Towards a Global Citizens’ Assembly
May 25, 2018
Authors: Antoine Vergne, David Schecter, David Van Reybrouck, Carmen Bouley de Santiago, Iain Walker, Terrill Bouricius
The submission proposes to replace public opinion, partisanism and special interests with public judgment on a global scale. Key to this is to introduce a randomly sampled jury-style process where people are randomly selected for national and regional assemblies. The benefit is that the cross-section of society can be informed to make wiser decisions than uninformed society at large. In order to promote the process, four bodies are instituted with members drawn by lot. The Agenda Council has the sole power to prioritize topics. Interest Panels are assembled to present opinions and solutions, thus without being able to exert influence over the preferred outcome. These solutions are proposed to the local assemblies where the selected members receive balanced information and shortlist the best solutions. These shortlists would subsequently build up to an annual Global Citizens’ Assembly, drafted by lot from the national and regional participants, and whose final recommendations would enjoy the same status as UN resolutions. When the process is completed, an Oversight Council is drawn by lot from the Global Citizens’ Assembly in order to improve the next round of the process.
Global cooperation and coordination on crucial global problems has been stymied by parochial interests – either of national governments and their politicians, business enterprises with short-term imperatives, or civil society organizations with narrow advocacy agendas. No decision making process currently exists that carries sufficient moral legitimacy to compel global action. This proposal can solve that crucial problem and generate that global, moral authority. This can be accomplished by facilitating decision-making by the people of earth themselves, rather than as bickering national, religious, corporate, ethnic, or other factions. The key question is this: 'What would the people of the world choose to do in addressing critical global problems if they could somehow all focus on one problem, learn about it, hear a wide range of possible solutions, deliberate, and then decide what to do?'
There is a way to accomplish exactly this fundamental goal through a randomly sampled jury-style process that first brings together ordinary people in all corners of the planet to learn and deliberate, without the typical constraints of partisan competition or special interest domination. These national and regional assemblies would subsequently build up to an annual Global Citizens’ Assembly, drafted by lot from the national and regional participants, and whose final recommendations would enjoy the same status as UN resolutions.
By insisting on the use of random selection for creating citizens’ assemblies, this model returns to the central principle of Athenian government: random selection (also known as sortition). In ancient Athens, the large majority of public functions were assigned by random selection. Renaissance states such as Venice and Florence worked on the same basis and experienced centuries of political stability. Though the procedure was largely forgotten in the 19th and 20th century (except for jury trials), it is currently experiencing a remarkable revival beyond the judiciary. Decision-making with random selection has been successfully applied in many countries of the world, including Australia, Bolivia, China, France, Germany, Ireland, Mongolia, and the USA.
Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently called for ‘bold and innovative reforms to bring in the young, the poor and minorities into the political system’. Random selection was the way forward, he said: ‘An interesting idea (…) would be to reintroduce the ancient Greek practice of selecting parliaments by lot instead of election. In other words, parliamentarians would no longer be nominated by political parties, but chosen at random for a limited term, in the way many jury systems work. This would prevent the formation of self-serving and self-perpetuating political classes disconnected from their electorates.’1
With random selection, you do not ask everyone to vote on an issue few people really understand (as in a referendum), but you draft a random sample of the population and make sure they come to grips with the subject matter in order to take a sensible decision.A cross-section of society that is informed can make wiser decisions than an entire society that is uninformed.
Around that core idea, our proposal is a process giving a hearing to today’s organized interests like activists and industry, political parties and civil society, but prioritising a role for everyday randomly-selected people at the centre.2
This happens through four bodies. An Agenda Council has sole power to prioritize topics without saying how to solve them. Interest Panels are then assembled to present diverse opinions and submit potential solutions, and thus give substantial input without being able to exert influence over the preferred outcome. The proposed solutions put forward by the Interest Panels are then considered at National/Regional Assemblies made up of randomly chosen people from all walks of life who receive balanced information, pose questions to experts of their choosing, and shortlist what they see as the strongest potential solutions. Finally, a Global Citizens’ Assembly is brought together by random selection from the regional participants, to deliberate on the shortlisted proposals and develop the final recommendations.
At the end of the process, an Oversight Council is drawn by lot from the Global Citizens’ Assembly to help improve the rules and procedures for the next cycle of this deliberative process.
In short, we propose replacing public opinion with something more substantive: public judgment.
Although this proposal deals with redesigning global governance, it is not a plea to replace (or mandate wholesale reform of) the United Nations (UN). Rather, it is a pragmatic and incremental attempt to devise an addition to the global governance framework which is expected to have a transformational impact. It is designed to handle the major risks, threats and challenges of today in a way that is realistic, effective, flexible, self-learning, and (crucially) implementable. It might be applied to more UN processes and it might lead to grander changes at the UN level, but this is not its primary mission. We are not redesigning an organization: we are bolting something on.
The principles we design for here are genuinely informed citizen engagement, truer representation through random selection, pragmatism, the value of face-to-face encounters, and the need to connect the global with the local.
We propose this model as an international network of governance innovators with a wealth of both theoretical and hands-on experience. We know how to deliver this.
