Empowering Public Wisdom
On August 7, 2012, EVOLVER EDITIONS will publish Empowering Public Wisdom: A Practical Vision of Citizen-Led Politics. Author Tom Atlee has decided to release two chapters of the book as a work-in-progress and invites reader feedback, in keeping with the book's ultimate goal: the generation of true wisdom through the voices and ideas of people from all walks of life.
Our existing form of republican democracy is clearly unable to deal with twenty-first-century challenges. We need more wisdom in our public policies, our public budgets, and our public conversations -- and we need it soon. This book, Empowering Public Wisdom, suggests that it is both vital and possible to generate authentic collective wisdom through the conversations of ordinary citizens.
"Public wisdom" results when the public -- as a whole or in randomly selected "mini-publics" -- engages in learning about, reflecting on, and discussing public affairs in ways that take into account what needs to be taken into account to decide what will produce long term, inclusive benefits.
The chapters being posted on Reality Sandwich describe that kind of randomly selected mini-public -- the various forms of temporary, well-informed "citizen deliberative councils." They tell us about the hundreds of these councils that have been held around the world and how they have been used. They tell us about new forms of councils that could be developed and new ways they could be used-including organizing them at grassroots levels and through using the Internet.
These councils provide a way to readily and affordably generate a legitimate, authentic, coherent, and wise voice of "we, the people" -- a voice for "the general welfare" that is not currently present in our political discourse. It moves us beyond partisanship to a place of collective responsibility for our shared destiny. It reclaims the idea of "we, the people" as a coherent political force that integrates the diversity of the whole citizenry rather than a catchphrase used by one more special-interest group that attempts to speak for "the people" but doesn't really embrace our full range of perspectives and needs.
Other chapters in the book discuss (a) the role of power-especially how to balance power in a democracy and move from power-over to power-with; (b) the need to rein in corporate and financial domination of elections and government; (c) the strengths and limitations of both representative and direct democracy; (d) the polarization of our current political life and strategies to creatively move beyond it without dishonorable compromises and deals; (e) dozens of high quality conversational processes for mass public participation; and (f) how the power of public wisdom might actually be institutionalized in our government.
This is a radically new way to think about democracy. It embraces diversity, engages participation, and addresses conflicts and ignorance in profoundly different ways than we are used to hearing in bars, on talk shows, in public hearings, and within the halls of government. This is not a kind of direct democracy, where everyone votes on everything. Its bottom line is not just "participation" or "winning" but wisdom. Empowering Public Wisdom offers practical approaches for achieving exactly that.
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Citizen Deliberative Councils and Their Many Uses
Without deliberation we don't get public wisdom. The popular "wisdom of crowds" idea -- that the aggregated responses of many independent people generates better answers than any one of them, or even experts -- is sometimes useful for crowd-sourced estimates and predictions. But it does not generate real wisdom as described in this book. That takes deliberative conversation among diverse people.
My definition of deliberation in this work is thorough, thoughtful consideration of how to best address an issue or situation, covering a wide range of information, perspectives and potential consequences of diverse approaches.
Deliberation can be done in any number of ways, from extensive rigorous reflection to dynamic, creative interaction. The key feature in relation to public wisdom is the thoroughness of the process: does it help participants take into account what needs to be considered for long term success and broad benefit? Full information, critical thinking, reflection, creativity, emotion, vision, stories, and dynamic interaction all play important roles in this.
So how do we do this with, by and for a whole population?
Citizen deliberative councils have a unique and pivotal role to play in bringing public wisdom into the formal functioning of politics and governance. As noted in the previous chapter, these temporary councils of citizens are designed to reflect the diversity of the population, so when they are convened to deliberate on public concerns and provide guidance for officials and the public, they have a special legitimacy -- the legitimacy of We the People, the rightful source of guidance and power in a democracy.
The primary quality that makes them different from other democratic forms that claim to represent We the People -- i.e., elected representatives, populist partisan groups, public forums open to whoever shows up, and public opinion polls -- is the fact that citizen deliberative councils are a true microcosm of the whole society and they are undertaking a near-ideal act of citizenship on behalf of that society. They call forth, embody, and ultimately promote the public wisdom of the whole population.
