“Updating Democratic Institutions for the Digital Age” Berggruen Institute
June 30-July 2, 2019
Executive Advisor, Co-Founder Berggruen Institute Editor in Chief
Mending the Rupture Between Institutions of Self-Government and the Public I. Foundational Frame: Beyond the Ballot Box
II. Elements of a Hybrid System: Participatory and Direct Democracy + Representative Government
III. Current Practices and Proposed Innovations
a. Crowdlaw: Citizens Setting the Agenda
b. Lex Iscritti: Proposing Law and Deliberating with MPs
c. Citizens’ Assemblies
d. Permanent Citizens’ Council, Rotating Assemblies
e. Deliberative Polling: Digital Update
f. A ‘Second Reading” of Citizens Ballot Initiatives
g. The European Citizens’ Initiative / Citizens House of EU Parliament
h. Integrate the learning algorithms of AI into the practices of deliberation and decision-making as well as public administration.
Taking Back Control Through Democratic Deliberation
Mending the Rupture Between Institutions of Self-Government and the Public
In his book, “Rupture,” the Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells argues that what we are witnessing today is not some normal turn of political cycles, but an historic rupture of the institutional relationship between the governing and the governed in liberal democracies. Yet he sees no new relationship on the horizon that might supplant the old ways of representation, only fragments of the former mainstream parties and upstart populists vying to put their team in power through the exhausted mechanism of electoral contests in which ever fewer believe. The resulting polarization and paralysis has divided nearly all societies in half or splintered them even further into a multitude of tribes, unable to reach a governing consensus.
This disaffection with and distrust in governing institutions has gained more traction than ever before because of the participatory power of peer-driven social media. It levels the playing field of information among amateurs, professionals, and meritocratic experts. As a platform open to all, social networks challenge the custodianship of elites and, not least, the legitimacy of representative democracy.
This rise of social networks heralds a new distribution of power that is a gamechanger for governance. The political form this powershift takes, which is becoming widely seen as an alternative, is a demand by disaffected constituencies to make the big decisions themselves through the direct democracy of referendums and citizen’s initiatives at the ballot box. Increasingly, the connected citizenry is inclined to dispense altogether with governing intermediaries. According to a global Pew Poll conducted in 2017, 66 percent of respondents preferred a system in which “citizens, not elected officials, vote directly on major issues to decide what becomes law.”
We’ve seen this sentiment in action with Brexit, the Catalan independence vote and the advance to power in 2018 of the Internet-based Five Star Movement in Italy under the slogan “participate, don’t delegate.” The fact that the FSM itself is being overrun by its far-right coalition partner, Matteo Salvini’s League Party, only underscores the danger when darker forces in the body politic are unleashed by the failure of unresponsive elites in systems legitimated by consent of the governed. But that does not diminish the original impulse of a popular revolt against the decay of the old institutions large swaths of the public no longer trust and for which they are seeking alternatives.
“Our experience is proof of how the Internet has made the established parties, and the previous organizational model of democratic politics more generally, obsolete,” says Davide Casaleggio, who runs the movement’s Internet platform and is considered the power behind the network. “The platform that enabled the success of the Five Star Movement is called Rousseau,” he explains, “named after the 18th century philosopher who argued politics should reflect the general will of the people. And that is exactly what our platform does: it allows citizens to be part of politics. Direct democracy, made possible by the Internet, has given a new centrality to citizens and will ultimately lead to the deconstruction of the current political and social organizations. Representative democracy—politics by proxy—is gradually losing meaning.”
In 2018, the FSM created the first ever Ministry for Direct Democracy in a national government that will administer the newly established right of citizens to initiate measures that make law directly at the ballot box without going through Parliament.
Following the FSM’s lead, a key demand of the gilets jaunes in France has been for a similar process of citizen-initiated referendums, a demand to which President Emmanuel Macron has at least partially acceded to at the local level and in a highly constricted way at the national level that requires joint qualification by citizens through signature gathering as well as by a certain percentage of votes in the Parliament. That statist, centralized France would move at all in this direction is indicative of the gathering momentum behind the idea that citizens can “take back control” through direct democracy.
The demand for greater citizen participation in decision-making has gripped Great Britain as well, where the vote for Brexit through a popular referendum has stymied the “mother of all parliaments,” riven to the point of paralysis by factional strife.
“Trust has broken down in our representative democracies because political parties are no longer performing their traditional role of assembling and then aggregating public opinion to build an informedconsensus,” says former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown. “In their place, Facebook, Twitter and our social media give the impression that we have a direct democracy where, through by-passing representative institutitons, leaders and led can communicate with each other on equal terms.”
He continues, “At its best, however, our social media is a shouting match without an umpire and at worstanechochamberisolatingandreverberatingthemostextremistofviews. Itmaytakeyearsto rebuild the party system. In the meantime we can attempt to build an informed direct democracy through Citizens’ Assemblies. They would bring together, in microcosm, citizens who would spend time hearing the facts, interrogating the experts, and challenging factional views. The Britain of 2016 would have benefited from a time to reflect before a time to vote. Now, working through the issues is the best way of discovering whether we can reach a consensus on our European future in advance of a final people’s vote. And I am certain we will find we are far more tolerant, more fair-minded and more outward looking than the extremists who today claim to speak in our name. “
This trend is also taking hold outside the long-standing democracies of Europe. In Mexico, for example, the left-populist president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has also called for “participatory democracy,” initiating a series of “consultations” to endorse a variety of his pet projects or kill his favored targets.
Today, Bruno Kaufmann reports, “113 of the world’s 117 democratic countries offer their citizens legally or constitutionally established rights to bring forward a citizens’ initiative, referendum or both. And since 1980, roughly 80 percent of countries worldwide have had at least one nationwide referendum or popular vote on a legislative or constitutional issue. Of all the nationwide popular votes in history, more than half have taken place in the past 30 years. As of May 2019, almost 2,000 such votes have taken place: 1,075 in Europe, 193 in Africa, 192 in Asia, 187 in the Americas, 117 in Oceania.”