2. Description of the model
1 Introduction and rationale
1.1 The problem – and why the usual solutions won’t solve it
Today, the world seems to be divided between increasingly weakened democracies, increasingly emboldened autocracies and a set of countries hesitating between both. Whereas the democratic option seemed the obvious way forward in the 1990s, today many post-communist and post-colonial countries have started to doubt whether democracy can actually deliver. Is it capable of handling global challenges such as climate change, migration, and debt? Is it still the best bet for world peace? Is it even capable of guaranteeing domestic peace?
In March 2017, China Daily wrote: ‘Unlike Western democracies, which seem increasingly obsessed with showmanship and short-term elections, China’s leadership has a long-term target and is more inclined to plan for the next generation and beyond.’3
This may be true, but this advantage comes at a price. While autocratic regimes can sometimes be more apt at facing long-term challenges, they can only do so by silencing voices of dissent. Western-style democracies, on the other hand, generally perform better when it comes to diversity of opinion and innovation, but their long-term policies have been crippled by short-term electoral imperatives. This has led to a prioritising of style over substance. As a consequence, trust in those in political office is now so low that taking hard decisions has become politically impossible. Mistrust, once the defining characteristic of life under autocratic rule, has now become the dominant feature of western democracies as well.
So, autocracies = bad for dialogue; democracies = bad for the long term.
Whatever their respective merits, on the international level both forms of government suffer from national myopia. Countries think like countries. Regardless of whether they are democratic or autocratic, domestic political interests are always prioritized over global interests. The post-war model of multilateral talks has been severely conditioned by domestic politics, preventing effective policies for the global challenges we are faced with today. As the world is globalizing, so are the major risks and threats of today. Yet it is hard to find major solutions for the world when negotiators always feel compelled to have global needs take a back seat to national concerns (and thus shrill domestic public opinion). This is the central problem we aim to fix.
1.2 A scenario and a solution
Imagine the Paris Climate Accord had been negotiated not by countries but by well-informed everyday citizens. Would it have taken over two decades before an agreement was finally reached? And would the result have been without any mechanism to compel global action, without any leverage driving countries toward a specific target by a specific date, to adequately sanction a country, or even to prevent one from withdrawing from the Agreement? Would it have been driven by political optics, concerns over media reporting and cute fudges to protect the positions of influential donors spanning industry, unions and advocates?
The answer is no.
With ordinary citizens, a common ground position – providing a trusted basis for action – would have been found that was faster, stronger and cheaper. We have evidence for this. In 2015, 10,000 citizens engaged in 97 debates across 76 countries in a global deliberation on climate change, all following an identical protocol aiming at gathering their enlightened opinion to support global decision-making. To date, the event, which was called World Wide Views on Climate and Energy, stands out as the largest deliberation with ordinary citizens ever held on global scale.
Participants had not been elected or appointed, but were randomly selected, so as to ensure maximal representativeness and diversity. In Germany, they had been drafted by lot from the official register. In Japan, they had been sampled by a polling bureau. In Mauritania, Madagascar and the Republic of Fiji, they had been recruited on the street, allowing illiterate people to have their say, too.
Their conclusions went much further than what was eventually reached in the Paris Accord: agreeing to make commitments ‘legally binding for all countries’ and ‘include a long-term goal for zero emissions at the end of this century’.4 Freed from national interests and commercial stakes, citizens worldwide were able to agree on far-reaching, long-term goals for the planet and reach a degree of consensus that was unattainable for politicians and diplomats.
Alas, by refusing to solve the global issues of the 21st century by anything but the rusty methods of the 19th and 20th century, the world might have missed its appointment with the future – as for all sides the costs of inaction are becoming acute.
Imagine a windy September morning in New York, where for the very first time in history the Global Citizens’ Assembly takes place. Up to 800 citizens from around the world take an oath committing themselves to treat each other with respect, listen with an open mind and make decisions they genuinely believe to be in the best interests of the world. These delegates are neither politicians nor diplomats. They are lay citizens who come from all corners of the world. There are farmers and traders from Africa, teachers and programmers from Asia, parents and students from Central Europe, miners, child care workers, dentists, air traffic controllers, the disabled – people from all walks of life; a cross section of the people who you pass in the street today.
Over the past months, each and every one of them has been taking part in large-scale, public deliberations in their respective home countries or regions. At these preliminary sessions, they will have weighed a wide array of information and viewpoints by working with other citizens – like them, all randomly-selected – in order to acquire a sound understanding of the issue at hand. Face-to-face discussion with equal share of voice will have allowed to them to identify common ground rather than magnifying differences.
The ensuing Global Citizens’ Assembly we have in mind is not a meeting of countries, but of citizens. The room will be descriptively representative – it will look like the population of our planet. The selection model guarantees at least one participant from every one of the 195 UN member states. They will work for three weeks on the topics they brought from the national and regional level and draft a common final decision, supported by evidence.
This process makes for a global governance model that is representative, deliberative, and solution-focused. It favours long-term thinking that is not “captured” by polarized special interests.