There are many varieties of citizen deliberative council -- which will be described later in this chapter -- but they all share one purpose and eight characteristics.
The purpose of a citizen deliberative council is to inform officials and the public of what the people as a whole would really want if they were to learn about a public concern or issue, carefully think about it and productively talk it over with each other.
The eight characteristics shared by every current form of citizen deliberative council are:
1. It is an organized face-to-face assembly.
2. It is made up of 12‑200 people selected randomly (and usually demographically) so that their collective diversity fairly reflects the diversity of the larger community from which they were drawn. (In this context, "community" means any coherent civic population, whether a block, a citizens' organization, a city, a province, a country, or any other such public grouping.)
3. It is convened temporarily, for a specified time, usually a few days to a week of actual meetings, sometimes distributed over several weeks. (A rare version goes for many months of meetings every other weekend.)
4. Its members deliberate as peer citizens, setting aside any other role or status they may have for the brief duration of their deliberations, after which they return to their previous lives in their community.
5. It has an explicit mandate to address a specific public situation, issue, concern, budget, group of proposals or candidates, or other public matter.
6. It uses forms of dialogue and deliberation, usually facilitated, that enable its diverse members to really hear each other, to expand and deepen their understanding of the issues involved and to engage together to identify the best ways their community might address those issues.
7. When it is addressing a specific issue, budget, or public policy, its deliberations feature inclusive balanced briefing materials and, usually, interviews with, testimony from, and/or conversations with diverse experts, advocates, and other stakeholders involved with that issue.
8. At its conclusion, it releases its findings and recommendations to its convening authority, concerned officials, the media, the electorate, and/or the larger community from which its members came -- and then it disbands.
Ideally, further community dialogue is stimulated by the report and this is sometimes organized as part of the overall process.
Citizen deliberative councils in most current forms have no permanent or official power except the power of legitimacy and (hopefully) widely publicized common sense solutions to compelling public problems.
Although few people realize it, hundreds of these groups of ordinary citizens have been formally convened all over the world for the last forty years. All together they have involved tens of thousands of people in both developed and developing nations. They are happening in many places right now. Here are four examples covered in my book The Tao of Democracy, just to give you a taste:
* Poor Indian farmers held a deliberative council investigating approaches to economic development and decided they wanted to continue their subsistence farming.
* Some Britons passed official judgment on whether their local HMO should offer chiropractic services.
* Australian suburbanites deliberated on what to do about pollution and erosion associated with rainwater that was wrecking their beaches.
In every case, ordinary people reviewed the facts and came up with common-sense solutions. The idea that we could empower them to have real positive impact on our major public problems and crises opens up whole new possibilities for a positive future to replace the dire prospects and heartbreaking visions currently rampant in our struggling society.
The history and variety of citizen deliberative councils
Citizen deliberative councils were first pioneered by the late German innovator Peter Dienel, who created planning cells or Planungzellen in 1969 or 1970. Planning cells involve several separate 25-member jury-like "cells" all simultaneously considering the same issue. The conclusions of the diverse cells are collected, compared and then compiled into one "citizen report" by the organizers. Once the participants approve the report, it is presented to the sponsor, the media and other interested parties. The first planning cells were held in 1971 in Germany and a few dozen more have been held since.
A few years later, the most widely used form of citizen deliberative council, the Citizens Jury, was created. Citizens Juries involve 12-24 citizens chosen by random stratified sampling (which involves demographic selection from a random pool of citizens) interviewing experts and deliberating for 3-5 days. The form was conceived by American political scientist Ned Crosby in 1971 as part of an academic inquiry about how a community might determine its most ethical solutions to moral dilemmas. (Crosby and Dienel were unaware of each other's work until 1985, when they met and soon discovered that they both spoke German and English and both had mothers and daughters named Elizabeth, the latter born a week apart in 1963!)
In 1974 Crosby and several civic leaders founded the Jefferson Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota to research and develop the Citizens Jury process (along with another process called "Extended Policy Discussion" which was designed to clarify disagreements between experts on public policy matters in a way that would be useful for legislators). The first Citizens Jury on an issue was in 1974 and the first to examine candidates for office was in 1976. In 1984 a Citizens Jury was conducted for the first time with government sponsorship. As of this writing, the Jefferson Center has organized 32 Citizens Juries. Reports on these and a complete manual on conducting Citizens Juries are available on the Jefferson Center website www.jefferson-center.org.
