WaterAid use sortition to form governance group

On 24 October 2022 we selected 14 people from within the staff of the charity WaterAid. WaterAid is an international non-governmental organization, focused on water, sanitation and hygiene. It was set up in 1981 as a response to the UN International Drinking Water decade (1981–1990).

The 14 staff we selected will form part of the internal governance structure of WaterAid -- they will represent the interests of staff in the decision--making processes of the whole organisation. This is a new and interesting line of work for us. We see huge potential in the use of sortition as a way of informing and enhancing the governance of large organisations. Brief details of the sortition process are below.

Stage 1

WaterAid did some internal communications asking staff if they were willing to be a part of a committee representing staff in governance discussions within the organisation. The invitation was open to all staff except for Senior Leaders. This call resulted in 229 WaterAid staff being eligible to form part of the committee.

Stage 2

As part of the sign-up procedure, all potential participants were asked to share some basic information about themselves. The first three categories were very standard for sortition processes: age, gender, ethnicity; the second three categories were specific to the structure of WaterAid: job grade, location and "directorate" (meaning the area of WaterAid within which the person works).

We then used this information as input into a "sortition algorithm"; this is a process of randomly selecting our 14 committee members from the pool of 229 potential members in such a way that we have a representative sample (so, for instance, the age profile of committee members is broadly similar to the age profile of the staff population in WaterAid as a whole). Details of the specific algorithm we use, including information about the fairness of the algorithm, can be found here.

Details of the selection process for this assembly are summarised using the following pie charts, with further information following.

The way to understand these pie charts is as follows:

  • Column 1 (Target): These pie charts give information about the WaterAid staff group as a whole, using WaterAid's own internal data. As an example, in the second row, you can see that 20.7% of the WaterAid staff group is between 45 and 64. 
  • Column 2 (Respondents): These pie charts summarise the information that was provided to us by the 229 people who signed up as potential participants. There is some skewing in statistics here compared with our target: for instance, less people at "junior" grade signed up compared to what one might have expected.
  • Column 3 ( Confirmed Selected): These pie charts summarise information about the 14 who were finally confirmed to participate in the assembly. Notice that, thanks to our use of a sortition algorithm, the pie charts in this column are very similar to the target charts in the first column.

The pie charts on ethnicity are worth a brief note: just over half of our 229 respondents chose not to disclose details of their ethnicity. Our response to this was to stratify our selection for ethnicity so that 7 of the 14 people were chosen from the group who did not disclose and the other 7 were chosen with targets reflecting the overall profile of the WaterAid staff group.


What happened next?

The committee has now started meeting. We hope to hear back from WaterAid to hear how this innovation in internal governance has affected the way the organisation works...


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