1.3 Core principle – random selection and deliberation
The most innovative and radical underlying principle of the model is the random selection of the participants who will deliberate about policy proposals. Random selection has been used in many political systems throughout history, the most prominent being ancient Athenian Democracy and Italian City State Republics during the Renaissance. Random selection as a procedure for selecting representatives was long seen as a feature of democracy. As Montesquieu, quoting Aristotle, wrote in The Spirit of Laws: 'Voting by lot is in the nature of democracy; voting by choice is in the nature of aristocracy”. With the rise of representative government following the liberal democracies of the 18th Century, random selection fell into almost two centuries of oblivion before making a remarkable come-back in contemporary political practice since the 1970’s and the development of new methods of citizen participation combining random selection with deliberation.5
Many countries use random selection today in the form of juries and/or opinion polls. Juries are generally informed and deliberative, but with polls, we ask people what they think when they don’t think. Our model asks people what they think after they have had a chance to think. This is because we combine random selection with deliberation — a kind of conversation that is open-minded, and oriented to solving problems and finding common ground instead of winning arguments and scoring political points. The random samples of citizens are gathered for face-to-face meetings, are given time, information and opportunities to exchange. It primarily takes place at round tables of six to ten participants each, rather than large plenary settings. It requires a different architecture than ornate, horseshoe-shaped chambers that copy ancient theatres. It has no need for dramatic spokespersons, but requires good facilitators. Deliberation, unlike polling, is based on collective and not on individual preferences.
Why random selection? Because it makes for more inclusive and impartial representation, because everyone gets the same chance to participate, and because it is cheaper than existing models. Why deliberation? Because it taps into the wisdom of the crowd and makes for genuine exchange of arguments after information, because it guarantees robust, resilient, long-term decisions that are trusted.
1.4 Evidence from practice
These ideas are not just theoretical. They have been tested and implemented hundreds of times throughout the world by both researchers and engagement practitioners. All provide tangible evidence of the ease with which everyday citizens can deliberate on complex matters, leading to sensible, workable decisions that the wider population can trust. We offer here four examples to illustrate the principles of the model – and more importantly, the practical connection to a final decision.
Geelong Citizens Jury
The Victorian State Government in Australia acted on the recommendation of an independent Commission of Inquiry and dismissed the Greater Geelong City Council, and committed to consult the community about its local governance model before the next council election. This inadvertently created one of the single greatest opportunities to explore how citizens would design a local system of representation if given the chance.
Over four months a randomly selected group drawn from the local area convened periodically to deliberate on the remit – 'How do we want to be democratically represented by a future council?' Drawing from international and domestic advice and their own choices of expert speakers, the Jury delivered a final report with 13 recommendations, 2 'practical' (compliant with current laws) and 11 'aspirational’ (requiring legislative or regulatory changes). The Victorian Government agreed to adopt 12 of the 13 recommendations.
The Victorian Legislative Council passed the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2017 on June 8, bringing about the new Mayoral and Councillor structure as recommended by the Citizens' Jury.6
Irish Constitutional Convention
In 2011, a group of Irish academics wanted to replicate British Columbia’s Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform (2004) as a way of bringing everyday citizens into political decision making. The project was called We the Citizens. It attracted private funding and was designed to prove that public deliberation on a difficult topic among randomly-selected citizens could work.
We the Citizens the next iteration: the Irish Constitutional Convention (ICC)—held 2012-2014. The ICC operated over a 14-month period, meeting over the course of 10 weekends, following deliberative practice. Its 100 members included 66 citizens randomly-selected by a research agency, 33 politicians from the Oireachtas (parliament) and the Northern Ireland Assembly and an independent chair appointed by the government.
What came out of the ICC was a series of questions, referenda, and parliamentary votes, including Ireland’s historic support for marriage equality in 2015. The elected representatives who had participated in the ICC then became advocates for the next iteration: the Irish Citizens’ Assembly (2016-2017).
The Citizens’ Assembly tackled a number of questions, the first being the highly contentious issue of abortion, followed by responding to the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population; fixed term parliaments; the manner in which referenda are held; and how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change.7
National Health Reform in China
The potential for citizen deliberation is not a privilege of established democracies. Over the past two decades, China has shown a remarkable interest in it. Ever since the 1990s, the Chinese government has encouraged countless small-scale public consultations in villages, towns and counties to deal with matters such as the price of water or electricity.