The citizens jury model was picked up by English activists who carried it around the world (the capitalized version is for Jefferson Center-approved Citizens Juries, while the lower-case version is for variants). Many other people have since used this method. In its many variations, the citizens jury is the most widely used and thoroughly tested and reviewed model of citizen deliberative council in the world, and has inspired many creative applications and visions.
More than a decade after Crosby and Dienel's innovations, another form of citizen deliberative council was instituted in Denmark. This model, called consensus conferences, consists of about 18 randomly selected citizens who study their assigned issue and then take testimony from experts in an open public hearing, after which they are facilitated to a consensus before they release their report at a press conference. Since the mid-80s, occasional consensus conferences have been convened by an official office of the Danish parliament to review controversial technological issues being considered for legislation. In addition to the Danes' official consensus conferences, a couple of dozen have been unofficially held elsewhere in the world.
The next major development came from a surprising source. One weekend in June 1991 Maclean's magazine -- Canada's glossy newsweekly -- convened a dozen Canadians in a resort north of Toronto. These folks had been scientifically chosen so that, together, they represented all the major sectors of public opinion and demographics in their deeply divided country. Despite their firmly held and often opposing beliefs, each of these people was interested in dialogue with people whose views differed from theirs. That dialogue was facilitated by "the guru of conflict resolution," Harvard University law professor Roger Fisher, co-author of the classic Getting to Yes, and two colleagues.
Despite the fact that they'd never really listened to the viewpoints and experiences of others so unlike themselves and the tremendous time pressure (they had three days to develop a consensus vision for Canada), and despite being continuously watched by a camera crew from Canadian TV (who recorded the event for a special hour-long public affairs program), these ordinary citizens succeeded in their mission. Their effort was extensively covered by Maclean's in their special "People's Verdict" issue -- a fact so significant that it will be discussed in more detail in the next chapter. Strangely, the process they used was never used again.
In the early 1990s consultant Jim Rough developed a powerfully creative form of problem solving and conflict resolution he called Dynamic Facilitation. At the beginning of the process, participants address their thoughts and feelings to the facilitator, who "reflects" them back in ways that ensure each speaker feels fully heard, including recording their contributions on chart pads labeled "problem statements", "possible solutions", "concerns" and "data". When anyone complains about something, the facilitator asks (after reflecting the complaint), "What do you think should be done about that?" or "If you were in charge, what would you do about it?" -- always channeling participants' thinking towards solving the problem without privileging any particular solution, just recording them on the "possible solutions" chart pad. If someone starts to argue with or invalidate what another participant has said, the facilitator asks, with real curiosity, "What's your concern?" -- and, after reflecting and recording their concern, asks what the conflicted person would do about it. This aspect of Dynamic Facilitation -- translating conflict into concerns -- composts antagonism into creativity.
As all the ideas and emotions participants brought with them into the session are well heard and recorded, the group becomes increasingly aware of the full complexity their diverse views add up to. At the same time -- since they feel heard and have witnessed others being well heard -- they are more open than when they walked in. Increasingly the group's attention moves from arguing and asserting to thinking co-creatively about the "mess" -- the full complexity of the situation -- they have generated together. They're thinking, "Oh my, how are WE going to solve this?" and they start to generate new solution ideas and new angles on the problem. As this spirit comes to dominate the discussion, the group begins to make breakthroughs until a big collective "ah-ha!" often comes -- usually around something no one of them thought before they came in the room. There is no "decision", as such, but more of a shared perception of what's needed, a "co-sensing."
This approach -- which was mainly used in corporations, nonprofits, and public institutions -- engenders a quality of conversation Rough calls choice-creating. Although Rough doesn't consider choice-creating to be deliberation, I believe it fits the definition at the beginning of this chapter -- albeit in a far more dynamic way than other forms of deliberation. As you may gather from the description above, his process is deeply creative and non-linear, following the group's energy rather than any pre-determined course or agenda-and it is extremely powerful.