The explosion of direct and participatory democratic practices at the local and provincial level, notes Kaufmann, is related to the rise of populist authoritarianism. “Frustration is growing with democratic
systems at national levels,” he reports, “and yes, some people become more attracted to populism. But some of that frustration is channeled into positive energy — into making local democracy more democratic and direct.” Some call it “leading from below.”
Switzerland, many American states, such as California, and cities around the world have long employed the direct democracy mechanism of citizen’s ballot initiatives – with highly mixed and often deleterious results. What makes this new surge qualitatively different is the scope and scale of social connectivity that fortifies it. Indeed, if unmediated, direct democracy in the digital age will look a lot like social media itself. It will encompass the good, the bad and the ugly, a platform not only for the spread of innovative ideas, but for ill-tempered blogmobs, hateful sentiments, alternative facts, outright lies, utopian delusions and worse. But the genie is now out of the bottle and wont’ be squeezed back into the forms and concepts of democratic governance that have prevailed since the 18th century.
All this presents a paradox for governance in the digital age: The more participation there is, the greater the need for the counterbalance of impartial practices and institutions that can process the cacophony of voices, sort out the deluge of contested information, negotiate fair trade-offs among the welter of conflicting interests and dispense with magical thinking or xenophobia that comes along with networked popular sentiment. In this new era of distributed power, such a deliberative ballast is as essential to the survival of republics as the direct engagement of citizens in governance. Without it, the momentary passions, prejudices and ill judgements associated with mob rule will overwhelm collective intelligence.
Jamie Susskind, the Oxford scholar and author of “Future Politics: Living Together in a World Transformed by Tech,” takes a longer view of the effect of digital technology in government, situating today’s revolution in its historical context. He contemplates how digital technology, including AI, has the potential both to diminish the quality of democratic governance but also to enhance it – with respect to deliberation, decision-making, public administration, and the enforcement of laws and rules.
“Deliberation,” he writes, “is the process by which members of a community discuss political issues in order to find solutions that can be accepted by all (or most) reasonable people. The internet has already changed the nature of the forums we use for deliberation. For ordinary citizens, a growing amount of political speech takes place on digital platforms owned and controlled by private entities. The early consequences of this development are becoming clearer, with recent concerns centering on polarization and fragmentation between rival factions, and the proliferation of ‘fake news’. Another source of growing unease is about the privately-made determinations about who may be participate in the deliberative process (and who is blocked or banned), what may be said (and what is prohibited), and how it may be said (no more than 280 characters, etc.).”
He considers the prospect of a “more radical– but by no means fanciful – prospect for the long term” with “humans [ceasing] to be the only participants in the deliberative process…It is important to recognize that bots in the future will be able to deliberate in ways that rival – and even exceed – human levels of sophistication.”
He then turns to the notion of direct democracy – “disregarded for centuries because of the size and complexity of modern polities.” It is possible, he writes, “if not necessarily desirable, that citizens in the future might be able to vote on several policies a day, using smartphones or whatever replaces them. It will also be possible for people to delegate their vote on certain issues to others whom they
trust – for instance, allowing a consortium of doctors, nurses, and patient groups to cast their vote on matters of health policy. This is so-called ‘liquid democracy’.”
As Susskind sees it, the effects of digital technology on governance may extend beyond deliberation and direct democracy to public administration. “We already trust digital systems with important decisions. Algorithms trade stocks and shares on our behalf. Machine learning systems diagnose our lung cancers and skin cancers. An obvious question for political scientists and policymakers is how digital systems might be used in the work of public administration. This should not be controversial as a matter of principle: if digital systems are better able (for instance) to manage a city’s water supplies, regulate its traffic flows, monitor tax compliance, administer benefits, and the like, then why would they not be used? In time, I predict, many of the functions of public administration will rely less on the ‘precision instrument’ of bureaucracy and more on the sound functioning of digital systems.” Finally, he explores the transition to what he calls ‘digital law’ – laws that are coded into the world around us, bypassing the traditional modes of enforcement.”
The most urgent task today, therefore, is to figure out how to exploit the new tools of the digital age and apply innovative practices of deliberation to help mend the breach of distrust between the institutions of self-government and the public. That will entail integrating social networks, AI and direct democracy into the political system through the establishment of new mediating practices and institutions that both complement, and compensate for, the waning legitimacy of representative democracy. This evolved form of democracy for the 21st century can be called “participation without populism.”
I. Foundational Frame: Beyond the Ballot Box
In conceiving a new institutional design for governance going forward, we must return to first principles. Philip Pettit has set the foundational frame. The aim of popular sovereignty is “control of government by its citizens” through mechanisms that assure consent of the governed. What happens outside the ballot box, he argues, is as essential to control of government by all its citizens as elections. It is the operational constraints on power and the impartial rules and practices of “competitive collaboration” and deliberation that guarantee an “inclusive” democracy in which the values and interests of all citizens, and not just the electoral majority, are weighed in any decision-making process. This is the essential distinction between a mixed constitutional republic and the pure democracy many are promoting today, which was so loathed by the American Founding Fathers that Thomas Jefferson described it as “elective despotism.”
In an inclusive governing system, design must strive to reach a “detached judgment” that respects all citizens as carrying the same weight even in a majoritarian regime in which “affective interests and investments” can lead to “stable divides, with some being cast as more or less fixed minorities.”
To navigate these shoals of self-government where the aim is inclusion and consensus requires more than everyone seeking to maximize their own interests through bargaining power. That alone will lead to might by numbers making right, or gridlock. Only governing through a deliberative process “constrained by common reasons” can transcend divisions to reach a governing consensus.
As Pettit puts it: “The need for participants in public discussion to accept the constraint of invoking only reasons accepted as relevant on all sides is a special case of the general need for people in a democracy to abide by the rules that allow them to compete with one another for victory. Indeed, this constraint may be the rule that is most fundamental to the possibility of democracy. If and only if it is accepted can there be a hope of people finding a common framework under which to pursue their competitive, political ends in a peaceful way.”