This tradition was stepped up by the organization of deliberative polls in different cities, like Wenling City in 2005, 2006 and 2008. These polls followed an international standard for transparent, open-ended public deliberation and typically consisted of random samples of up to 300 participants convening on a single day to discuss topics such as public works and how to prioritize them.8
Based on these local experiences, the Chinese government is experimenting with citizens’ engagement on a national level. In 2005, Beijing organized public hearings on the touchy issue of the personal income-tax threshold that were broadcast and streamed live.9
In 2008-2009, the most expressive example to date took place with the National Health Reform, a major reform for affordable care comparable with Obamacare in the US. After the SARS epidemic of 2003, public calls for improved healthcare laid at the basis of a five-year long process of consultation with administrators, academics, and international experts. Highly unusual by Chinese standards, the bill was subjected to public scrutiny after a draft version was published online. Almost 36,000 comments were received, 20% of which came from farmers, factory workers and migrants. As a result, the bill was amended in 137 places. Though the process was online only, it confirmed the nascent interest for deliberation in the world’s most populous nation.10
World Wide Views on Climate and Energy 2015
This project was the third iteration of the World Wide Views (WWViews) method that aims at involving ordinary citizens into international decision making processes. It gathered 10,000 ordinary citizens from 76 countries of the world in a daylong deliberation about the hot topics of the Paris Climate Summit (21st Conference of Parties 21 or COP21). Both in terms of scale and impact, World Wide Views on Climate was the first truly global citizen deliberation in history. It was closely connected to decision making through a collaboration both with UNFCCC and the French Government, and it was backed by more than a hundred organizations worldwide that were able to deploy national dissemination strategies of the results. Because of their quality and long-term relevance, the results were presented and discussed during all rounds of climate negotiations in 2015 and beyond at the 22nd and soon 23rd Climate Summit. World Wide Views proved that it is possible to engage ordinary citizens in solving global challenges at a very low cost.11
1.5 An incremental approach, with continuous learning
The proposal here is not intended to be the one perfect model of global governance. Instead, we are proposing something that (1) is clearly implementable under current conditions without having to replace the existing channels of governance; (2) if implemented, would be substantially better than what exists today; and (3) most importantly, contains the capability for rapid and continuous learning and adaptation. This capacity comes from the procedural nature of the model and its strong inclusive character. Participants at all stages are being asked how to improve the process for the next iteration. Also, as the topics addressed by the Assembly regularly change, each iteration brings new partners, stakeholders, local organizers, experts, who all learn through the process.
2. Description of the model
Public decision-making requires hearing from a range of advocate voices: lobbyists, NGOs, industry, nations and ad hoc groupings. Our job is to make sure that the task of agreeing on recommendations is handled by a group who is both representative and free from impairments on their thinking so that they can earn public trust, and that those advocate voices get an equal chance to make their case. This is approached in four parts: an Agenda Council, Interest Panels, National and Regional Assemblies, and a Global Citizens’ Assembly.
An Agenda Council prioritizes topics which require resolution, without saying how to resolve them. Its circa 200 members are drawn by lot from among the outgoing participants at the Regional Assemblies.
Numerous (unlimited) Interest Panels (self-nominated; wide range of interests; groupings of ~12 people) propose researched solutions which address the problems framed by the Agenda Council – very substantive input, but with vastly reduced lobbying power.
The proposed solutions put forward by the Interest Panels are first considered at National and Regional Assemblies made up of randomly chosen people from all walks of life who pose questions to be addressed by experts of their choosing and shortlist what they see as the strongest potential solutions.
The Global Citizens’ Assembly is the centrepiece: a randomly-selected group of c. 800 people spanning every country and culture in the world. The members of this assembly will have spent several months reading and conversing in their home countries before assembling for around two weeks each year to see what common ground can be found among people we all identify with, and develop a final resolution.
This model does not involve simplistic voting exercises: the operations are designed to identify statements of common ground that the vast majority of participants can stand behind. This is made possible with considerable time, and the removal of the incentive to disagree: the need to face election.
2.1 Setting the agenda: the Agenda Council
The Agenda Council consists of around 200 members drafted by lot from the outgoing members of the Regional Assemblies who volunteer. It has a limited but crucial task of setting the agenda, i.e. prioritize topics which require resolution without proposing policies itself for solving them. An important feature of a stand-alone Agenda Council is the ability to perform a thorough risk assessment to prioritize global challenges, rather than simply selecting problems that happen to be currently in the media. Once the Agenda Council has selected a problem or problems for the following iteration and issued its call, the Agenda Council will disband until a new Agenda Council is drawn for the next cycle.
2.2 Developing proposals and potential solutions: Interest Panels
Once the Agenda Council has selected a topic with a series of remit questions to address, they will issue a call for proposals. Any organizations – from Global NGO or company down to ad hoc group of individuals of at least a dozen people (an Interest Panel) – may submit a proposal for how to address the selected problem. This format aims to give equal share of voice to all potential good ideas for solving a problem.
2.3 Reviewing proposals and learning: National & Regional Assemblies
Nationally/regionally-based global mini-assemblies will be organize with access for people in every country. The number of participants for each Regional Assembly will be allowed to vary by what is appropriate within a country (1.2bn people in China and 3m in New Zealand means that flexibility and scalability are essential).
Recruitment of participants
Participants will be drawn randomly according to the best practices appropriate for each area (some have comprehensive resident lists, and some do not: raw addresses and random phone numbers can equally be used). We use stratification to assure a close demographic match with the population by variables relevant to the topic, such as age, gender, language, geography and indicators of wealth and educational level. The goal is simply to get the most representative sample possible.
All participants at all levels will have their travel, meals and lodgings covered. In order to ensure that those with limited means can adequately participate, members will also receive a small payment to help cover lost income or childcare.
Ideally, the National/Regional Assemblies will gather on the same day all over the globe. The duration of these assemblies will vary by issue, and also depending on the culture of different countries. For example, participants might attend about five all-day meetings, with each meeting spaced about three weeks apart (equating to a ~3 month involvement in their home country). or may convene for a single week.