The choice-creating conversations about public issues that Rough witnessed in his Dynamic Facilitation trainings inspired his 1993 innovation of the Wisdom Council process. In a Wisdom Council, one or two dozen citizens chosen through pure random selection come together for a few days with no agenda. Their job is to reflect on how their community is doing, including its needs and dreams. They may identify issues, solutions, questions, new directions, whatever. They come up with a consensus statement -- a sort of citizens' "state of the union" address -- which they deliver to the community in a public meeting. (Note that the political logic of the Wisdom Council, if not the exact process, is remarkably similar to the Maclean's magazine effort, about which Rough was unaware.) In a Wisdom Council process a new Wisdom Council is convened every 3-12 months. Given its simplicity and its ability to catalyze a spirit of "We the People", Wisdom Councils will be given special strategic attention in Chapter 9.
Since Wisdom Councils are not designed to deal with an assigned issue, some dynamic facilitators wondered if Dynamic Facilitation could be used in an issue-oriented process like a citizens jury. At first Rough balked because, in his view, the randomly selected members of a Wisdom Council were essentially We the People, and you don't tell We the People what to talk about; they decide for themselves.
Over the years, however, he and leading colleagues, notably Rosa Zubizarreta (who collaborated with me on The Tao of Democracy), began developing a powerful form of citizen deliberative council they called a Creative Insight Council (CIC). In this, one or two dozen randomly selected citizens are convened to explore a situation or proposal in a dynamically facilitated choice-creating conversation. Experts, stakeholders and partisans on the issue are also included, usually as witnesses or resource people (as in a Citizens Jury) at the beginning, but also receiving and commenting on the CICs results at the end. (One variation that might be quite productive -- if the experts and partisans are willing to stick it out and the facilitation is strong -- is to have them fully included in the entire choice-creating conversation.) The process is designed to generate new and potentially better ways to address the situation, not necessarily to work out detailed proposals. While still under development and tried only a few times, CICs are one of the most promising innovations in the field. I think they would be especially valuable if, instead of the CIC's initial findings being the end of the process, their findings went to the experts and officials to craft a new proposal which was then returned to the reconvened CIC for consideration in a choice-creating conversation-back and forth in an iterative manner until something solid evolved that really worked well for all concerned.
Another new and perhaps the largest and most empowered form of citizen deliberative council so far held was the British Columbia (Canada) Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform. This panel of 160 citizens (one man and one woman randomly selected from each legislative district, plus two Aboriginal members) was convened in 2004 to study and make recommendations on electoral reform. They met every other weekend for ten months -- hearing expert testimony, holding 50 public forums, examining 1603 written submissions from the public, and deliberating-generating creative recommendations which they then submitted to BC's voters as a referendum.
The legislation that established the BC Citizens Assembly specified that if their recommendations were approved by 60 percent of the voters they would become law. Since the 2005 vote in favor was only 57.7 percent -- albeit with majorities in 77 of the 79 districts -- the measure failed. A second referendum in 2009 also failed to pass. But the Citizens Assembly process has generated much interest worldwide and been replicated in several other locations.
Discrepancies between the public wisdom as represented by the recommendations of a citizen deliberative council and the public will as represented by votes and public opinion polls raise important questions. Among other things, they highlight the need for journalists, activists, and other storytellers and political players to engage the entire public with the public wisdom generated by deliberative mini-publics. They also highlight the potential of engaging "televote" audiences, large groups of citizens who watch citizen deliberations on TV or online and periodically engage with the citizen deliberators by phone or online, providing feedback during the deliberative process. Since the public owns the airwaves at the local level and broadcasters must serve the public interest, communities can and should work with them to present citizen deliberations on issues vital to the community. Another variation involves open-participation public deliberations and debates carried on online at the same time as the face-to-face ones occurring in the citizen deliberative councils, with some crossovers between the two conversations. The official participants in citizen deliberative councils could also use blogs, chats, tweets, live conference calls or other technologies to engage citizen observers as ad hoc participants.
