Sortition is coming soon to the UK!
Or at least three citizens’ assemblies and one forum presenting aspects of sortition are happening in the coming months:
- A 200-member Citizens’ Assembly, as part of the NHS Citizen project, will occur on Wednesday 25 November in London.
- Two 45-member Citizens’ Assembly Pilot Projects will each be held over two weekends, in Sheffield on 17-18 October and 7-8 November, and in Southampton on 24-25 October and 14-15 November.
- The Policy Network, who recently published a report that included a call for the House of Lords to be replaced with a Citizens’ Assembly, are organising a forum on 15 October in London, “Contact Democracy in the modern world: An Australian perspective on democratic renewal."
- Jon Trickett MP, Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, has promised that “Labour will organise a series of citizens’ assemblies across the country.” It is unclear at this point if these will use sortition or not.
The Citizens’ Assembly of NHS Citizen
The largest of the upcoming citizens’ assemblies will be conducted by NHS Citizen as part of its public consultation mandate. After gathering ideas, the contributors to the “Gathering” (as they called it) will vote on the issues raised and the top 10 will be discussed at a 15-member Citizens’ Jury to be held on 27-28 October. This jury will select five of these issues to be brought to the 200-person citizens’ assembly on Wednesday November 25 in London.
After a Citizen Test Assembly in September 2014, where the attendees were self-selected, NHS Citizen should move to a modified sortition-based assembly, where most of the assembly is composed of a representative random sample, with a number of spots reserved for people from hard-to-attract marginalised groups. Regular Citizens' Assemblies are also scheduled for the future.
NHS Citizen produced a relatively detailed research and literature review outlining the various possibilities for public consultation, which led them to recommend a modified form of sortition:
“Our choice of selecting members through a mix of stratified [random] sampling and purposeful sampling of marginalised groups responds to the need to reach out to a wider pool of people and make NHS Citizen a truly inclusive process.”
As with the methodology of the G1000 in Belgium, they conclude that sortition, accompanied by active outreach to involve minorities and those less likely to accept an invitation to such an event, will give the event the highest legitimacy. We couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, some ominous words appear in the announcement of the upcoming assembly: “Our plans to recruit have also changed and we will explain more about this very soon.” Perhaps random sampling was too expensive? We must wait and see.
More information can be found here:
Citizens’ Assembly Pilot Project
Two more citizens’ assemblies, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and in conjunction with the Electoral Reform Society, will each be held over two weekends, one in Sheffield on 17-18 October and 7-8 November, and the other in Southampton on 24-25 October and 14-15 November.
Although both Assemblies will have 45 participants each, the Sheffield Assembly will have only citizen participants, while the Southampton Assembly will mix citizens (30 people) and politicians (15 people). The citizens are being recruited by YouGov, who call their methodology “Active Sampling.” It involves drawing a sample “representative of British adults in terms of age, gender, social class and type of newspaper.”
According to Brenton Prosser from the University of Sheffield:
“An important aspect of the project is the comparison between deliberation outcomes between a citizens-only and a mixed assembly."
The deliberation topic will be the possible future for decentralised government in England, in response to public interest in devolution in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, as well as the Cities and Local Government devolution bill currently before Westminster.
Contact democracy in a modern world: An Australian perspective on democratic renewal
Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, founder of the newDemocracy Foundation, which promotes and organises randomly selected citizens’ juries and assemblies in Australia, will talk on democratic renewal alongside Jon Trickett and Lord Bridges of Headley (both TBC). Claudia Chwalisz, senior researcher at Policy Network and author of “The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change” will moderate the evening. Jon Trickett, Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, has already promised that “Labour will organise a series of citizens’ assemblies across the country."
Whatever happens, it is clear that sortition is gaining ground in the UK.