G1000 Kick Off in the UK – Cambridge, September 24th

against-elections.jpgIf Brexit proved anything, it proved that what Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels say in Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government is true. People do not vote after careful consideration of facts and options, they vote to affirm their membership of various social groups and express agreement with the opinions of those groups, which may have little or nothing to do with the issue at hand being voted upon.

As David Van Reybrouck expressed so eloquently in his article, Why elections are bad for democracy (an extract from his book Against Elections) there is something very wrong with voting and elections and there is a much better way to do democracy: select a representative random sample of ordinary people, provide them with balanced information, and let them deliberate together to find out not what people do think, but what they would think, if given the time and information together with a good deliberative process.

From 11am to 4pm on September 24th, in Cambridge at the Six Bells Pub, a group of volunteers will meet to kick-off the process of bringing Van Reybrouck’s brainchild – a G1000 – to the UK for the first time. The dream is to bring a randomly selected group of 1000 residents together for one day in early 2017, to deliberate and decide together what is best for Cambridge.

But we need your help to make it a reality. We need people to donate their time and their energy to help organise such an event. We will need fundraisers, social media ambassadors, technicians, volunteers, cooks and a whole host of other help. Can you be one of these people? If so please join us, get in touch or come along to the G1000 Kick-off in Cambridge on September 24th.

[This post is from the Sortition Foundation blog: http://www.sortitionfoundation.org/g1000_kick_off_in_the_uk_cambridge_september_24th]

Reminder: “What is a G1000?” this weekend

G1000-style assemblyWhat is a G1000? Two free events, in Cambridge and London, organised by the Sortition Foundation, are happening this weekend.

We have been inspired by the Belgian G1000 and the Dutch G1000 and aim to hold one G1000 in London and one in Cambridge in late 2016 or early 2017, where a truly representative sample of 1000 people gather, deliberate with each other in a respectful environment, and decide together what is best for their communities. It is a way to do democracy differently.

Come along to find out all about a G1000 and how you can help make a G1000 happen in the UK!

For more information visit http://www.g1000.uk/calendar

Citizens’ assemblies are open to manipulation

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.

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Teaching students government skills

Adam Cronkright, co-founder of the Bolivian organisation Democracy in Practice, gives a Democracy Talk audio overview of the group’s findings so far with experiments in student government.

Democracy in Practice has been helping run student councils in a few different Cochabamba secondary schools since 2013, using lottery selection rather than elections to choose candidates.

Doing away with elections allows for a more representative body of students on council, making room for less charismatic or popular pupils to have a chance at government.

Changing selection methods is one thing, governing differently is another – with all the usual challenges of having representatives turn up on time, or at all, learning how to take collective decisions, not dominating proceedings and following through with promised actions.

An encouraging finding, Adam says, is that students can, and do, learn the necessary skills to govern. That raises hopeful prospects for better government in societies who manage to improve their citizens’ governance skills more generally.

An intriguing curiosity, albeit an anecdotal one according to Adam, is how students who appear to stand out as natural leaders, those who might usually get chosen in elections, are often not the best suited to actual government.

Catch the full audio interview below.

Sortition theory and practice: the G1000 comes to the UK

The End of Politicians screeenshotThe “short, powerfully argued and carefully researched” book The End of Politicians, by Sortition Foundation co-founder Brett Hennig, is now 75% funded and well on the way to being published by the crowdfunding publisher, Unbound. You can help get this book to 100% and get published by pledging and pre-ordering it here: https://unbound.co.uk/books/the-end-of-politicians

And the ideas in the book are on the way to becoming a reality – on the 10th and 11th of June Harm van Dijk and Jerphaas Donner, the founders of the G1000 in the Netherlands, are coming to the UK to help launch the G1000 in the UK. The aim of the G1000 is to bring a representative, random selection of people from a community together to deliberate about what they think is most important for their community.

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Robert Epstein: The New Mind Control

An interesting, and worrying, article by Robert Epstein on what he calls the “Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME)” appeared the other day on the site Aeon.

We already knew that the order of results on web search engines, particularly Google, can influence consumers’ choices. It’s not surprising that it also has an effect on political choices. What is surprising is the degree. Epstein and his team conducted experiments which show a very large effect indeed. In one case the proportion of people favouring the search engine’s top-ranked candidate increased by 48.4 per cent, in another by an average of 37.1 percent, and by as much as 80 per cent in some groups.

We also learned in this series of experiments that by reducing the bias just slightly on the first page of search results – specifically, by including one search item that favoured the other candidate in the third or fourth position of the results – we could mask our manipulation so that few or even no people were aware that they were seeing biased rankings. We could still produce dramatic shifts in voting preferences, but we could do so invisibly.
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2015 review – sortition-related events

This is a review of notable sortition-related events of the year 2015.

Brett Hennig wrote to mention citizens’ assembly pilots and the Irish constitutional assembly which led to the marriage equality vote.

In my mind the two most notable sortition-related events of 2015 were:

  • In Mexico, the Morena party allotted of some of its congressional candidates among the party rank-and-file. This was covered on Equality-by-Lot here (English version), here and here.
  • Leading Belgian politicians from various parties proposed changing the selection method of the Belgian upper house to sortition. This is the most high-profile proposal of its kind of the modern age.

Continuing the trend of previous years, those developments happened in the non-English speaking world. However, they are a reflection of a wide-spread disillusionment with elections – a sentiment that is as common in the English-speaking world as it is outside of it.

In the US this sentiment found an electoral outlet in the surprise strength of the campaigns of two presidential candidates which are perceived as being outside of the electoral establishment – Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. This fact was observed in a relatively well-noticed academic paper in Science journal by Fisman and Markovits about the way class affects policy choices. The authors drew from their work some conclusions that come close to an indictment of the electoral method.