Method and Information input
Participants receive a diversity of information from sources on the topic coming from the Interest Panels. Documents can be translated into all languages necessary for wider sharing across any of the national/regional assemblies, and effective provisions can be made to facilitate participation of illiterate participants.
Each regional assembly will likely call additional witnesses that they deem appropriate and necessary to become well informed: taking the baseline of proposed solutions and challenging them with questions and clarifications. These regional assemblies will perform some of their work in smaller break-out groups, with a focus on ensuring that they understand the information presented, and developing questions for expert witnesses, whose answers and related information can be taken by these jurors to the Global Citizens’ Assembly. It should be noted that all these groups are assisted by impartial facilitators.
2.4 Deliberating and deciding: the Global Citizens’ Assembly
From among members of each regional assembly a further random draw (stratified for the same demographic measures) will be conducted to bring together a globally representative sample of around 800 people.
The Global Citizens’ Assembly will gather in-person for about two weeks. Assisted by a spectrum of expert witnesses, they will benefit from vastly different life experiences and perspectives. Unlike almost all global gatherings, a random sample is not simply a gathering of the wealthy “haves” or influential NGOs, but neither does it exclude those voices: it seeks to bring together a descriptive mix to find out what common ground is achievable.
As people care deeply about the possibility to make themselves understood, an adequate number of working languages should be determined. Deliberation has been successfully done in multiple-languages settings like Belgium, a country with three official languages. Working with the UN would allow for a reasonable level of translation assistance.
The experience in sharing views and perspectives – supported by facts and sources identified at their regional assemblies – will lead to agreement in some areas (i.e that facts are valid), and a list of contentious facts/assertions that are in dispute. The group can work to identify a trusted source, but ultimately work to identify common ground positions which they can live with.
Recommendations from the Global Citizens’ Assembly gain the same status as the UN Resolutions emanating from the General Assembly or the Security Council. Like UN resolutions, they would contain two sections: a preamble (showing underlying intent) and an operative part (an outline of the specific agreed course of action).
2.5 Improving the process: the Oversight Council
At the end of every Global Citizens’ Assembly, an Oversight Council is chosen by lot from among outgoing participants. The role of this body is to help to improve the process for the next iteration, by conducting a review of the process with the Coordination Secretariat. We believe it is important to learn from previous experiences, and no one is better placed to comment about the process than those who have been through it. To limit its power, the Oversight Council is only concerned with rules and procedures, not with the topics at hand.
3. Description of the first iteration
3.1 Process design and oversight
In case this proposal wins the Global Challenges Prize, the authors will establish an international Coordination Secretariat — a diverse and impartial group of deliberation experts who have the capacity to produce the design for the first iteration.
It should be noted that the Coordination Secretariat is explicitly without partisan alignment, and does not offer public comment on any issue. To further enhance legitimacy and reduce the potential for bias, the process will include an auditing role for an external Integrity Group drawn from among the active interests involved in the project (public authorities, governments, NGOs, private sector). They will receive the full design, with the capacity to make the case for amendments if they identify a bias.
3.2 Agenda setting
For the first iteration, the topic for discussion will be chosen by the Coordination Secretariat — ideally, working with a major UN body — to simply select one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established by the UN in 2015.
A “blocked” issue that countries find hard to agree upon, could be an excellent candidate for adding a large scale voice of informed citizens to the public discourse.
3.3 The rest of the process
In this first iteration, the Interest Panels, National/Regional Assemblies and Global Citizens’ Assembly would be no different from the model described above. It is unlikely that the final recommendations of the first iteration will receive a status comparable with UN Resolutions. However, as formal statements of an informed global citizenry, they will carry an unmistakable moral authority.
At the end of the first National/Regional Assemblies, a sample of outgoing participants will be chosen by lot to serve in the very first Agenda Council. At the end of the first Global Citizens’ Assembly, a sample of its participants will be chosen by lot to serve in the very first Oversight Council.
4. Practical considerations
The process is comparatively simple to fund and administer as it does not requires a special international scheme to be created before launching the process. The cost at national level is easily accommodated within national Foreign Affairs communications budgets and may be complemented by aid agency funding to support poorer countries (if needed). For the global component, the cost of bringing participants to a single location is also a national cost that can be budgeted easily as they are direct costs.
The work of global coordination for the first iteration and preparation of subsequent iterations can be delivered for €4m which could be a mix of UN cost of operation and co-funding by global philanthropies, with part of the prize money as seed funding.
4.2 Getting the resolutions implemented
There have been many cases of excellent proposals that were ignored by political decision makers. What can be done so that decision makers have powerful incentives to act on the proposals from the Global Citizens’ Assembly?
The most powerful trend in global policies is away from insiders, experts, and those seen to be drawing large salaries for making grand pronouncements. A reform injecting everyday people into a ‘remote’ institution is good domestic politics in any political system. UN member countries make global decisions on a domestic political basis, and this approach factors that in. Having a precise measure and feeling of the “real” opinion of their constituencies will allow policy makers and negotiators to adopt strong strategies based on the level of support of their population back home. They will also get insights in the opinion of citizens of other countries which will allow them to build coalitions based on topics and level of support in the home country.