In our populist age of polarization and paralysis tempted by, and indeed embracing, rule by plebiscite, nothing is more important than fostering practices and building new institutions that establish trusted frameworks for exercising the constraint of common reasons. In diverse societies, the possibility of reaching consensus through compromise requires impartial platforms — islands of goodwill — that are insulated from the immediate partisan fray and beyond the sway of organized special interests. In short, deliberative decision making in democracies requires depoliticization of the institutions in which those decisions are made.
As Pettit suggests, such a process of deliberation that feeds into either legislative or referendum decision-making can involve referral of contested issues to expert committees, referral to an individual or group that is taken to be impartial or even resort to a lottery mechanism, among other similar arrangements.
(*With respect to expert committees, it is worth noting the practice of Base Closing Commissions in the U.S. Since closing a military base in any constituency, with all its economic consequences, was deemed too politically costly for sitting politicians, those decisions in the 1980s-1990s were delegated to an independent commission appointed by the Congressional leadership that comprised former generals, former local elected officials and former Congressmen or women. The recommendations of the commission could only be voted up or down as a whole – no amendments – by the Congress. This insulated politicians from any local political cost while making decisions in the interest of the entire nation.
To go a bit further, the value of a non-elected technocratic government, such as Mario Monti presided over as prime minister of Italy from 2011-2013, is that it can make the tough decisions and formulate policies that take into account the long-term interests of all citizens instead of the immediate priorities that prevail in a government formed by elected parties representing organized special interests. It is doubtful that the fiscal measures implemented by the Monti government, including the trimming of new pension benefits and advancing the retirement age, could have been achieved through a partisan election. That the coalition in power today in Italy aims to rescind the pension measures exposes the chief flaw of technocratic government: it lacks popular legitimacy.
The best system of governance would combine the impartial and knowledgeable character of technocracy with mechanisms other than elections to establish legitimacy, balancing administration by the best and brightest with consent of the governed. One way to do this would be to put the proposed policies, developed after broad consultation, to a public vote in a “confirmation referendum” preceded by the convening of a series of Citizens’ Assemblies in advance of the poll, a process that could include possible amendments if consistent with the purpose. As we will see, the experience of Citizens’ Assemblies in Ireland shows how a group of citizens gathered in a way indicative of the whole can come to a consensus even on a highly emotional issue if issues are deliberated outside the electoral arena. In the Irish case, this process entrusted to citizens “like ourselves” persuaded voters at large to remove an anti-abortion clause from the constitution by a large margin in a referendum.)
Following this foundational frame, any new design of governance that empowers participation without populism entails establishing (a) open platforms for public discourse where the trustworthiness and
integrity of information is assured; (b) robust venues for citizens to voice their concerns and set the political agenda; and (c) disinterested, impartial and “depoliticized” spaces for the deliberation and processing of popular concerns through negotiation and compromise into responsive and sound policy for a public vote at the ballot box or in legislatures.
II. Elements of a Hybrid System: Participatory and Direct Democracy + Representative Government
The challenge ahead for liberal democracies is incorporating the new tools of technology and present methods of deliberation and administration into a new hybrid political system that features both direct democracy and greater citizen engagement with their representatives in government. This includes:
- § Innovative practices such as “crowdlaw” that mobilize “collective intelligence” through networked deliberation as a way to register public priorities and set the agenda for both legislators and sponsors of citizens’ initiatives and referendums;
- § Interactive civic software, such as Lex Iscritti employed by the FSM in Italy, that enables constituencies to propose, deliberate and iterate legislative measures directly with their elected representatives;
- § Citizen’s Assemblies, policy juries and deliberative polling which bring together randomly selected groups of citizens indicative of the population as a whole, including through lottery, who hear pro and con arguments and are presented with verified facts in order to reach consensus on a given issue. The results of these deliberations may serve as recommendations to legislatures or voters in a referendum, or may be binding through an up or down vote;
- § Requiring the deliberative process of a “second reading” of citizen-initiated measures as well as government sponsored referenda before they go to the ballot box for a vote. This can be done through:
o Citizens Assemblies and review panels of the kind noted above to deliberate both government sponsored referenda as well as citizens’ initiatives;
o Authorization of legislatures to negotiate with citizen sponsors to vet the constitutionality of their proposed measures, fix problems, discover unintended consequences and make amendments consistent with the sponsor’s intention. If agreement is reached on addressing the issue through legislation, the citizen’s measure can be withdrawn. If no agreement can be reached, the legislature can place an alternative, competing measure on the public ballot without going through the step of gathering the requisite signatures to qualify;
o Re-configuring the upper house, or senate, of legislatures as a non-partisan body that is selected in part by sortition and in part through indirectly elected or appointed members on the basis of experience and expertise (to insulate it from the pressures of special interests in electoral contests) as the primary institution for a “sober second
reading” of citizen-initiated measures as well as legislative proposals from the lower house. It would be empowered, per above, to negotiate with citizen sponsors to reach common agreement or place a competing measure on the ballot.
- § Creation of a European Citizens’ Assembly as a second house of the European Parliament. [Intermediate steps to this goal would include a “Citizens’ Bill” under the current European Citizens Initiative (ECI) process that mandates debate and an “indicative vote” on the proposed issue in the EU Parliament (since the Parliament cannot initiative legislation, only the EU Commission). Further, the Commission should clearly define the areas of its competence to propose laws, and if ECI qualifying signatures for a measure within those parameters reaches a certain threshold, formulate legislation in response to the proposition or put it to a European-wide referendum.]
- § Integrate the learning algorithms of AI in all of the above practices to the extent they enhance citizen consultation, deliberation and decision-making.
III. Current Practices and Proposed Innovations
Though not systematized as a template for the governance of liberal democracies in the digital age, many of these embryonic elements and practices of deliberation already exist across the West.
Crowdlaw: Citizens Setting the Agenda.
