Launch of International Sortition Network: Democracy R&D

On Tuesday 16th and Wednesday 17th of January 2018 around 40 people from more than 15 organisations will meet, many in person at Medialab Prado in Madrid (others will join online), to develop the founding principles and processes of an international sortition network: Democracy R&D.

The Sortition Foundation will be at the two day meeting, alongside representatives from newDemocracy (Australia), hosts ParticipaLab (Spain), Forum dos Cidadãos (Portugal), G1000 (Belgium) and G1000 (Netherlands), MASS LBP (Canada), Missions Publiques (France), Particitiz (Belgium), Japan Research Forum on Mini-PublicsDanish Board of Technology FoundationBertelsmann Stiftung Foundation (Germany), ECI Campaign (EU), Democracy in Practice (Bolivia/US/Canada), Jefferson Center (US), Healthy Democracy (US), Empowering Participation (Australia), the Policy Jury Group (US) and the Nexus Institute (Germany).

The two day meeting promises to lay the groundwork for international collaboration and skill-sharing to promote and institute sortition locally, nationally, and even internationally. A post-meeting report will appear on the Sortition Foundation blog.

[Note: this is an edited repost from:]


20 Responses

  1. Great thing to see sortition uniting people from all around the world! Keep on the good work gals and guys… This is one great thing about sortition: it is a mean and not an ideology. Everybody can agree on a mean while it is impossible to settle on an ideology.


  2. Excellent initiative Brett.

    What’s the deal for media? I see it’s possible to participate online too – is this for all sessions or certain ones?

    Good luck with it, in any case.


  3. Hi Patrick,

    Just to clarify, this meeting is only for members of the organizations that Brett mentioned (plus Empowering Participation in Western Australia).


  4. Too bad meeting is closed as I would have liked to attend on-line but I understand. Overjoyed to see Democracy in Practice attending. Their project in Bolivia may be the longest running (3+ years?) use of sortition in a real government setting, albeit student government, in the recent past (maybe since ancient Greece and Roman times?). I highly recommend ya’ll check it out:

    From their website: “Elections give the wrong kind of civic education
    Student government is meant to introduce young people to democracy and develop tomorrow’s leaders. In practice, however, school elections exclude all but the most popular, charismatic, and ambitious students from actively participating. Elections incorrectly teach young people that there are a few natural-born leaders, and that for the rest democracy simply means casting an occasional vote. We wouldn’t use a popularity contest to decide which few students get to learn math or history, so why do we do this with leadership and civic education?”


  5. The first item on the sortitionist agenda is to disseminate the idea of sortition as a democratic competitor to elections.

    Is Democracy R&D going to pursue this task? If so, how?


  6. >The first item on the sortitionist agenda is to disseminate the idea of sortition as a democratic competitor to elections.

    No it isn’t — it can never be a competitor, as the representative mechanisms involved (both of which are essential to democracy) are different. Most of the books and articles advocate sortition as a supplement to election, not a replacement. What you refer to as “the sortitionist agenda” is Gatism.


  7. Yes – the mechanisms involved are very different. As was obvious to the Athenians, one of them – sortition – is democratic, while the other – elections – is oligarchical.

    So, I repeat my question to Brett and David, and to the other members of the select groups involved: is the new organization, or network of organizations, going to be popularizing the idea of sortition as a democratic alternative to elections? And if so, how?


  8. The Athenians required both mechanisms for a primitive and homogeneous city-state — in fact the 4th century reforms which introduced randomly-selected legislative juries also increased the role of election (both for key magistracies and for the advocates in the legislative courts). So why do you think that large complex modern states can do without elections?


  9. The agenda of the meeting is largely open space (to be determined at the start of the meeting). Exaclty how the network works and what it pursues will begin to be determined at the meeting… The initital five principles are on the home page of the website – althouhg I assume at this point (more or less the formation of the network) even these could be modified.


  10. It seems likely that the organization will remain agnostic on whether sortition should supplement or supplant elections in the long run, as there are a variety of views among participants. The key concept is to expand the use and awareness of sortition as a democratic tool and to steadily improve the designs through experience.


  11. Ideal.


  12. > The key concept is to expand the use and awareness of sortition as a democratic tool

    Expanding the use of sortition and expanding awareness of sortition are two very different things.

    The first implies addressing oneself to existing political elites and trying to convince them that sortition is useful for them. The second implies addressing oneself to the people and proposing sortition as a tool for combating the oligarchical nature of the existing system.


  13. Yes, that’s why we need both approaches.


  14. In case it was not obvious, the two activities are mutually contradictory. If sortition is useful for existing political elites then it is not useful as a tool against the oligarchical nature of the existing system, and vice versa.