At an operational level, we apply two tactics: we apply the pivotal learning from the Irish Constitutional Convention by embedding two national legislators from each major party in the national level conferences in an oversight role; and we ensure that the national level deliberations have a formal reporting channel to domestic parliaments and relevant branches of the executive. The key here is that this is an “easy give” for those in office who are often given the thankless political task of applying high-minded treaty commitments into actual regulation where domestic political losers are vocal and active. Our design produces people who stand behind the decision and help leaders lead. It has been successfully demonstrated and proven as appealing in projects around the world.
4.3 Getting the model implemented
To be successful, any new model must be adopted by the current political decision makers – a giant first step. How could this be accomplished?
We could possibly use a portion of the prize funds to create a political moment. Imagine every national newspaper around the world on the same day inviting the President or Prime Minister to support a global trial of this approach, backed by a short explanatory video on YouTube. We are creating something that political leaders will want to be aligned with. Faced with a large global media event domestic journalists will ask leaders for their immediate response.
To increase the likelihood of success, we would aim to individually brief 6-8 influential world leaders with whom we have existing connections. Our estimation is that if popular politicians on all sides of politics rapidly align themselves with the proposal, it creates a political benefit for other leaders to join the group – remembering that the commitment being made is a politically appealing one as they are saying 'I want more everyday people involved in important public decisions'.
1. Core Values
The global deliberative process outlined above does a far better job at serving the good of all humankind and respecting the equal value of all human beings than the institutions we presently have: it is designed to give a voice for all and minimises skews to elites found in the status quo. It allows for sustainable, shared decision-making that is freed from the political myopia that characterises so much of contemporary politics.
In many national political systems, even in the most established democracies, we find elected bodies and representatives whose members must increasingly think about their party leaders, the media, donors, and winning the next election. This seriously hampers long-term decisions about the common good. The same goes for professional negotiators and traditional stakeholders who may have hidden agendas.
Participants at our National/Regional and Global Assemblies are radically freed from partisan loyalties. They do not convene simply representing where they come from, but to carefully consider where we go to.
In addition,the combination of random selection and genuine deliberation is a lived experience of the equal value of human beings, in a way that elections, parliamentary speeches and diplomatic negotiations can never be.
Recent examples demonstrate that it is possible to include voices which are traditionally excluded from public decision-making. The G1000 Citizens’ Summit in Belgium was quite successful in getting people involved who were homeless, poor or without education.12 World Wide Views in 2015 succeeded in bringing illiterate citizens in Mauritania, Madagascar and the Republic of Fiji into a forum, by recruitment in public spaces and handing out testimony that was not written, but visual.
Deliberation among randomly selected citizens is not a procedure reserved for advanced liberal democracies. It has been tried and tested in countries like China, Myanmar, Mongolia and Kuwait. It has even worked in war-ridden countries like Afghanistan and Congo.
2. Decision-Making Capacity
Though it may appear strange at first sight, ordinary citizens often find adequate solutions faster than regular politicians and diplomats. The reasons are twofold. Firstly, whereas the individual level of competence will most likely be higher in an elite assembly (national parliament, UN General Assembly) than in a randomly selected assembly, recent research and experience indicate that, thanks to the greater diversity of a random sample, the competence of the group as a whole is often greater than a relatively homogeneous body of decision makers or experts.13 Consider that in deciding how to deliver clean water to poor villages in Africa the random group will contain plumbers, builders and African villagers; the elite group will not.
Even more importantly, the overall level of freedom will be higher in a drafted assembly where nobody has to appeal to special interests for re-election. This makes for less dragging, less wheeling and dealing, and speedier results.
Hundreds of real-life examples across the world have shown that citizens are willing and able to engage in thoughtful dialogue about the future of their communities. Social science research even confirms that deliberation can work in deeply divided societies and allow citizens to change their minds about ‘the other side’, i.e. the people they initially disagreed with.14 Most spectacularly, new research reveals how participants in a deliberative process are ready to carry substantial short-term costs for long-term benefits which may only come into effect in one or two generations – a tradeoff few elected leaders (hemmed in by electoral imperatives) can even begin to consider!15
This sort of dynamic that goes beyond one’s own generation and one’s own peer group would be utterly unthinkable in most of the global forums of today. Yet it is precisely this sort of dynamic we badly need for dealing with global threats like climate change, water resources, poverty, rising inequalities, migration and pollution. So, the goal of our model is not to reach soft consensus but strong compromise and common ground. Not after decades of stalemate, but within a timeframe these critical problems demand.
In order to have maximum impact in the immediate term, our proposal does not require a prior democratisation of the nations of the world, nor the negotiating of a new UN Charter. Rather, our model seeks to establish itself incrementally within and alongside the existing structures of global governance, preferably through the existing UN channels. It can be offered on a turnkey basis: the operation of these processes is a known and understood area.
In our blueprint, the decisions of the Global Citizens’ Assembly would come to earn the same status as that of UN resolutions. As formal expressions of the will of the people of the world, they take the form of powerful statements analysing current threats, risks and crises and stipulating clear avenues for immediate and future action. These resolutions are made on the basis of the best available evidence which participants themselves identified and challenged.