Beth Noveck is director of the Governance Lab at New York University and New Jersey’s Chief Innovation Officer.
More than a hundred local city councils and parliaments at both the regional and national level, from Iceland to Ireland to India, are turning to “crowdlaw,” a form of crowdsourcing that uses novel collective intelligence platforms and processes to help governments engage with citizens. Crowdlaw is based on the simple but powerful idea that parliaments, governments and public institutions work better when they leverage new technologies to tap into diverse sources of information, judgments and expertise at each stage of the law and policymaking cycle. This helps improve the quality as well as the legitimacy of the resulting laws and policies.
Because collective intelligence helps to aggregate collective wisdom, it is useful for identifying problems. For example, the crowdlaw project vTaiwan, championed by Taiwanese Digital Minister Audrey Tang, enables the public to define public problems. It then utilizes machine learning software to form working groups to create policy recommendations. In more than 80 percent of cases, publicly- defined issues have led to government action, in large part because the process tightly integrates collective intelligence into public decision-making. So far, 26 national issues, including the regulation of Uber, telemedicine and online education, have been discussed with over 200,000 participants.
Collective intelligence is also good at helping groups of people deliberate and discuss. In Iceland, the capital of Reykjavik has its own crowdlaw project called Better Reykjavik, created by the Active Citizens Foundation, where users identify and then devise ways to improve city services through forum discussions. A reported 20 percent of Iceland’s population has used the site, and more than
half of those registered use it regularly. More important, the site is having an impact. When the economic crisis in Iceland left people homeless and literally freezing to death, the platform helped the public devise a new homelessness policy.
A third way that collective intelligence platforms can be used is to help citizens evaluate laws and policies after the fact. In Ghana, tech entrepreneur Prince Anim launched TransGov, a social auditing platform, in 2014. This site is used by about 600,000 Ghanaian citizens who monitor the progress of local development projects and hold their government accountable. In Brazil, the government launched a platform in 2016 that enabled students across 10 Brasília public schools to share information about their learning environments. The platform helped identify the major issues students faced and then helped pinpoint root causes and generate ideas on how to fix them.
Despite these proliferating examples, however, the success of collective intelligence platforms has been mixed. Many projects remain in the pilot phase, failing to expand. When Spain’s Podemos was still an upstart political party, for example, it successfully engaged its supporters in drafting an online party platform but saw less success embracing these crowdsourcing practices once in government. And the Decide Madrid platform, to which 400,000 people have signed up to propose policy to the city council, has resulted in only two newpolicies but not a single new law. This is because bureaucracies are very resistant to change. Furthermore, governing is an arcane and jargon-filled process, and most of us simply do not have the know-how or vocabulary to discuss public policy. Nor do politicians or public servants typically want to engage us. After all, there is little political will to do something that could result in a loss of power, especially in a hyper-partisan environment. This is most likely why, now that Italy’s Five Star Movement is in power, it no longer meaningfully uses the Rousseau online system it created for campaigning, preferring to tightly control how policy is made.
Another reason for failure is bad design. Each stage of decision-making, from identifying to evaluating problems, demands distinct forms of information and action. Identifying problems requires large-scale input from diverse members of society whereas solving them often requires more time and expertise, which means investing a substantial amount of time into designing workable solutions. The best crowdlaw projects — and we are only just beginning to understand which ones result in enhanced problem-solving — offer different ways of participating, such as consultations, competitions and participatory budgeting, each of which are designed for a distinct phase of decision-making, be it spotting or evaluating problems.
To be sure, more research is needed to understand what incentives will get both individuals and institutions to collaborate. But the reality is that new technology has the potential to unlock approaches that enable more individuals to weigh in on how to solve our collective problems; and it has the potential to offer city councils or parliaments rapid counsel from entrepreneurs, artists and engineers.
Advances in science and technology are set to transform the way we live together, with profound consequences. We need to use some of those same tools to redefine democracy, not as a once-a-year or less sporting competition between warring teams, but as robust conversations about how to solve our greatest challenges together.
As Michael Cottakis reports, the millennial organization Generation 89 used crowdlaw survey methods to determine the commonly held preferences of young people across the 27 European Union states. “Across the board,” he writes,” young citizens express a desire to become more involved in policy making at the EU level” and favored “citizen debate” over consequential issues. The data also showed
that while young voters are less likely to join political parties, they are keen to be engaged on single issues that affect their lives.
The Five Star Movement in Italy advertises the civic software of its Lex Iscritti program that operates over its Internet platform, Rousseau as allowing its members “to become real legislators.”
Every month there is a vote on bills proposed by the members. The two with the most votes are assigned “tutors”, who will have the task of formalizing the proposal into draft legislation. In the last three votes up to the end of January, more than 40,000 votes were cast by members on a total of 83 proposals.
Among the “most voted” proposals were a bill for free broadband and the introduction of secure and certified digital voting for elections. Among the measures that made it to the Parliament and was passed was a prohibition on public managers taking up positions when they leave office in the private sector in companies that were involved in public tenders.
The members who have uploaded the proposals to Rousseau that qualify for legislation come to Parliament to shoot a video presenting the proposal together with the tutor. The proposal transformed into a drafted bill after being submitted to the scrutiny of drafting experts will be tabled in the Chamber or in the Senate. The name of the proposing member will also be quoted within the tabled text to highlight the voluntary work for the good of the community.
The most widely heralded success of Citizens’ Assemblies were held in Ireland from 2016 to 2018. As a result of their success, many others are now considering using this deliberative process in other countries, notably in Great Britain where they have been proposed (by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown among others) in advance of a potential second referendum on Brexit (or even to sort out the present terms of departure) as well as by environmental groups to devise a consensus plan for climate action.
Such assemblies are also being proposed to address issues at the federal level in Germany.
The details of how the Irish Assemblies were set up and executed are important to understand in terms of how their legitimacy was established in the first place, how the process itself lent legitimacy to the outcome and how the outcome informed the actual implementation of that outcome into binding law.
