Imagine you receive an invitation one day from your mayor, inviting you to serve as a member of your city’s newly established permanent Citizens’ Assembly. You will be one of 100 others like you — people who are not politicians or even necessarily party members. All of you were drawn by lot through a fair and random process called a civic lottery. Together, you are broadly representative of the community — a mix of bakers, doctors, students, accountants, shopkeepers and more. You are young and old and from many backgrounds — everybody living in the city over age 16 is eligible, and anyone can take part regardless of citizenship status. Essentially, this group of 100 people is a microcosm of the wider public. Your mandate lasts for one year, after which a new group of people will be drawn by lot.
This is not just a thought experiment. Since the 1980s, a wave of such citizens’ assemblies has been building, and it has been gaining momentum since 2010. Over the past four decades, hundreds of thousands of people around the world have received invitations from heads of state, ministers, mayors and other public authorities to serve as members of over 500 citizens’ assemblies and other deliberative processes to inform policy making. Important decisions have been shaped by everyday people about 10-year, $5 billion strategic plans, 30-year infrastructure investment strategies, tackling online hate speech and harassment, taking preventative action against increased flood risks, improving air quality, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and many other issues.
As governance systems are failing to address some of society’s most pressing issues and trust between citizens and government is faltering, these new institutions embody the potential of democratic renewal. They create the democratic spaces for everyday people to grapple with the complexity of policy issues, listen to one another and find common ground. In doing so, they create the conditions to overcome polarization and strengthen societal cohesion. They bring out the collective intelligence of society — the principle that many diverse people will come to better decisions than more homogeneous groups. [Continue reading…]