Ahmed Teleb on Citizens’ Initiative Reviews

A new post by Ahmed Teleb:

Citizens’ Initiative Reviews: Democracy via Vicarious Deliberation?

Although there has been much discussion in deliberative democracy circles on both the potential and possible drawbacks of “intensive” citizen deliberation–especially on Equality by Lot–there has been less awareness and discussion of deliberative forums in practice. Below is a video interview (first 16 minutes only) of two panelists from last fall’s Citizens’ Initiative Review pilot in Colorado. Further below, you will find links to two peer-reviewed articles evaluating the 2010 CIR in Oregon. Oregon is, to my knowledge, the unique contemporary example of a permanent incorporation of citizen deliberation into its political system. The link at the end of the post is to Oregon’s CIR Commission and to the Oregon Statutes that govern it.

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5 Responses

  1. Very interesting film. Both participants viewed it primarily as an educational, information-gathering exercise, with a lot of emphasis on the presentations by the proponents and opponents of the GMO initiative. It would have been good to know a little more detail on the relative weight of the information and small-group deliberation stages — one of the participants emphasised the former and the other the latter. The structure of the event appeared very similar to the multi-stage Bloomfield Track deliberative forum, where it was demonstrated that the information stage had a much greater effect on changing minds than the small-group deliberations (Goodin, 2008).

    The Colorado pilot, of course, will have had no effect on legislative outcomes, which will be down to all voters. But what if the deliberative forum did determine whether the initiative were to be passed into law? This would require, IMO, that the deliberation should be truly representative — ie that several forums would deliver the same verdict, and this would require that any factors that caused inconsistent outcomes should be minimised, the obvious candidate being small-group deliberations. According to Goodin, the reduction in intensive deliberation would be a small price to pay, as the determining factor is the information gained by the participants. I recommend Andy Dobson’s new book, Listening for Democracy, as a good presentation of this case, in which the author argues that deliberative democrats place far too much emphasis on talking, and not enough on learning how to listen.

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  2. Ahmed,

    Thanks for posting this. I agree with you, it’s great to bring real-world experiment examples to the attention of this forum.

    The organization behind this is Healthy Democracy – they’re at http://www.healthydemocracy.org. This is an outgrowth of Ned Crosby and Pat Benn’s work on Citizens’ Juries at the Jefferson Center. And I believe Healthy Democracy is working in Arizona as well.

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  3. Keith, the format they used was substantially the same as Oregon’s. See the “Did they deliberate” paper for a discussion of the process.

    Note the (imo huge) achievement that the CIR Comission only has 3 of 11 members selected from among the political parties. The rest, are former panelists or moderators, starting with 2012 when there were enough ex panelists to fill the spots.

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  4. How does that affect the representativity (repeatability) of the decision outcome (the sine qua non for those of us who are serious about the use of citizen juries in democratic politics)? It’s a bit like natural science experiments, if the results are not repeatable, then they prove nothing.

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  5. Thanks for this citation, Ahmed.

    I have one question about the inclusion of both ‘randomly selected’ and ‘demographically balanced’ in CIR’s description of the process.

    Am I right to think that if the selection were only ‘randomly selected’ then the panel would have (likely) been demographically — i.e. geographically, ethnically, sexually — unbalanced?

    In other words, the Healthy Democracy organizers had to skew the selection for the sake of ‘demographically balanced’? And therefore
    undercut accurate statistical representation?

    Which is the same reason some U.S. Senators represent 292,000 people (Wyoming) and others represent 19,500,000 (California).

    Is this problem only an issue of credibility? Insofar as citizens in the sparsely populated areas believe they should have more weight because of the great expanse of land they occupy?

    A very old problem, isn’t it?

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