Here are the details of the Irish Assemblies:
• The Citizens’ Assembly was an exercise in deliberative democracy, placing the citizen at the heart of important legal and policy issues facing Irish society.
• It was the second deliberative democracy exercise in Ireland, following its predecessor the Convention on the Constitution which ran from 2012 – 2014.
• The Programme for a Partnership Government 2016 committed the Government to ‘the establishment of a Citizens’ Assembly, within six months and without participation by politicians, with a mandate to look at a limited number of key issues over an extended time period.’
• Establishment of the Assembly was approved by resolution of both houses of the Irish parliament (the Houses of the Oireachtas) in July 2016.
• The Chairperson was appointed by the Government and was former Supreme Court judge, the Honourable Mary Laffoy.
• There were 99 citizen Members of the Assembly, in addition to the Chairperson. Members were chosen at random to represent the views of the people of Ireland, and were broadly representative of society as reflected in the Census, including age, gender, social class, regional spread etc. They must also have been on the electoral register to vote in a referendum.
• The five issues the Assembly was mandated to consider were:
- how we best respond to the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population;
- how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change;
- fixed term parliaments.
• In respect of each topic, the resolution stated that ‘all matters before the Assembly will be determined by a majority of the votes of members present and voting’. Therefore, the output of the Assembly was a series of voted recommendations following the development of a Ballot Paper in consultation with the Members.
Expert Advisory Group
• The resolution provided for the establishment of an Expert Advisory Group to assist with the work of the Assembly in terms of preparing information and advice.
• The Chairperson put in place four distinct Expert Advisory Groups throughout the lifetime of the Assembly. The members of the Expert Advisory Group were academics and practitioners across a number of specific fields of interest, depending on the topic being considered.
A Steering Group comprising the Chairperson and a small representative group of Assembly Members elected by the Assembly Members was in place to support the Assembly in the efficient and effective discharge of its role and functions. In practice, the Group assisted with planning and operational issues associated with the work programme.
• There were 5 meetings on the Eighth Amendment, 2 meetings each on both how we best respond to the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population and how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change, one meeting on the manner in which referenda are held and one meeting on fixed term parliaments.
• The final report on the manner in which referenda are held and fixed term parliaments was published on Thursday, 22 June 2018. In Chapter 8 of the report, the Chairperson takes the opportunity to outline her recommendations around citizens’ assemblies and the views of the Members taken at the final meeting form part of this.
The Assembly met on 12 occasions between October 2016 and April 2018, which includes an inaugural meeting. Each Assembly meeting was a full weekend (Saturday morning until Sunday afternoon) at a venue on the outskirts of Dublin.
The Assembly has published a final report and recommendations on the Eighth Amendment, how we best respond to the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population and how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change.
The report and recommendations on the Eighth Amendment was considered by a joint committee of politicians from both Houses of the Oireachtas, who in turn also recommended a referendum to remove the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution. This referendum took place on 25 May 2018 and passed by a majority of 66.4%.
Permanent Citizens’ Council, Rotating Assemblies
In 2018, the German-speaking areas of Belgium (Deutschsprachige Gemeinschaft or DG) put in place a hybrid system that includes both a permanent Citizens’ Council and Citizens’ Assemblies that rotate membership for specific issues. Here is how they work:
Mini-publics, or long-form deliberative processes (citizen assemblies) are the type of deliberative democratic innovation that have already been used and proven in many places around the world, including within the DG in 2017.
Rather than having ad hoc citizen assemblies, it is preferable that their agenda is set, and their activities followed- up, by a permanent body (also controlled by citizens) that provides a continuous and stable underpinning for the different Citizen Assemblies. Moreover, this creates a separation of power within the citizens’ process where the same people do not set the agenda and decide on the content of a proposal.
The DG model consists of three separate entities:
1) A Citizen Council that will decide on the topics that will be discussed by citizens in separate deliberative processes throughout the year. This Council will also follow up what is done with recommendations of past deliberative processes and prepare those that are upcoming. It is thepermanent body of the model.
2) A Permanent Secretariat that does most of the logistical work to prepare the separate deliberative processes. This involves doing the sortition to select citizens for these processes, preparing the information packages for them and inviting experts. The Permanent Secretariat also provides support to the permanent Citizen Council.
3) Single-topic Citizen Assemblies. A number of these will be organized every year and will discuss one topic set forward by the Citizen Council. They will make recommendations for policy on that topic to the political actors in the DG.
The Citizen Council (CC)
This is a permanent body, but with annually rotating membership. It sets the agenda for the individual Citizen Assemblies (CA’s), monitors these CA’s to see whether they are run according to best practices and finally, it does the follow-up on the recommendations so that they are attended to in a timely way by parliament.
The CC has two distinct tasks:
1) Agenda setting. Because agenda-setting is a crucial role, the CC would do this in a way that differs from its normal routine meetings.
Once every year at the end of September members take one or two weekends to determine what the topics should be for the CA’s that will take place in the following year. This meeting only takes place after the yearly ‘state of the union’ by the Minister-President (September) to ensure that the CC does not set a topic that is subsequently earmarked by the government for policy-making that year. The minimum number of CA’s is to be set by the parliament of the DG, and the expert group would suggest a minimum of two per year.
The CC will set the topic in cooperation with a legal expert from the DG parliament. Both the CC and the CA’s should also have access to the parliamentary services that ordinary commissions also have such as the legal service, archive, etc. – this way they can define the elements of the topic that are within the jurisdiction of the DG parliament. The questions asked should be broad and open enough so as not to constrain the specific CA in their ability to explore creative solutions to the topic at hand. The CC will take its input for this agenda- setting from different sources, but these will be suggestions and the CC is free to choose the topics it deems most important after thorough deliberation. Among the sources for this input are parliament, the government and the citizens of the DG, which can be consulted through many and varied forms of public consultation. (see a more detailed note on organizing this input later)
2) ‘Routine’ tasks: The CC will convene monthly to assist new CA’s being set up and to follow-up past ones – monitoring the preparations for the next CA to take place. For example, the Permanent Secretariat (PS, see below)
will present a list of experts it has earmarked for the topic and the information it will provide for the participants in the CA, which the CC will review for balance and can therefore request be changed.