  15. As there are no “pure” political systems it isn’t a zero sum game. All “democratic” polities are and always will be a mixture of democratic and oligarchic elements.


  16. While I respect Yorams concern about the co-optation and misdirection of the sortition tool towards elite protection, I think that seeing real-world implementations is essential for ordinary citizens to be willing to even consider making any sort of bigger break with electoralism.

    It might be helpful to think about the evolution of other governance tools. The monarchy in France advanced elections as a means of selecting representatives of the third estate as a way of establishing formal acceptance of monarchy imposed taxes. Elections were utilized by the monarchy to shore up its legitimacy. It was only later that elections were promoted by the bourgeoisie as a means of legitimizing THEIR elite governance in OPPOSITION to the monarchy. The TOOL of elections had become an accepted tool by then, NOT as a tool for democracy, or even wealthy elite rule, but as a tool of the monarchy. The propertied elites of revolutionary France who excluded ordinary people (unpropertied laborers and women) from elections (both in terms of franchise and candidacy) did not envision that elections would eventually encompass virtually all adults. The tool changed over time. Likewise, the citizens’ assembly in Ancient Greece was used by monarchs and oligarchs for generations before the implementation of democracy (the aristocracy controlled the agenda). Even random selection was a tool that was used by elites in Greece and elsewhere long before it was used in democracy.

    In short, I think the path to a sortition democracy will not be a straight line. We should proceed on both paths… theoretical and practical, recognizing that many of the initial uses of sportition will fall far short of the democratic ideal. But until sortition is being used all over the place it will not be possible for most people to imagine how well it might work as a means for democracy.


  17. Happy to agree with Terry’s analysis — though I’m not sure of the need to season it with Marxist history (but understandable given who you were responding to). Perhaps Yoram should be reminded that there are only eight months between February and October and that history tends to speed up the second time round so he won’t need to sup with the devil for very long as oligarchy inevitably transitions into the glorious uplands of Real Democracy.


  18. Terry,

    I am very much in favor of legitimizing sortition through real-world implementations. The question is which ones. Implementations that are no more than tools for the legitimization of the existing power structure are not going to legitimize sortition, but rather to de-legitimize it as being part of a corrupt, bankrupt system.

    What we should be pushing toward initially are applications of sortition that are of limited scope but are democratic nonetheless. As has been mentioned here before, a supervisory, anti-corruption body seems like a very promising direction. I think it is very likely that the idea would win wide popular support on the one hand and would be hard for politicians to resist on the other.

    Democracy R&D could come up with a concrete proposal for such a body and propagandize for it.


  19. *** Keith Sutherland remind us (January 15, 7.52) , rightly, that in 4th century the Athenian democracy increased the role of popular juries (actually giving them the last word in any field except war, peace and external affairs) and at the same time increased the role of election, especially creating new elected financial “magistracies”.
    *** These two trends are not really independent.
    *** First because they imply the same move from the 5th democracy model, where all main decisions were issued through mass vote of the Assembly, and where the elected magistrates were political leaders and their friends (famously the poet Sophocles was elected stratêgos because he was a personal and political friend of the popular leader Pericles, without any kind of military knowledge). In 4th century Athens the stratêgoi are usually military experts, often with specific tasks; they are “military managers”. And the newly elected financial “magistrates” are financial managers, implementing precise financial policies which were clearly successful (better management of silver mines, better management of the taxes) allowing for a kind of welfare state even if there was no more imperial domination and tribute.
    The increasing role of juries is likewise a way of giving power to more specialized bodies, with closer and deeper thought about a specific subject , giving more enlightened decisions than mass votes.
    *** Second, as there is growing role of managers, helped by public slaves – the beginning of a “State apparatus” – , there is a growing need of oversight of them, which the Assembly could not operate efficiently. The old ostracism voted by the Assembly was a useful tool against “big men” and dangerous leaders, it fell out of use, but the allotted juries were convenient to rein on the political class including elected managers.
    *** Modern societies, complex and dynamic ones, will need administrative apparatus and competent managers. And because of that a modern democracy will need extensive use of allotted juries, deciding the policies then electing and overseeing those who implement them. Some people nowadays dream of everyday referenda through internet as” the way” to modern democracy. That would only lead to a society where, under a noise of ill-informed referenda, the Deep State (and the connected elites and lobbies) will rule through their practical decisions.


  20. Andre,

    That’s all very interesting, but i wonder if your modern proposal really has the ancient provenance that you seek?

    a modern democracy will need extensive use of allotted juries, deciding the policies then electing and overseeing those who implement them

    First of all the financial magistrates (aka managers) were elected by all citizens, not by the allotted juries. And secondly the juries were not deliberative policy-making bodies and were only called to perform their oversight role by (elite) competitors in the assembly. What you are proposing is something very different and without democratic provenance.


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