Citizens’ Assemblies / Conventions

Just a brief note – to recommend this edition of BBCR4 Positive Thinking. Citizens’ Assemblies and a rolling Citizens’ Convention are an idea I bought into over a decade ago. My logic is this:

Democracy appears broken.

Democracy of some kind (after Churchill) is nevertheless the best – or least worst – system available.

Therefore we need to fix democracy, not reject it, not throw democratic babies out with the bath-water.

We need to add more representation that works.

Mostly we already have two or three level systems – Head of State / Lower House / Upper House, two of which are “executive” – but the most directly representative of these consider public representation on fixed election cycles – cycles which are too long for changing world events, but too short for proper long-term values and investment in priorities.

Rather than tinkering with these established institutions and their election / voting arrangements directly (see “babies & bathwater”), the proposal here is to add another one or two levels of Citizens’ Assemblies underneath these. To increase public engagement between election cycles and to manage & maintain priorities beyond these.

Now, there are arguments against – about the self-selection of those that actually get engaged – partisan / activists – vs the professional knowledge and commitment needed, that the fact that any influence may be toothless even though placed on record. We already have standing “parliamentary committee” systems that partly address the same issues? So clearly it’s important they’re not allowed to become redundant box-ticking activities, that engagement is supported by genuine commitment and resources, and so on.

BUT whatever their drawbacks, the increased engagement is encouraged – never a bad thing – AND, most importantly it properly recognises and reinforces a multi-layered, self-organising, Systems Thinking approach to the most complex problem facing humanity. Governance.

The Belgian approach described in this programme has several innovations – clearly two-time-scale / two-level ongoing convention and periodic assemblies and some quality thinking on how arrangements can avoid the pitfalls. Recommended. Worth a listen.

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