Beyond this, the operating process foreseen for a CA (facilitator, sessions, …) will also be presented to the CC ahead of a CA so it can monitor that the CA will take place according to the agreed upon standards. The CC can also decide that a certain CA requires a larger number of participants if they feel this is needed for the topic. This could be if this is a sensitive political topic so a larger group is useful to increase the legitimacy. Similarly, the CC can decide that a CA on a specific complex topic will need more time than usual and plan this together with the PS.. The CC also monitors the yearly budget together with the PS and the impact different CA sizes and duration have on it. According to how it plans to spend this budget more or fewer CA’s per year can be delivered, but there should always be a minimum number of CA’s per year as agreed with parliament (as stated above, we suggest two for the DG as a minimum).
Finally, the CC will also follow-up the recommendations of previous CA’s that are to be handled by parliament. The head clerk of parliament (who can sit as ‘liaison’ and advisory member) will provide information on what has been done with recommendations from previous CA’s in parliament and at which stages of implementation some of these are (or why not). The CC will also follow-up that an official feedback moment is organized in parliament with the members of a specific CA. (see a specific note on how recommendations could be handled later)
Composition of the CC: The CC consists of 24 randomly-selected citizens who have been members of previous CA’s. They will be selected from the pool of participants of previous CA’s, with a maximum number of years that one stays in the pool (e.g. after 3 years one is removed from the pool). The membership in the CC rotates, where one third (i.e.8) of the members change every four months.
This means every member sits for one year on the CC, but every four months there is a change in composition. This ensures that there is stability in the working of the CC, but also that the limited term means that citizens on it do not become entrenched in their role. Having very long terms would mean that they become too socialized in their role, not unlike elected politicians, and lead to a concentration of power in the hands of a few citizens. Long terms also make membership of the CC too heavy a burden for many citizens and thus impair recruitment.
The rationale for having members of the CC drawn from previous CA members is because they will already have a clear understanding of the process and the workings of CA’s from their own experience. This allows them to be more efficient and insightful in monitoring and following-up CA’s. If CC members had never sat on a CA themselves, they would have to rely on others to get acquainted with how a CA works rather than having an in-depth understanding of what this entails from the outset.
In the first year, as a transition measure, 6 members would come from each of the parties represented in the DG parliament and the others from the mini-public held in 2017 (see specific note ‘set-up period’ later).
The CC has as non-voting members the member of the permanent secretariat (see below), the Ombuds(wo)man of the DG and, for its relationship with the parliament, the head clerk.
The Permanent Secretariat (PS)
This consists of at least one permanent employee. The PS is responsible for organizing process logistics, and coordinates the content of the CA’s in several ways. The person holding this position should therefore, ideally, be highly knowledgeable about participatory and deliberative processes, and capable of understanding the many kinds of bias. Because the PS plays such a central role, it is important that it has an independent and neutral
position. This could be achieved by having this person work for example under the office of the ombuds(wo)man of the DG.
The PS is responsible for:
- the management of the sortition process to assign members to a specific CA. This is the organization of the recruitment and lottery itself (see a technical note on this later in the report).
- Sending out invitations, following-up replies and responding to queries. This also includes helping potential participants with practical issues such as sorting out their travel, childcare etc.
- Basic logistics aspects of organizing the CA’s: providing rooms, catering, etc.
- Recruiting the facilitator(s) to a specific CA. This needs to be done with great care as these are crucial to having a high-quality deliberation process. One could even institute over time a form of accreditation
by the PS for facilitators for CA’s in the DG.
- Preparing and managing the yearly budget. This is the budget for specific CA’s and for the annual
budget for the CC. The CC supervises this budget and the PS reports at regular intervals to the CC.
Beyond these logistical tasks, the PS coordinates the preparation of information and documentation for the specific CA’s. This includes asking various diverse stakeholders for input, balancing views and ensuring that all perspectives on the topic at hand are available. This involves setting up an ad-hoc advisory group for every CA (see specific note on this later). The PS is also responsible for reviewing the final program with balanced questions and methodology to be used by the facilitators for the CA’s. It also involves preparing a list of experts and stakeholders that will come to talk to the CA.
Because the PS holds a crucial position in the organizing of the whole process, it is necessary that the CC is involved when this person is appointed or when the person holding the position is replaced. The CC monitors the work of the PS to see that it holds to a strong standard of neutrality and impartiality.
The work of the PS is very important and requires a good knowledge of how deliberative processes are set up. The person that will hold this post will therefore need excellent skills and be knowledgeable on this. But the G1000 organization has also foreseen in its current planning and budget that it would assist and monitor the process developing in the German speaking communities for the next two years. This will also include giving advice to the PS in the first two years.
The Citizen Assemblies (CA)
These are single-topic citizen assemblies that bring together a minimum of 25 citizens for a number of days, at least for four to six days depending on the complexity of the topic.
As stated above the topic is decided by the CC. The CA’s are professionally facilitated and deliver a set of recommendations to the parliament of the German-speaking community of Belgium.
The citizens in each CA are drawn by lot (see further on in this report for technical details on this) and are remunerated for their time. The topics that they can discuss are a priori limited to the policy areas in which the
DG has its competences2.
A CA will propose recommendations to the parliament of the DG on the topic it was given to discuss. There should be a clear regulation as to how these recommendations will be handled by parliament. The extent to
which they are seen as binding3 to some degree is up to the political actors of the DG to decide, but the most important element that previous experiences with CA’s tell us is that expectations should be clearly set at the
start of a CA and should be kept after it. A separate note below goes into possible ways parliament can work with these recommendations.
