Naomi has just flagged up an interesting article from Village Magazine on the Irish experiments with constitutional conventions in 2011 and 2016 by Eoin O’Malley, one of the participants. The article adds to my concerns that ‘full mandate’ allotted bodies are open to manipulation:
Some research shows that the act of deliberating with others has an impact beyond exposure to arguments or evidence. That is people given the evidence and arguments don’t move as much as those who are asked to discuss that evidence and arguments with others. This sounds like something positive for deliberative mini-publics. But it might not be.
The reason for this is because (as Condorcet demonstrated), independence is the key to getting the ‘right’ answer and this suggests that communication between jurors should not be encouraged — all that is needed is exposure to balanced arguments and evidence (as Goodin and Niemeyer discovered in their study of the Bloomfield Track citizens’ jury). This is distorted by the need to come to collaborative conclusions:
Because they are not independent the same flawed thinking or arguments can be magnified. For instance we could see the citizens in the mini-publics engage in groupthink. Some opinions might be aired, but can be effectively suppressed by the atmosphere in the room. There is significant evidence in social psychology that groups can push opinion to extremes and silence minority opinion. To prevent this great care has to be taken that all views are respected.
Fishkin’s insistence (personal communication) that small-group deliberation is an essential part of the opinion formation process might well be on account of his need to demonstrate that the DP leads to significant alterations in opinion (irrespective of whether or not such a shift would truly represent the target population). O’Malley’s experience validates the need for an adversarial and dialectical information advocacy policy to ensure well-balanced and opposing briefs:
The choice of experts was highly significant. In an earlier experiment I did with others we found that when experts agreed the members of a citizens’ jury tended to follow the expert judgement. While we did not deliberately set out to produce a result, the fact that our experts all agreed with the retention of the Irish electoral system meant there was less debate on its potential flaws than there should have been.
There would be no guarantee that leaving the choice of experts to the happenstance make-up of the randomly-selected body would ensure a diverse choice of experts, especially as political amateurs would be highly reliant on the suggestions of the administrative support staff, along with ‘suggestions’ from powerful lobby and media interests. Another problem was the pseudo-random outcome of the (voluntary) sortition process:
Another problem is that the 66 so-called ‘citizen members’ were not randomly chosen. Aside from the problem in identifying ‘random’ citizens, anyone who agreed to spend multiple weekends discussing sometimes arcane constitutional provisions had to be unusually interested in politics. There was a strong self-selection bias driving the composition of the Convention, and they may not have had representative views. Practical matters also got in the way. Few (if any) mothers of young children were there presumably because of the onerous time impositions. If the members are not representative, it is questionable what claims to legitimacy the Convention can have.
Or as one of the comments on the blog website put it the (voluntary) sample was unrepresentative because ‘it was more likely that a Dublin-dwelling Irish Times reader would agree to it than the average citizen who might have duties to their family on a Saturday.’ This would suggest the need for a larger sample, as in the Athenian legislative courts, and that attendance should be at least as mandatory as judicial jury service.