste management in Fortaleza, Brazil; COVID-19 in Michigan, US; and city budgeting in Melbourne.
In 2020, the OECD documented 289 citizens’ assemblies or similar bodies taking place around the world between 1986 and 2019. That number is rapidly increasing as governments steadily learn about and take advantage of the many benefits they provide. Paris has just recently established a permanent citizens’ assembly with 100 Parisians selected by democratic lottery.