Deliberative Polling: Digital Update
Stanford University’s Jim Fishkin is the global guru of deliberative polling, which he has been perfecting in practice since the 1990s. In this video link, he explains how the process works.https://www.youtube.com/embed/D2KV2nkpwoM
Here is an update on his latest projects incorporating digital technology:
America in One Room
America In One Room (A1R) is a deliberative polling event designed to shape the 2020 US Presidential Election. It’s being held in Dallas, Texas this September.
A1R will bring a national random sample of registered voters (to be recruited by NORC, the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago) to a single place where they can deliberate in depth on the issues facing the country and the positions of the candidates before the start of the primary season. The event is non- partisan, evidence based and will focus on five big issues which the public has placed priority on in conventional polls—health care, the economy, immigration, the environment and foreign policy. The deliberators will work in small groups on each of these issues areas and then question the candidates. We think this will be “participation without populism”, combining random sampling with deliberation at the moment when it can be consequential.
We’ve already partnered with Snap and YouTube, and have interest from CBS, Netflix, the Financial Times, Buzzfeed, and many other media organizations to broadcast the content and results from the event to millions of people.
The Automated Moderator
Separately we have a grant from the NSF and with my engineering colleagues we have created an automated moderator that can use the same short briefings on the five issues and determine questions for the candidates on those issues. We hope and plan to post those questions on You Tube from citizens around the country. The automated moderator works well and its scale will only depend on money for server time and the help of social media partners who can help recruit diverse others into the same moderated small groups. It is not a Deliberative Poll but a way of engaging the broader public in the same issues–spreading the salutary effects of deliberation with people who have different points of view. I do not have a one pager on this but will send when available. We only have technical proposals and reports. We are also planning to use this in Iceland for the constitutional reform and other places.
Citizens’ Ballot Initiatives
During the Progressive Era at the turn of the 20th century, many American states as well as cities adopted the direct democracy of citizens’ ballot initiatives originated in Switzerland at the end of the 19th century. California, America’s largest state, has used the initiative more intensely than any of the others. Oregon has introduced
one of the more innovative ways for citizens themselves to vet and review propositions so as to inform their fellow citizens before they vote.
Switzerland: The federal popular initiative is the instrument of direct democracy in Switzerland that allows citizens to propose changes to the Swiss Federal Constitution. A vote will be organized for every proposition of modification that collects 100,000 valid signatures in 18 months.
The most frequent themes tackled by initiatives are healthcare, taxes, welfare, drug policy, public transport, immigration, asylum, and education. There’s been a surge of ballot initiatives: more than 75 since 2000, and there are about two dozen in the pipeline. That’s more than all the ballots in the 80 years after they began in 1891.
There are only two kinds of restrictions on the content:
- Formal criteria (the initiative should deal with one topic at a time, etc.)
- The initiative should not infringe on the core of the human rights, known as jus cogens.
Unlike a mandatory referendum, a proposition to change the constitution is initiated by the citizens and not by the parliament. The legislative authorities cannot reject a qualified initiative but they can make a counter proposal, known as counter-project, that appears on the ballot alongside the original proposition with the additional option of “neither of the above.” A double majority of people and cantons is required to change the constitution.
As Bruno Kaufmann reports, “unlike the Brexit process, which was based on a single piece of paper asking the people of Britain to vote ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’, the Swiss approach is an elaborate one. It seeks to ensure that every voter is properly informed, clearly detailing both the government and the opposition positions. The ballot paper in four languages is actually accompanied by a small multi-page dossier, a voter pamphlet, ensuring that anyone who has not followed events can quickly read up on the basic pros and cons. So there is no excuse not to be uninformed.” To ensure the impartiality of the ballot language, a non-partisan office of experts is assigned to write it according to this dictum that hangs on a sign in that office: “Think like a philosopher, write like a peasant.”
And while there are criticisms Switzerland holds far too many popular votes – there is one every three months with about half the electorate taking part – the process is done professionally, credibly and always in the interests of the citizen. And when decisions really matter, people turn out to vote in huge numbers.
Popular initiatives exist at the federal as well as the cantonal (cantons) and communal (town) levels.
California and Oregon: Though it has a governor and legislature, California is, in essence, a direct democracy. The most consequential decisions of recent decades – on taxes, budget, the environment and other areas – have been made at the ballot box directly through citizen-initiated legislation.
The Citizens Ballot Initiative was adopted from Switzerland in the early 20th century as a way to circumvent a corrupt legislature controlled by the Westward-expanding railroad trusts, alongside the referendum (to amend legislation) and the recall of officials by popular vote. In the original enabling legislation in 1911,
the people. That process was dropped in the 1960s when the California legislature became a full time body.
Present requirements for signature qualification are a number equal to 8 percent of the previous general election vote for Governor is a constitutional amendment and 5 per cent for statutory legislation. Initiatives are limited
who gathered signatures equivalent to 5 percent of the last vote presented a petition to the legislature, which then had 40 days to replace the measure with its own. If the Legislature did not act, the measure would go to
to a single subject and require the submission of the full text of the proposed law, from which the state’s Attorney General write a brief “title and summary” that appears on the ballot on election day.
Legislative measures initiated in the state’s Assembly or Senate go through committees and are debated and reviewed and amended. This process, known as a “second reading,” can strengthen bills and eliminate problems with them.
By contrast, the review process for citizen ballot measures is woefully inadequate and sometimes leads to the passage of initiatives that don’t stand up to legal scrutiny. That’s what happened with Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage, and Proposition 187, which limited public services to immigrants who are here illegally. Both measures won at the polls but were later thrown out by the courts.
Citizen legislation has also produced a dysfunctional tangle of fiscal policies. Take the seminal case of Proposition 13, passed in 1978. Because property taxes were locked down, while spending for schools and public services continued to rise, deficits were inevitable.
And there was Proposition 55, passed in 2016, which has left California with a tax system so dependent on a tiny base of wealthy taxpayers that the budget is exceedingly vulnerable to economic cycles. A mere 1% of the state’s residents now pays nearly 50% of all income and capital gains taxes, the primary source of general fund revenue. That has meant that an economic downturn can lead to as much as a 25% drop in the budget.