Of course, this high level of acceptance will not happen at once: support for this new model of decision-making will be incremental. Following our implementation strategy, we believe that a reasonable timeframe for first tangible results would be quicker than any project of comparable magnitude.
Even when fully accepted, it should also be borne in mind that not all of the 2,378 UN Security Council resolutions voted since 1946 (figures as of September 2017) have been equally effective. Yet it is beyond a shadow of doubt that the world would have seen more violence without them. In a similar manner, the decisions of the Global Citizens’ Assembly would contribute to a world that is considerably safer and more sustainable.
Similar deliberative processes in Ireland and the Netherlands have shown how political leverage may be expedited. By allowing a certain number of politicians to engage with citizens drafted by lot, mutual trust and goodwill was increased. Participating politicians became true advocates for the recommendations once the citizens’ assemblies were over.
Deliberation does not require doing politics without or ‘against’ politicians and stakeholders. Instead, it is about helping leaders to lead. They are encouraged to take decisions by adding a considered voice of everyday people standing alongside them. In a time where politicians and experts are increasingly distrusted, decision-makers see the appeal of innovative approaches that are uniquely successful in mustering support for tough decisions they have to make. Implementing citizen advice does not weaken your position as a political leader, or CEO of a company or head of an NGO or a trade union but actually strengthens it.
4. Resources and Financing
As outlined in the earlier Funding section, the global deliberative process we describe here is achievable and affordable. Proportionate to the potential benefits, it is highly cost effective.
Centrally, we are not creating a new class of expensive professional diplomats and decision makers. We are drawing on people in small samples, paying them a nominal amount out of respect for their time (and equity of access) and giving them a forum for discussion and a format for an informed equal share of voice.
Importantly, delivering the process design, random selection and operational backbone is already within the scope of skills and current operations of the organizations submitting this proposal: this is not cost-intensive to scale.
All countries in the world can participate, regardless of financial income and general education level. The National/Regional Assemblies can be paid for by the country or set of countries where they take place. However, if a country or a region is unable to muster the necessary funds, it can receive support from other countries or regions.
As our proposal focuses on the UN, we are confident that we have made very reasonable assumptions when it comes to resourcing for the Global Citizens’ Assembly: it operates for a finite period of time where interpreters will need to be drawn on, and requires an amount which almost every nation could fund.
Later iterations might bring the Global Citizens’ Assembly to different places around the globe, not unlike the Olympics, the World Cup, the World Exhibition, or the Cultural Capital in the European Union. This traveling aspect will bring about a fruitful competition between candidate cities or countries, with bid books detailing the means and resources for hosting the event.
5. Trust and Insight
Across the world, people trust a jury of their peers. While not universal, the idea is already widespread (somewhat thanks to pop culture and American television!).
Transparency and open insight into the design and function of decision-making procedures are key to the entire process. Although the model prioritizes face-to-face interaction of citizens, it uses digital means to make the proceedings transparent and accessible for all. All of the expert questioning and presentations can be recorded and streamed.
Raising the trust in the wider community (i.e. the majority of citizens that have not been drafted), is a bigger challenge, but one that has proven to be achievable. Adequate response centres around 1) the transparency of the procedure; 2) the possibility to give meaningful input in the Interest Panels; 3) the quality and diversity of information and testimony; 4) the public availability of research materials received by participants (pdf’s, streaming of expert input, creation of information package in open source licenses), 5) the possibility to virtually witness key debates; 6) the motivation of any particular decision, 7) the availability of all relevant materials to the media. Moreover, we offer a concept so novel that the media, public, private and social, will seek to cover it and share the experiences of people who are just like you.
Whereas many citizens are distrustful of leaders, leaders can be equally distrustful of citizens. Our goal is that after a successful first iteration, leaders gain confidence in the ability of the process to be ‘good policy and good politics’. This long-term goal is fed by visible trials: the presence and performance of everyday people will build public confidence and bring moral force to the recommendations made. As such, our model makes for long-term decisions based on a culture of dialogue. It leads to more trust, more wisdom, and more future.
The miracle of the United Nations is that the whole organization came about in the first place. The drawback was that the UN Charter was cast in stone, saddling the 21st century with a model that so indelibly bears the mark of the late 1940s.
The model we present here explicitly avoids the pitfalls of being too rigid and inflexible. Rather than drafting a constitution for today’s world, our model presents a process that is open, adaptable, self-learning and evolving, while at the same remaining robust enough to withstand possible abuse.
Flexibility in our model is achieved by recruiting a sample of participants in the Global Assembly at the end of their deliberations, to offer feedback on strengths and weakness of the processes and suggest improvements. The formal role of the Oversight Council is considerable in terms of improving the rules and procedures of the model.
7. Protection against the Abuse of Power
Random selection is one of the best procedures to avoid corruption and “capture”. Members of randomly selected bodies owe no favors to anyone for being selected, and they don’t need to seek support from organized interests in order to be selected again. It is even more robust when we use multiple bodies. Given their fluid composition, it is very hard for any third party to manipulate and influence the public decision-making process: time is against them.
