What is this site for?
The aim of this website is to promote the introduction of representative deliberative processes into the wider democratic activities of Aotearoa New Zealand. Through the use of open software there is a way to gather ideas as to how this aim can by pursued.
What are representative deliberative processes?
A recent OECD research report, drawing on data collected from 289 case studies (none alas from Aotearoa New Zealand) identified twelve distinct models of deliberative processes, based on how they were actually designed rather than what name was applied. Three key criteria for inclusion in the OECD database were applied. They had to include (to quote from the Reader’s Guide to the report):
Deliberation, which involves: weighing carefully different options, requiring accurate and relevant information and a diversity of perspectives; a shared evaluative framework for reaching decisions, and a requirement for participants to apply these shared criteria to weigh trade-offs and to find common ground to reach a group decision.
Representativeness, achieved through random sampling from which a representativeselectionis made to ensure the group broadly matches the demographic profile of the community against census or other similar date, and
Impact, meaning decision makers agree to respond to and act on recommendations.
Amongst the models identified by the OECD are Citizens’ Assemblies, and in Aotearoa New Zealand both XR and ACE are calling for a Citizens’ Assembly on our climate and ecological crisis.
Why a Citizens’ Assembly?
The Democracy R&D network lists ten reasons for making use of Citizens’ Assemblies, in that they are:
What is sortition and why is it used?
Sortition simply means selection by lot. We are all familiar with it as the basis of how juries are selected. The reason for using sortition is to obtain a bunch of people who are representative of the makeup of the population as a whole. Thus, if the sortition is correctly conducted, the collection of participants will, so far as possible, represent the gender, ethnicity, financial status, housing status, education level and so on which is found in the community at large. What is specifically excluded from consideration, even if it were knowable, is what political party, if any, the participant supports. An assembly of participants selected by sortition is free to deliberate in the interest of the community at large. They have no future election hanging over them.
This is a very brief description, and the process of applying sortition effectively in any particular context or country has to be worked out. People have to get used to it, and then it will seem normal.
Won’t it be difficult for people to take part?
To a degree, yes. Commonly an assembly will meet over a number of weekends spread over some weeks or months. To try to minimise the downside of taking part, it is usual to pay participants a daily sum for attending, and to reimburse travel, and sometimes other, costs associated with taking part.
A feature of citizens’ assemblies is that, from the point of view of individual participants, they are usually one-off. Anyone willing to take part has an equal chance of being invited to participate, and once they have taken part and contributed to the report and recommendations (or demands?) on the topics to hand, they are off the list for the next assembly. Thus the time commitment for individuals is limited. Also, in this way, over time, if this kind of assembly becomes a regular feature, a larger and larger body of citizens will have taken part and found out how empowering the experience is. Although this site has been called “our voice”, actually the listening respectfully to others, whether or not we initially agree with them, is in many ways the key to a citizens’ assembly. The assemblies do not speak for political party, for particular interest groups, or for any individual, they speak for the country as a whole.
What examples are there?
There are descriptions of citizens’ assemblies that have been tried, generally not in Aotearoa New Zealand, in the “examples” section of the menu above. This section will be added as time goes on. Many of the examples are very inspiring, and there are a number of short videos describing the process, some also with comments from participants. Take a look. One thing you will notice is that most of the assemblies have been sponsored and organised by government, whether local, state or national. Whilst the assemblies themselves seem generally to work well internally, the response of the sponsoring authorities, politicians local or central, has sometimes been wanting.
What is happening in Aotearoa New Zealand?
Unfortunately, so far as I know, not a lot. Hence this website. Whichever route to initiate the use of citizens’ assemblies here is followed, a lot needs to be done to get up and running. Let us hear what you think. Any and all help and suggestions for moving forward will be welcome.
A possible and urgent topic is to see what a citizens’ assembly could do in the climate change space, and one of the demands of the Extinction Rebellion is that government, local or national, create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly.
One advantage of citizens’ assemblies is that they are free of the constraints of the electoral cycle, and can deliberate and act for the long-term on issues where politicians are often reluctant to act boldly for fear of the electoral consequences. That having been said, it would still be useful to hold assemblies in the run-up to elections so that citizens’ considered suggestions and recommendations can inform the electoral process and influence political parties’ policy offerings.
Register your interest and join the discussion
Do you want to get involved, to whatever degree you can manage? There was a contact form, but it has only attracted spam entries so I have deleted it. If anyone wants to contribute to this site send me an email to johnst at inspire dot net dot nz. Thanks.