New Law Requiring Deliberative Poll Process for Constitutional Amendment in Mongolia

Here is an email from today (May 3, 2017) from James Fishkin to the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) listserv:

Dear all: I am just off the plane from Mongolia where a national Deliberative Poll considered several proposed elements of a constitutional amendment, as now required by law. National random sample of 669 deliberated a whole weekend and produced results, now with the parliament. Here is a pre-event press report and video:

This development raises interesting possibilities for how citizen deliberation can be institutionalized. Hope you will find it of interest. More information will appear on the web site when available.  Best regards to the NCDD list. Jim Fishkin

Of particular interest, the above-linked press release announces:

The Mongolian government recently passed a law requiring that an immersive research method that analyzes public opinion developed by Stanford’s James Fishkin be conducted before its constitution could be amended. According to Fishkin, who devised the process called deliberative polling almost 30 years ago, it marks the first time that a country has incorporated the process into its law. … The measure was supported and passed into law on Feb. 9.


See also:


9 Responses

  1. It’s very interesting that the DP is being enthusiastically accepted in countries like China and Mongolia (rather than Western electoral democracies). We have a workshop next week in the politics department at Exeter Uni on deliberative democracy in China.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. From what Fishkin has said, I understand that in the PRC, DP is not pitched as being a democratic method, but rather as being a scientific method. With the PRC having a stated commitment to scientific governance, DP fits with that commitment.

    It would be very interesting to hear a readout of that workshop on deliberative democracy in China.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jonathan,

    >I understand that in the PRC, DP is not pitched as being a democratic method, but rather as being a scientific method. With the PRC having a stated commitment to scientific governance, DP fits with that commitment.

    Yes indeed. But the considered and informed preferences of a scientifically-sampled microcosm of the demos might well come to be seen as a better form of popular democracy than the uninformed whim of everybody. Fishkin has claimed that ‘in China, we see the first glimmerings of another model’ of deliberative politics (When the People Speak, p. 155). See my Open Democracy article Chinese Democracy: ‘scientific, democratic and legal’

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for the great article link. I think it’s particularly important that you point out in the article the prejudices involved (“Contrary to our prejudices, China has a surprisingly decentralised political system and in some localities there is a strong tradition of kentan (convening heart-to-heart discussion meetings).”). A recent book on this, Legal Orientalism: China, the United States, and Modern Law, by Teemu Ruskola offers an interesting exploration of the question of “How did lawlessness become an axiom about Chineseness rather than a fact needing to be verified empirically, and how did the United States assume the mantle of law’s universal appeal?”

    I also see in the comments to your article that Yoram Gat raises ten important questions about DP methodology and other issues, a number of which also apply to the Mongolia case.


  5. Jonathan,

    >I also see in the comments to your article that Yoram Gat raises ten important questions about DP methodology and other issues, a number of which also apply to the Mongolia case.

    Yes, Yoram’s critique focuses on the lack of initiative and executive powers of the DP minipublic. Fishkin’s claim of “another model” is dualistic — “deliberative democracy by [a statistical sample of] the people themselves and elite deliberation by an elected body” (ibid., p. 156). The latter’s role is primarily agenda setting (coming up with the alternatives) and it fits well with my own neo-Harringtonian model, given the unsuitability of an allotted body for representative isegoria. It should also be pointed out that given that the allotted body has the final word, the elite body is (cybernetically) constrained to make proposals that are likely to be acceptable to the minipublic. Neither Fishkin’s nor my own work deals with the executive function and it remains an open question as to whether Western-style competitive elections or (reflexive) one-party technocracy is the optimal medium for policy development.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A system which is not laden with the contradictions of an electoral system (namely, democratic ideology coupled with an oligarchical government) can afford to be more adventurous with the devices it experiments with. Here is an example of how careful reform proposals in the Western system are:

    Citizens will have been briefed about their different learning styles and the importance of critical thinking for the interrogation of expert knowledge [See, Critical Thinking]. Depending on the size of the group, the questioning of experts can vary; however, since small group work is used even in large juries, this variation is minimal.

    Consider the application of the following method to a small (Eurobodalla, NSW), medium (Geelong, Victoria) and large mini-public (South Australian Nuclear Waste). The jury is divided into groups of six (to match the six different approaches to critical thinking). The room is divided into circles of chairs – seven to each circle – one chair in each circle is empty. There are seven groups in each room (with larger juries, many rooms are used).

    The session may have started with an expert panel, with each person offering a very brief explanation of his/her knowledge and experience – in other words, what information they consider themselves qualified to comment upon. This may be covered in written materials or be addressed in a plenary session.

    These experts then enter a room with forty-two participants (7 x 6), and each of the six experts occupies one of the empty chairs, with one group without an expert. This pause group’s task is to discuss the questions that are going to be asked or have already been asked depending on the time that the group pauses.

    A period of 10-15 minutes is allocated to each round. The expert is expected to answer questions during each round, with questions that are initiated by the participants, then they move to the next circle. It’s not a time for declaratory speeches, it’s a time to satisfy each group’s curiosity. Experts are often exhausted by this process because the questions are very exploratory and often challenging.

    After the groups have completed their questioning there will typically be a period for gathering facts that jurors require checking or information gaps that need to be addressed. These outstanding questions are placed on boards around the room and are answered over the course of the mini public [See, Deliberation].

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t see that there is any connection between this New Democracy document and electoralism. It would appear to be procedural guidelines to ensure that deliberation is well informed and reflects the current state of knowledge regarding different styles of cognition. As such the procedural norms described in this briefing would be just as relevant for deliberation in Australia, USA, China, Mongolia or wherever. It certainly does indicate that researchers like Lyn Carson (who have been working in this field for a very long time) would have little patience with siren calls to point an allotted sample and then leave everything down to chance. What’s wrong with being careful?


  8. Yoram, the newDemocracy research note that you cite is not a reform proposal. It talks about one aspect of deliberation process — hearing from experts — and summarizes what newDemocracy has learned from its experience.


  9. Hi David,

    I am not sure what your point is. Clearly, the note is a component of the procedures proposed by newDemocracy as a way to reform government. It is very clear is that newDemocracy sees its legitimate role to make very detailed procedural designs that are aimed to make sure that certain goals are obtained. This seems like a very problematic role to assume reflecting a very problematic line of thought for a reformer.

    Specifically about the proposal in the note: What newDemocracy has apparently “learned from its experience” is that the interaction between the allotted and witnesses (“experts”) must be carefully managed by the organizers, and in particular that a strict limit to the time allowed for interaction with each witness should be imposed. This is a very questionable lesson with predictable implications.

    As an aside, the claim that these instructions represent something “learned from experience” is unsubstantiated by the text. No evidence is provided that the proposed procedure is either better or worse than any other procedure. In fact, no clear description of what “better” or “worse” would even mean in this context.


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