How citizen deliberative councils could and should be used
It is now well demonstrated that with this method ordinary citizens have a remarkable capacity to grapple with complex problems and come up with useful recommendations that serve the common good, thus realizing the elusive dream of democracy more fully than ever before.
Yet most citizen deliberative councils have only been convened as isolated events or sophisticated focus groups by organizations or agencies seeking input from the public. Only rarely -- as in the British Columbia and Denmark examples above -- are they given any real power in the political process. And only rarely do practitioners, activists, or political theoreticians and visionaries explore the many diverse facets of our public lives to which these citizen panels could be applied. (The one remarkable exception is communication professor John Gastil's By Popular Demand, from which a number of the ideas below were taken.)
The purpose of this section is to show how valuable citizen deliberative councils could be and why it is worth promoting and empowering them. Once we see the wide applicability of this approach to generating public wisdom -- an applicability almost as broad as the familiar democratic practice of voting -- the larger vision of empowered public wisdom and its potential for salvaging our democracy and our world become more compellingly clear.
Citizen deliberative councils (CDCs) could and should play many roles to help us take into account what needs to be taken into account in our public decision-making. Here are some examples:
- Providing periodic citizen-based "state of the union" declarations
As embodied by Wisdom Councils and the Maclean's initiative, microcosms of the public can consider how things are going in their community or country and articulate the frustrations, concerns, and hopes of the population on a regular basis. They can instigate a "time out" for a community to reflect on where it is and where it is headed, and to creatively tease out new directions and options. Such councils would tend to have more or less open-ended conversations. If the randomly selected participants were given tasks to do in such councils, they would tend to involve the exploration of values, visions and scenarios more than studying facts and existing proposals. No experts would be needed except for the citizens themselves -- who are, after all, experts in their own experience. They can recommend solutions, new directions, or the use of other CDCs to tackle specific public affairs. They embody the unconstrained voice of "We the People" and provide an evocative mirror for the whole population, rather than the highly politicized annual "state of the union" declarations of elected presidents, governors, mayors, etc. Their regular use builds a strong sense of We the People identity in the population.
After studying balanced briefings and cross-examining a diverse spectrum of experts, randomly selected CDC members could provide voters and decision-makers with informed guidance about an issue, grounded in the core values of their community. Legitimate issue-oriented CDCs could be convened by legislatures, citizen petitions, prior CDCs or by other means established by law or popular acclaim, when and as needed. They could address issues broadly, identifying new possibilities-or they could choose from a given set of options (in which case critical attention must be given to how those options are chosen and by whom). Annual CDCs could be convened in specified issue areas -- economic policy, the environment, education, defense, welfare, etc. -- to provide an ongoing sense of the best "general interest" thinking in each of these areas. Such annual issue dialogues could be set up such that the CDCs conferred with hundreds of their fellow citizens in the random "jury pools" from which they were selected, in televised or online forums viewable by anyone-a process that would be very educational for everyone, especially if the citizenry was engaged in other forms of grassroots dialogue and deliberation around these issues as part of the same participatory effort.
The randomly selected members of a CDC could interview both advocates and opponents of specific ballot measures, and then share with their fellow voters (through official voter pamphlets, the Web and the media) their conclusions about the facts of the matter and their best judgment about the merits of those initiatives or referenda. Such a Citizen Initiative Review (CIR) could be put in place by a ballot initiative or by legislation establishing a governmental or non-governmental office to convene CDCs in a timely way to review all -- or certain kinds of -- qualified initiatives. This would significantly reduce both the special interest manipulation and the mass thoughtlessness that has recently beset the initiative process, thus cleaning up and revitalizing what should be one of our best tools for popular empowerment. (A CIR was officially established in Oregon in 2011. It will be covered further in Chapter 10.)
- Creating proposed ballot initiatives to deal with identified issues.
