newDemocracy Funding Will Allow Look Into the Way Communities Experience Democratic Innovation

Below is a release regarding an upcoming research project that focuses on the way that communities experience the shift from elections to randomly selected governance models, using Democracy In Practice’s work in Bolivia as a case study. Thought it might be of interest to the group!

A recent award of funding from the newDemocracy Foundation (nDF) will enable Democracy In Practice to conduct innovative empirical research into the way that communities experience change to their systems of government.

The research project, occurring under the auspices of Simon Fraser University in Canada and running from October 2015 to June 2016, will use Democracy In Practice’s student government-based projects as case studies to explore the shift from elected governments to those that are randomly selected and rotated. The research team will conduct empirical research to explore how various stakeholders – students, student government members, and teachers – experience and interpret the replacement of a hierarchical election-based student governance system with one based on random selection, rotation, and deliberation among equals. The projects that will be studied are now in their second year of operation in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

While the use of random selection to create more inclusive, representative and deliberative democracy has been a mainstay of democratic innovations around the globe, these innovations have largely been limited to temporary, one-off, complementary processes, and little is known about how these democratic structures would function as a standing feature of democratic governance. Research on the use of random selection in standing political bodies has to date been limited to theory, and so this empirical research project represents the first of its kind.
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Democratic experimentation meets democratic education in Cochabamba, Bolivia: a case study

Founded in 2013, Democracy In Practice is a non-profit organization dedicated to democratic innovation, experimentation and capacity-building in an effort to contribute to government that is more inclusive, representative, and effective.

We present a case study which collectively examines the three pilot projects of Democracy In Practice’s student government program which ran February through November of 2014 in three schools in the Cochabamba area of Bolivia. This program involved replacing student elections with lotteries in which government members were randomly-selected to serve a given term before being replaced by a new group of randomly-selected students.

Program Overview

Implemented in three separate schools in the Cochabamba of Bolivia, the Democratic Student Government Program involved a dynamic and multi-faceted reinvention of student government. Most fundamentally, this reinvention involved replacing elected student governments with those that were randomly selected and rotated from within the student population. These governments of rotated, randomly selected students therefore operated continuously as standing decision-making bodies within the schools. Accordingly, the implementation of this program involved not only clear institutional change but also complex normative change, challenging conventional notions of governance as well as the regular practices and routines of both students and teachers. In this way, the projects explored here differ from other participatory governance initiatives that are typically temporary and limited to a particular issue.

Why women fail to take an equal share of top posts in academia

Here’s a nice piece in today’s Irish Times, showing clearly the need for lottery selection in jobs.

It asks the question: Why women (despite being over 50% of the faculty staff) fail to take an equal share of top posts in academia?

You can read the article in full (and for free!) at

http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/why-women-fail-to-take-an-equal-share-of-top-posts-in-academia-1.2108539.

In the comments section we the usual reaction to any suggestion of ‘affirmative action’

“Here we go, more feminist claptrap. All academic posts must be based on merit.”

To which a wise commentator replies: “You think merit has much to do with academic appointments? There’s usually an assessor’s box called suitability which you can fill with subliminal prejudices: plays golf, politics, sounds like me etc”.

While waiting for grand schemes of sortitionist democracy to be implemented, wouldn’t it be nice to have a bit of genuine equality based on lottery selection over the qualified candidates?

A Citizen Jury in Action: Report from Morris Rural Climate Dialog

Speaking of Citizen Juries, I’ve wanted to share something about this “Rural Climate Dialogue” since I attended as an observer last month in a small town in the Minnesota prairie. Below are excerpts from the participants. The the full report includes a statement to the public drafted entirely by the 15 randomly selected participants and an explanation of the CJ process as facilitated by the Jefferson Center.

Personally, I was quite impressed by what these regular people–the youngest a high school teenager, the eldest in her 80s–were able to do. They actually listened, engaged each other, and decided together. Unanimity was not required but almost always reached. Even their writing-in-committee was well done.

I was very impressed with this group’s ability to come together as community members, as neighbors, and talk about these things in an open, civil, and friendly manner.

I have to admit when I came here when people talked about climate [change] I thought ‘oh come on’ – did I ever learn a lot. I am grateful.

I think I’ll be a little bit more active and learn a little bit more in the future as a result of that. The overall experience was wonderful and the people were great.

We are the ones responsible for making these decisions…I’m thrilled and honored to be a part of a process that reminds me why this grand [democratic] experiment continues. And it’s not been perfect, and it will not be perfect, but we can always make it better, and things like this are a start. Thank you for the opportunity.

Just How Do CJs support ‘Freedom and Democracy’?

In a spate of moronic ‘reforms’ Education Ministers in England (of all parties) have vowed to set schools free from the dead hand of local (elected!) authorities. Hence there are Academies, Free Schools, Foundations including some for-profit schools. Yet all of these are funded by the State through taxpayer money.

So how should these ‘free’ schools be governed? A Governing Body, but chosen by election? No, no! Continue reading

The Median Voter Rules — OK?

Cabinet reshuffle montage: ministers in Downing Street
David Cameron used his reshuffle to promote a number of women – and to sack Michael Gove

Francis Elliott, Michael Savage and Laura Pitel, The Times, July 16 2014:

Michael Gove was removed as education secretary after David Cameron’s election guru warned about his “toxic” polling. Mr Gove paid the price as the prime minister reshaped his cabinet into an election-fighting unit, more than doubling the number of women in a top team that he claimed “reflects modern Britain”. . . [P]olling showing that more than half of voters thought the education secretary was doing a bad job fatally undermined him. Insiders say that Lynton Crosby, the Tories’ election strategist, led a powerful coalition inside No 10 calling for Mr Gove to be removed.

Michael Gove was the architect of the government’s ‘free schools’ policy, which was intended to encourage state-maintained schools to aspire to the values and achievements of independent (fee-paying) schools. This was certainly not a policy designed to appeal to the ‘rich and powerful’ (who can afford the fees of independent schools) as it increases the competition for places in top universities. The toppling of Gove is, ironically, a victory for the rich and powerful, but it was instituted by the need to pander to the preferences of the median voter. The commitment of the government to free schools was ideological, as opposed to reflecting the interests of the ruling elite, and the overturning of it was in response to the perceived [i.e. short-term] interests of the median voter. The main reason that Gove appeared unpopular with parents in Crosby’s focus groups, was his insistence on rigorous examination standards and the attempt to return to a traditional (ie academically challenging) core curriculum. David Cameron and the vast majority of the cabinet supported Gove’s strategy but he was sacrificed for purely electoral purposes (another factor being the need to reduce the alienation of teachers and other public-sector workers).
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Michael Schulson: How to choose?

A few weeks back, I was interviewed for an article in Aeon Magazine. That article, entitled “How to Choose? When Your Reasons Are Worse than Useless, Sometimes the Most Rational Choice Is a Random Stab in the Dark,” has now appeared online.

Some interesting sources cited in it (and not just my book…).