Deliberative Mini-publics: Involving Citizens in the Democratic Process


We have news intern Kathleen O'Grady. She's here to talk about many publics a strategy for democracies to figure out tough policy problems. Hi, Kathleen High. These are sometimes called mini public citizen juries, deliberative democracy. What exactly are we talking about here? We are about buddies made up a randomly selected citizens. Deliberate, very controlled conditions answering often very constrained questions and who at the end of the process produce a set of recommendations there different kinds of buddies. They're really big ones that take a long time. There are these small ones that just meet for a weekend but the crucial ingredient really is that the citizens of randomly selected rather than self selected what need are these deliberative bodies filling the point that a lot of. People indicate as a real sea change recently was in Ireland after the financial crisis when there was a catastrophic collapse trusting government and one of the responses to this was a promise to institute as citizens. Body, that would deliberate on various crucial questions in Ireland at the time and produce recommendations, and they've been a couple in Ireland now and they've been incredible success quite a few people point to the success in Ireland. As. An indication that these bodies are very useful in the political moment that we find ourselves and where there's incredible polarization, there's lots of trusting government. So. That's really the need that they're trying to deal with when I hear about small groups deliberating big policy questions I, want to know a few important. Thanks how're the members chosen who picks basically the curriculum that they're subjected to and what happens with the results? Can you walk us through some examples? Sure. So use the UK, Climate Assembly because that's the example that I know best thirty, thousand letters were sent out to randomly chosen postcards and people were invited to rsvp saying whether they could make Birmingham for the weekends that had been selected for the assembly about seventeen hundred people responded saying that they could make it. We start out with random selection and then there is an unavoidable layer of self selection, right? Yeah. Strong people into being in a room. They don't want to be in and then random selection comes in a gain where there's an algorithm that takes these people who've responded positively, and it strips that down to the core group of just one hundred and ten people who are stratified to reflect the UK wide population on a number of different. Characteristics. So now that you have your body, how do you choose what to have them talk about listen to in this case, there were so many different bodies involved you parliament commissioned the assembly, and then they put the question of WHO's going to run the assembly out to competitive tender a charity won the contract to run it, and then the charity instituted a panel of experts, coup selected speakers but then there selection was put tear another panel. It was the first round of deliberation really on who should be providing evidence. Now, you have your people and your curriculum. The first thing that happened here was that they listen to academics explaining the very basics. What is the greenhouse effect? What are the consequences of climate change after they've kind of got the basics in place they hear on specific topics from experts and interest groups whose opinions are clearly labeled as opinions. The assembly was divided into three different tracks. So one track was looking at transport, for instance, in another track with looking at eating in home energy. And within those tracks, they split into small groups where they would deliberate on questions that they wanted to US policies that they wanted to introduce. There was some kind of template policies that they were given to vote on, but they also request changes to use the policies that were suggested to them, and then at the end of that, they had a blind voting process. One of the big concerns that we have right now with politics is how polarized people are, how do they keep that out of this and make it like a com- space for making decisions one of the best descriptions of it that I've heard is it's like couples counseling for Democracy. What happens is that within these small group settings, there are very strict rules for civility only one person speaking at a time being polite and calm at all times giving other people space to other abuse even if they disagree with them, backing up your opinions with reasons and facts. And there's a great deal of space made for instance, in asking questions at the experts where people who are not comfortable standing up and asking their question in front of a room of one hundred people can write down the question and have it asked for them. Each table has its own facilitator guiding participants through the civility rules and at the end of it, you have these. Comments from the participants about how much they felt that their voices were heard how much they felt that they were respected. It's really kind of difficult to imagine when you're spending time in the political climate that rules spending time in, but it does seem to work. Yeah. Reading some of the descriptions of the way people felt about participating in about all getting on board and kind of this magic of cheering facts and forming logical conclusions from them and being satisfied with how things went. Basically, it's like summer camp less data and politics and it's somehow uplifting. That's a great description I. think that works really well, the other comparison that kept coming to mind for me was the great British baking show. So they go every weekend it's the verse population that's rarely is representative of the country and they go into the situation where the norms dictate kindness camaraderie helpfulness. And they produce something beautiful, and in this case, it's climate policy rather than take what happened with the results will happen with the policy decisions recommendations that they made. Some of them were quite creative. One that I particularly loved that an assembly members suggested was the idea that the government should be producing information on our success, a climate policy the way they're producing information on our stats, a website that you can go to see what our emissions look like and how that compares to Nineteen Ninety and what's happening to bring them down. There were also suggestions to have carbon footprint labelling on food an a very high level of support for bringing public transit back into public ownership in the UK where it's largely privatized and where this has been kind of political football for a while. So in many cases, the policies themselves are not necessarily that astonishing, but it's a gauge of the trade offs that members of the public prepared to make what people are prepared to do to achieve those policies and what level of support there is among a very informed subset of the public. That's really particularly interesting

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