Revitalizing our democracy through Citizens' Assemblies

Revitalizing our democracy through Citizens' Assemblies

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Last Update: September 7, 2012

The aim is to revitalize and strengthen democracy by making citizens' assemblies a regular feature of our political system.
To do that, we intend to establish a non-profit that will organize such assemblies in communities across British Columbia, and hold governments accountable for implementing the assemblies' recommendations.

Please read our submission (BC Ideas) for more details. (Will add more later). Thanks for your input!

Type: citizen sector

The Problem

Nothing is more important to the well-being of our communities than a well-functioning political system. Yet our politics suffer from deficits in three key areas: 1) Representation It can be hard for the voices of ordinary British Columbians to reach our elected representatives. 2) Deliberation We have few supports in place to encourage meaningful political deliberation, even as the need for it is increasing as issues become more complex. 3) Participation Citizens are becoming disengaged from traditional political structures. All this can lead to sub-optimal outcomes for communities. We can do better! Our solution can be of benefit to all BC communities. Watch our video to learn more!!

The Solution

To revitalize our democracy by making Citizens' Assemblies (CAs) an integral part of how we do politics in BC. To do that, we will create a non-profit dedicated to organizing CAs throughout BC. A CA is a randomly selected group of citizens that: - is given objective information on a topic - a chance to deliberate, and - a chance to make recommendations Here is how CAs can make a positive impact on our politics: 1) They can give ordinary citizens a louder political voice, ensuring that they are heard, and open up whole new channel of communication between society and its elected representatives. (Representation) 2) They can help create good public policy, by providing government with well-informed and well-reasoned advice on key public policy issues (Deliberation) 3) They can give citizens the kind of meaningful political engagement they crave (CAs have been shown to make participants want to get more involved in their communities and to enhance trust in government).

Example

Citizens' Assemblies (CAs) have been successfully tested around the world. But those efforts were ad hoc, and what has been lacking is a mechanism for making them a regular and permanent feature of a political system. Deeper Democracy, the non-partisan non-profit we will create, will provide the organizational platform to do just that. The rest is easy! Here's how it will work: - Residents go to our website to indicate interest in holding a CA in their community. - Once a threshold is reached, we set up an initial meeting, to which all members of the community are invited. There, residents choose the topic for the assembly. This could be anything from improving public transportation, to making housing more affordable in their community, to creating a blueprint for the national climate change strategy. - Deeper Democracy then invites a representative, random sample of 100 residents to participate in the assembly. (A professional polling firm will identify a random sample). - At the assembly, participants receive objective information from experts on both sides of the issue, and engage in deliberation. This will happen over four or five days over as many weekends. - Lastly, participants draw up recommendations, which are put to a vote. If they pass, the recommendations are presented to the appropriate government, which is urged to take action. Deeper Democracy then works to make all British Columbians aware of the assembly’s recommendations, and to hold governments accountable for implementing them. This is repeated in 10-15 BC communities a year.

Budget: $1,000 - $10,000

Marketplace

Wise Democracy is a Victoria-based group aimed at promoting deliberative democracy in BC communities. Their model is based on a small, local assembly (10-12 residents) chosen at random. Participants are engaged in discussion about their community's needs. Because of their small size, it is difficult to claim that these assemblies are statistically representative of their communities. Their small size also makes it harder for them to attract the attention of the public, the media, and ultimately the politicians - somewhat undermining their impact. Subject-matter experts are not on hand to support the deliberations. Wise Democracy has excellent facilitators, and we view them as key potential partners.

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