It is one thing for a CDC to review initiatives created by a special interest group or legislature. It is quite something else for a CDC to generate initiatives that can then be placed on the ballot, as was done by the BC Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform. An initiative-creating CDC would draft one or more versions of an initiative to address a particular issue and interview partisans for their critiques and recommendations until they decided what would be best. Then they would have lawyers or legislators on hand to legally wordsmith the initiative into a form that could be voted on and, if approved, passed directly into law. In a political system more fully guided by public wisdom, a Wisdom Council might identify and prioritize an issue on behalf of the community and recommend that a Citizens Jury or other CDC be convened to make recommendations on it. The Citizens Jury might sketch out policy guidelines they thought would best address the issue. Then an initiative-creating CDC could craft the initiative and submit it for a popular vote. In subsequent promotion of that ballot initiative, advocates could point out that it wasn't created by a partisan interest group, but by a group of randomly selected ordinary citizens convened to look into the issue, who became informed about it and used common sense to figure out how it should be handled. Perhaps even better would be to hold several CDCs like this and, if their recommendations differed, to hold a CIR (perhaps made up of members from the preceding CDCs) to recommend which one (or some integration of them) should be put on the ballot. There is precedent for this: In ancient Athens, a deliberative Council of 500 -- whose members were chosen by lot-set the agenda for the community's Assembly where everyone voted on the proposals the Council put before them.
- Ensuring sober public evaluation of controversial legislation.
Laws could be passed stating that if a city council, state assembly or national legislature is preparing controversial legislation -- indicated by a certain large number of people petitioning to suspend the legislation pending review by a CDC -- then that legislation is immediately suspended. A group of (say) 50 citizens might then be drawn from a regular jury pool and given 24 hours to hear arguments from both advocates and opponents of the legislation and to decide by majority (or supermajority) vote whether to lift or sustain the suspension. If they decide to lift the suspension, then the legislators could proceed with their vote. However, if the initial jury sustains the suspension, then a full CDC must be convened to study the legislation in detail and cross-examine expert advocates and opponents. After the CDC's findings are broadly publicized, the legislature can then proceed with its vote under the watchful eyes of their now-well-informed constituents.
- Reviewing candidates for elected public office.
I have seen three interrelated approaches recommended for reviewing candidates -- issue-centered, qualification-centered and interview-centered -- each of which are described here.
Issue-centered evaluation would involve a CDC evaluating candidates' positions on key issues (perhaps compared to positions favored by prior CDCs on those issues, such as by the "annual issue dialogues" mentioned above, or by the CDCs evaluating key pieces of legislation as described below). For example, four issue-centered CDCs could be convened before a particular election to evaluate each candidate in depth on the economy, the environment, security and education. These CDCs would review the candidates' records and interview the candidates directly, along with their supporters and their detractors.
Qualification-centered CDCs would ask experts and the candidates themselves what criteria should be used to evaluate candidates for the particular position they seek to win. Once the CDC chooses its criteria from that advice, it would have the candidates discuss their own and each others' qualifications in terms of those criteria. Partisan and non-partisan experts could also testify on candidates' qualifications.
Although interviews would usually be part of all candidate-evaluation CDCs, interview-centered CDCs would more deeply engage with the candidates, not limiting themselves to positions and qualifications, but reaching into the candidates' character, responsiveness to the public, management style, and even undefinable "gut feelings." Having each candidate face various challengers or challenging scenarios for several hours in the unscripted presence of a randomly selected citizen panel could be very revealing.
In all cases the evaluations of the CDC would be made available to the voters through the media, the Web and official voters pamphlets.
An intriguing variant for legislative races proposed by John Gastil envisions a CDC convened to pick what the people feel are the ten most important bills proposed or voted on since the last election. Legislative candidates would be required to state their views on each of these pieces of legislation. (The voting records of incumbents would already be available on bills that were passed or defeated.) Then full CDCs would review each piece of legislation in the same manner that they might review a ballot measure. If a supermajority (67 percent or more) of their members supported or opposed a piece of legislation, their judgment would be recorded as "the people's preference." The percentage of times a candidate's record or position aligned with this "people's preference" would be published in the media, on the Web and in voters' pamphlets, along with the CDCs' and candidates' explanations of their views.
These ratings would be much like the ratings published by partisan organizations like the National Rifle Association or the Sierra Club to approve or disapprove of Representatives and Senators, except that the CDC ratings would be from a nonpartisan "general interest" perspective rather than from a particular special interest perspective. The CDCs' rating (say, 20 percent -- or 90 percent -- agreement with "the people's preference") would not tell voters how to vote, but would provide a useful "rule of thumb" to add to the guidelines most of them use -- such as party affiliation, last name, gender, interest group recommendations, etc. A further (and controversial) option would be to list the candidates and their "people's preference" ratings right on the ballot in descending order.
- Reviewing government budgets.
Effective review of a government budget would require several CDCs. The first CDC could review the budget proposed by the chief executive (mayor, governor, president). Another could review the version provided by the legislative budget committee as it completed its work. Other CDCs could review the budgets of past years, or the budgets proposed by various interest groups, to suggest more general citizen guidelines for budgeting, or to review the effectiveness of past budgeting efforts.
Interestingly, when citizens are allowed to deliberate in an informed way about budgetary matters, they tend to choose higher taxes to cover services they believe necessary for a healthy community or country, rather than cutting taxes to have more money for themselves. This fact could have a profound impact on budgetary crises at all levels of government, if there is a citizens' movement to empower informed citizen deliberations like CDCs to evaluate budget proposals and publicize their public judgment to counter special-interest manipulation of poorly informed public opinion and votes.
Note that this approach is different from the increasingly popular Participatory Budget approach used in hundreds of cities worldwide. A mass-participation Participatory Budget program is not a randomly selected CDC, but the two could be used productively in parallel.
- Reviewing government or corporate performance.
Using the same model of hearing testimony from all sides of an issue, a CDC could hear defenders and critics of the performance of a public official, public agency, or corporation. This would be a particularly useful tool in touchy areas such as periodic citizen review of corporate charters or of police behavior or treatment of whistleblowers that were not in the judicial system. Systems could be set up whereby a certain level of public petition would automatically trigger a CDC to investigate. In all cases, such a system of highly informed and impartial answerability could greatly increase the quality and responsiveness of all forms of power exercised over our collective life.
The broad citizenry could, if it chose, ensure that its general interests were well and dependably articulated through the use of randomly selected citizen deliberative councils. The quality of deliberation involved could -- especially on hot priority issues -- replace or shape public opinion polls as an indicator of the public will and the general welfare. Their randomness and brief existence could make them at least as resistant to manipulation as trial juries. Well-monitored facilitation and information could help them produce sophisticated, common sense results. Their rootedness in community values could counter-balance the growing greed, power-hunger, partisanship and shortsightedness rampant in both public and private sector decision-making.
CDCs are so flexible they can evaluate issues, proposals, legislation, candidates, public officials, and the general state of the community. In each case, the kind and quality of information and perspectives supplied by a CDC is unique-and uniquely valuable.
Implicit in this vision is the realization that nowhere else do we have a trustworthy source of publicly accessible public judgment and public wisdom arising from high quality investigation by and dialogue among significantly diverse ordinary citizens deliberating together away from the shallow, one-sided PR manipulations of special interests.
Whatever issues, candidates or proposals most excite our passion, they must pass through the decision-making processes that are built into our systems of politics and government. It behooves us to ask: Are these systems set up to make sensible decisions on behalf of the long-term common good? If not, we have CDCs as a tool to inject public wisdom and popular will into that decision-making. We can give that collective wisdom and will as much power as we choose.
These reforms should start at local or state levels (e.g., evaluating local issues and mayoral or gubernatorial candidates) before they are pushed at national levels (e.g., evaluating national issues and presidential or Congressional candidates). However, public servants at any level (including the national) could always convene CDCs to advise them or their agencies-or to influence their fellow public servants, other institutions (like corporations) or the public at large towards more wisely democratic policies and behaviors.
Underlying all these details about citizen deliberative councils is a larger purpose: To bring about the urgently needed next step in the evolution of democracy, itself. It is desirable and likely that regular use of CDCs can help transform "We the People" from a patriotic myth to a highly conscious and intelligently coherent political force. It can help bring real vitality to this ultimate democratic authority -- the people -- that is currently fragmented, entranced and unable to act clearly and consistently on its own behalf.
The revolution in decision-making that citizen deliberative councils offer us is of comparable magnitude to the revolution in decision-making created centuries ago by the idea of majority vote. It can be applied virtually anywhere, and it could make all the difference in the world.
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