Ballot measures have proved easy to hijack by special interests over the years, and we’ve seen real estate, tobacco and oil interests, as well as some unions, introduce measures aimed at protecting their spoils in the guise of the public good. One example of this was Proposition 23 in 2010. A ballot measure misleadingly titled “The California Jobs Initiative” was sponsored by mostly out-of-state oil interests aimed at undoing legislation stemming greenhouse gas emissions. In the end, fortunately, the public voted against the measure. But $75 million, a record at the time, was spent by the battling sides in the campaign to sway voters to one side or the other.
Still, ballot measures are powerful tools when they work. On the up side, Californians have passed initiatives that ended gerrymandering by shifting redistricting to citizen commissions and busted partisan gridlock by requiring only a simple majority vote on budgets. Initiatives have also enacted far-reaching environmental laws to protect the coast and address climate change.
There has been some progress in fixing problems with the initiative process to introduce the deliberative filter of a “second reading.” Legislation sponsored by the Berggruen Institute’s Think Long Committee that passed in 2014 amended the state’s initiative law for the first time in 40 years, requiring the secretary of state to notify the Legislature when 25 per cent of qualifying signatures are gathered for a ballot measure. At that point legislators can seek to work with sponsors to get rid of flaws and unintended consequences or even decide to pursue the matter through legislation rather than an initiative if the sponsors agree. The Legislature is also required to hold hearings on the subject of the measure no later than 131 days before the date of the coming election.
Under the law, sponsors can withdraw their measure from the ballot by the 131-day deadline if they are able to reach a negotiated consensus on legislation. This process has already led to passage in the Legislature of a landmark minimum wage law and digital privacy legislation, both of which began as ballot propositions but were instead enacted by lawmakers.
Organized special interests, however, were quick to exploit the loophole in this law. enabling virtual “extortion” or the legislature by some ballot sponsors, such as the soda companies in 2018, who refused to withdraw an initiative that would have required 2/3 vote on all local taxes and fees until the legislature agreed to grant them a 12 year moratorium on local taxes on sugary drinks.
The best way to respond to this problem is to further borrow from the Swiss system by enabling the legislature to place a counter-measure on the ballot if they can’t reach agreement with a sponsor whose measure they believe to be against the public interest.
At present, the legislature can do this with a 2/3 vote. We propose that this can be done by
a simple majority vote. As in the Swiss system, that competing legislative measure would go on the ballot alongside the sponsor’s measure with three options for voters. They can vote either their preference for a or b, or c – no to both.
Another good next step for California would be to adopt the kind of citizen review panels already up and running in Oregon. The state impanels a randomly selected group of voters to hear from a ballot measure’s proponents and opponents as well as experts on the implications of the proposed policy. The panel then presents its findings to the public through a 750-word summary published in the voter guide. When voters go to the polls, they have the advantage of being informed by the disinterested considerations of a body of their fellow citizens.
For now, the Oregon process is funded by private foundations, a model California might follow as a first step. Ultimately, however, these panels should be institutionalized in the secretary of state’s office as part of the regular electoral landscape.
Ultimately, the aim would be to collapse the present state Senate (40 members) and Assembly (80 members) into on lower house, reducing the size of districts so there is closer engagement between legislators and constituents. A new indirectly elected Senate would be constituted through appointment by a combination of local elected officials, the Governor and legislative leadership based on the criteria of expertise and experience to serve as a permanent body for the “second reading” of citizen ballot initiatives as well as legislation originated in the lower house.
Members of that body would serve for 8 years to insulate it from electoral cycles and be well-staffed so as to play a ”think tank” role both the thoroughly vet and improve citizen initiatives and for initiating legislation in response to crowdlaw-type engagement to determine citizen concerns and priorities.
The European Citizens’ Initiative/ Citizens House of EU Parliament
As Michael Cottakis lays out in his paper, the ECI has been on the books since 2011, conceived as a means to help close the “democracy deficit” between EU citizens and its legislative bodies in Brussels – the EU Parliament, the Commission and the European Council.
Because of the high threshold of gathering signatures (one million from all 27 states in one year), the capacity of the law-initiating European Commission to ignore or reject initiatives as outside its “competence,” and the absence of a civil society organized on a European instead of national basis, it has so far largely failed as a mechanism of citizen engagement. As Cottakis report, of the four initiatives that met the qualification criteria over the last 8 years, none have seen any legislative follow up in the Commission other than recommendations for further “evaluation.”
Cottakis recommends the following steps to make the ECI a viable proposition:
- § Reducing the qualifying signature threshold to 750,000 over two years instead of 1 million over one year while reducing the complex registration requirement of “statements of support” to a simple e- signature system;
- § Employing crowdsourcing platforms like Crowdcity for citizens to debate and decide on proposals to bring forward under ECI;
- § Civil society partnerships on a European level with pan-European NGOs that don’t rely on funding from national sources – a “single market” for NGOs;
- § A “European Citizen’s Bill” that requires a debate and indicative vote in the EU Parliament once a certain threshold of signatures has been gathered;
- § A pilot “citizen-institutional pact” that will have a demonstrated legislative outcome in areas of Commission competence or moving the measure to a referendum is a higher threshold of signatures is reached;
- § Ultimately, the establishment of a Permanent Citizens’ Assembly as the “second chamber” of the European Parliament
This analysis and these proposals for the institutional re-design of liberal democracies do not directly address the underlying causes of the collapse of social cohesion that is behind today’s political polarization or specific ways to regulate social media and Big Tech. These are the remits of the two other working groups in the Berggruen Institute’s project on Renovating Democracy.
Yet, since the practices and institutions of democratic deliberation are the central platform through which open societies make their most consequential choices, rebuilding trust in the inclusivity and impartiality of institutions of self-government is the core imperative if citizens are to “take back control” of their destiny. Neither a turn toward autocracy nor lame attachment to forms of government that have become dysfunctional offers an answer to the question of how to govern open societies in the 21st century.