Our multi-body model of random selection and deliberation has been explicitly devised to make the abuse of power extremely difficult. By splitting the decision-making progress over a number of independent bodies, it prevents the concentration of power in the hands of any particular player by design. It is exponentially more difficult to “capture” numerous bodies than just one. And unlike parliaments, participants come together without a leader or whip which (in corruption terms) is a single point of failure.
On top of that, each body has limited powers. The Agenda Council only prioritizes topics to address. The Interest Panels only develop proposals. The National and Regional Assemblies only review proposals and create a short list. The Global Citizens’ Assembly only makes resolutions, but cannot set the agenda or develop its own proposals. The Oversight Council only handles possible complaints, detects weaknesses and improves the formal rules for future iterations.
We need to redefine the notion of accountability, as it is intricately bound up with the traditional idea of delegating power: 'I give you my vote and you tell me what you’ve done with it.' Yet the idea that if your elected official does something wrong you can elect someone else in a few years is a fiction when decision makers vote on hundreds of bills each year. The idea of 'holding politicians accountable for keeping their promises' generally only serves to reinforce the permanent electoral fever we are seeking to avoid with the present model. The separation between the principal (the people) and their agents (politicians), which creates the need for accountability, is eliminated in our model. Accountability is "baked in”.
Global governance in the 21st century cannot be successful if it remains rooted in a notion of a separate class of decision-makers taking action. One can say that the global deliberative process outlined here ‘de-individualises’ public-decision making, by firmly placing power back into the hands of the global community. This transformation is not a process of making no-one accountable, but of making everyone responsible—or at least an increasing number of citizens all across the planet.
This proposal can work for leaders. The model is empowering – helping leaders to lead – rather than one they need to defend against, even in non-democratic nations. Many nations are resistant to Western notions of democracy, as their leaders fear instability, and/or organized threats to their power. Random selection of citizens is a form of representation that does not create a rival party or organization. This model also offers an opportunity for decision makers to be included with randomly selected citizens from around the world. And the model is attractive to domestic politicians and stakeholders. A reform injecting everyday people into a 'remote' institution is good domestic politics for anyone. UN member countries make decisions on a domestic political basis, and this approach factors that in.
This model can be run as a trial first. A trial is much easier for people to agree to than a dramatic change. Our implementation starts by showing a process design and inviting people to critique it for biases and flaws. We invite this feedback and refine the model. When the trial works and proves publicly appealing, this creates momentum.
A trial also serves to create relationships at multiple levels of the UN which can be revisited over coming years – a 'foot in the door' approach.
This approach is affordable. Operating a 40-50 person randomly selected jury for 4-6 months can be achieved for ~€250,000 which is easily within the communications budget for a Foreign Affairs agency. The cost for 4 citizens to travel to New York for 2 weeks will be less than €50,000. The operating cost of an 800 person forum will be in the region of €4m. In the context of global issues and existing budgets, we do not see the funding requirement as an obstacle.
It has been tried already – multiple times. Many organizations have designed, organized and operated deliberations like this for the last decade. We are in the realm of the known, tested and understood. The network behind this proposal can identify a path into over 90 nations.
This approach has an influential champion. Any idea needs a champion. This idea has the best one – Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations.16
- Annan, K. 2017: The Crisis of Democracy. http://www.kofiannanfoundation.org/supporting-democracy-and-elections-with-integrity/athens-democracy-forum/
- Bouricius, T. G. (2013) "Democracy Through Multi-Body random selection: Athenian Lessons for the Modern Day," Journal of Public Deliberation Vol. 9, Iss. 1, Article 11.
- Van Reybrouck, D. 2016: Against Elections: The Case for Democracy. Bodley Head, London.
- Johan Elkink, David Farrell, Theresa Reidy, Jane Suiter (2016) 'Understanding the 2015 marriage equality referendum in Ireland: context, campaign and Conservative Ireland'. Irish Political Studies, 32 (3):361-381.
- Fishkin, J.S, He, B., Luskin R.C. & Siu, A 2010: Deliberative Democracy in an Unlikely Place: Deliberative Polling in China. British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 40, No. 2, pp. 435-448
- Wei Zhou 2012: In Search of Deliberative Democracy in China. Journal of Public Deliberation, Vol. 8, Iss. 1, Art. 8
- Korolev, A. 2014: Deliberative Democracy Nationwide?—Evaluating Deliberativeness of Healthcare Reform in China. Journal of Chinese Political Science, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 151–172.
- Landemore, H. (2013). Deliberation, cognitive diversity, and democratic inclusiveness: An epistemic argument for the random selection of representatives. Synthese, 190(7), 1209-1231. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41931805
- Caluwaerts, D. 2017: Deliberation in Deeply Divided Societies. In: Bächtiger, A., Dryzek, J., Mansbridge, J. & Warren, M. (eds.). Oxford Handbook of Deliberative Democracy. Caluwaerts, D. & Deschouwer, K. 2014: Building bridges across political divides: experiments on deliberative democracy in deeply divided Belgium. European Political Science Review. 6, 03, p. 427-450.
- MacKenzie, M. K. & Caluwaerts, D. (2015) ‘Deliberation and Long-Term Thinking on Climate Change Policy.’ Paper presented at the Canadian Political Science Association Annual Conference. University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada