Deliberative Democracy - Submission from Te Reo o nga Tangata—The People Speak

This submission proposes that the methods of Deliberative Democracy be used for all major issues addressed by national and local governments in Aotearoa. Described here is a specific form of Deliberative Democracy known as "Citizen Assemblies".

Te Reo o nga Tangata—The People Speak is an independent community entity in the process of becoming a Charitable Trust. It was initiated in December 2019 in response to the Aotearoa Climate Emergency conference. We have many committed members including a particularly active core group of 14 people contributing a wide diversity of relevant experience and expertise to our kaupapa. While the focus of our kaupapa (see Appendix 1) is to support deliberative democratic processes in response to the climate crisis, here we are advocating for these processes to be used for all major issues addressed by national and local governments. These processes have been shown to be effective in allowing governments to act on contentious issues (such as climate change) by building community consensus and support for the decision makers.

The layout below follows that of others’ submissions shown on the OGP NZ website— bullet points give information and reasons to address the following headings—

1. Public perception of usual national and local government consultation methods

2. Partnership of tangata whenua and tangata tiriti in public consultations based on Te Tiriti o Waitangi

3. Major components of Citizen Assembly processes

4. The advantages to elected representatives of using Citizen Assemblies

5. Responses of the public to Citizen Assemblies

6. A few selected references describing Citizen Assemblies and/or indicating the very large evidence base that shows their effectiveness and value for both public and governments

1. Public perception of usual national and local government consultation methods

In our discussions over the past 18 months with many NGOs and members of the public in the Wellington region on how to improve public input and participation in governments’ decision-making, many people indicated disillusionment with current democratic engagement methods perceived as ineffective — they reluctantly, do not, or no longer, participate. A selection from some of the reasons given are—

- Voting outcomes often appear to arise from political agendas used to divide the community and are competitive and based on ideology, rather than taking care now and for the future, cooperatively, inclusively and respectfully, of the practical lived reality of ordinary whanau in our communities. Our democracy serves too much the interests of the wealthy and professional lobbyists contributing to the current social injustices.

- Decisions by governments appear to be temporary gestures or band-aids and/or do not address the root causes of problems, thus failing to provide for future quality of life and, too often, eventually compounding difficulties.

- While our individual lived experiences and interests must be considered, the public is clear that the overall wellbeing of the community and our environment is also essential to their own flourishing. We are willing to compromise and support others needs but, with the information readily available, the issues are very hard to understand and weigh up in the time that most are able to give to such activity.

- There are many disadvantaged citizens whose voices go unheard for reasons such as— no ready access to the internet for information and participation; working long or night hours, often unpaid or with low-pay as they care for children, the sick, the elderly, and the rest of us; with physical, health or mental challenges; the imprisoned, and more. For the mauri ora of the whole community we want to understand and respond generously to all these realities as well as to their vital contributions to our common good.

- Outcomes of consultation often appear not transparent; decisions are taken behind closed doors. After citizens spend much time, effort, discussion and writing of submissions, even organizing of large protests, public input to governments seems to make no difference and no reasons are given for them being passed over. Our own experience and understanding of the issues that impact us directly and the solutions that we want to support, seem not to be heard nor responded to.

- In making our voting choices and in discussing issues it seems increasingly difficult to sort out unbiased, sound information from conflicted, divisive and sensationalized media and internet.

- Often our participation may be to vote every few years choosing between political party platforms covering a wide range of issues. Usually none of the voting choices give clear information on the matters that particularly concern us. We also are aware that we lack sufficient information on the implications of many other issues to choose wisely for our own, or the community’s wellbeing. We need to have clear information and input into governments on the specific matters that impact us and our communities in addition to a broad vote based on trust in accountable elected representatives.

- It can seem impossible to take responsibility for voting in broad-brush, yea or nay, referenda — for example, if I think cannabis should be legalized but vote No! because young people seem insufficiently protected, I am concerned that my vote will be interpreted as a belief that I agree with current situation, or even that harsher prison sentences are needed! Careful design of referenda questions and relevant information from many perspectives designed by citizens themselves using deliberative democratic methods rather than by lobby groups and public servants, have been shown elsewhere to give more relevant and functional outcomes from referenda.

In 3. below are outlined the processes of Citizen Assemblies designed to address these frequent problems with public involvement in government decisions. Such Assemblies enable careful, thorough and informed public examination of issues leading to recommendations for action agreed by randomly selected representative citizens. Greater trust in, and solidarity with, government actions based on Assembly Recommendations is evoked in the wider public.

2. Partnership in Citizen Assemblies of tangata whenua and tangata tiriti based on Te Tiriti o Waitangi

- Unlike deliberative democratic processes documented overseas, Aotearoa has perhaps a unique opportunity and an obligation to design forms of Citizens’ Assemblies that honor the values and priorities of both tangata whenua and tangata tiriti working cooperatively for the mutual and socially just wellbeing of all our peoples and te taiao.

- The processes of Aotearoa Assemblies must be co-designed with both these groups in true partnership, the profound and expansive great work of Matike mai(1) carried out by tangata whenua already perhaps indicating sound bases for designing suitable models.

- Our current discussions with some Wellington Maori organizations indicate that agreement on the processes of Citizen Assemblies should be readily achieved and enthusiastically engaged. We are told that on some marae, values and procedures of deliberation similar to those in Assemblies are used traditionally. This way of deciding unified action by diverse participants was used in early Greek democratic forms and is common to many indigenous peoples. The process resembles that of justice mediation, forms of conflict resolution and peacemaking and has many names and applications in resolving and healing human divisions.

- During setting up of Citizen Assemblies, values underpinning all activities are agreed by participants; those such as manaakitanga, whanaungatanga, kaitiakitanga, and more, provide a resonant basis for action for Aotearoa.

3. Major components of Citizen Assembly processes

Citizen Assemblies aim for democracy to meet the realities of our lives, and for the lived realities of our lives to be what our democracy, our national and local visions for the future, and our actions, are about.

Assembly members use respect, inclusion and cooperation as we find common aspiration among the whole community to create together enduring non-partisan solutions that meet the long term needs of everyone. These include the needs of future generations and of the environment on which our lives depend. Citizen Assemblies deliberate in the interests of the whole community, rejecting partisan dominance of one person's or group’s needs or ideas over others, as well as the belief that if you win, I lose — we support everyone.

They gather together citizens who represent those impacted by the issue to be addressed in a facilitated, safe environment and seek out those who usually are not heard. Skilled facilitation encourages participants to listen deeply to, and identify with, a wide range of experiences of other citizens, and to present their own needs clearly and confidently. Information and possibilities, either unbiased or balanced, are presented to the Assembly by experts (scientists, indigenous peoples, culturally diverse representatives, accountants, engineers, legal, etc.) and by activist groups. This is deliberated and questioned by the Assembly and additional input may be requested. Participants expand their understanding of the implications of the issues for themselves and others and become supportive of each others’ needs. The Assembly focus is to create recommendations that optimally and equitably meet the needs of the whole community. The results are presented to the elected representatives for response and action.

Why the contribution is important

The following processes of citizen assemblies thus remedy the perceived ineffectiveness of current public consultations and build trust in government and the community—

- The form, processes and logistics of an assembly are co-designed in a tripartate tangata whenua, tangata tiriti and government partnership with the values and priorities of both tangata whenua and tangata tiriti specified and honoured. Without presupposing the forms that will be agreed in future co-designing, key further components are likely to involve:

- Co-design of effective questions to be deliberated by the Assembly. (Public identification with the topic is vital; defining the relevant question(s) often is the focus of an initial assembly followed by a further assembly that addresses the question(s).

- Agreement on the kind of response to be given by government or commissioning authority. Examples might be: to fully implement the recommendations; to give transparent, detailed justification for any parts rejected; to conduct a binding, wide public referendum on the issue; and more.

- An independent process communicates to the wider community about the nature and significance of the Assembly, and then invites participants by randomly selecting citizens (often thousands) from an electoral role. Further sortition to select usually 50 to 120 people ensures representative inclusion from those impacted by the issue; this is based on answers to relevant questions from those accepting the initial invitation.

- The assembly is convened and conducted usually over 4 - 7 full days over 2 - 3 months with financial compensation available to those otherwise unable to attend. There are independent expert facilitators and external evaluators and a formally agreed oversight group.

- The report recommendations may be formed either by consensus or, by prior agreement with, e.g., 80% in favour with all participants able “to live with” the proposals if not in complete agreement.

- Government responds to the report, further partnership groups being appointed to oversee actioning of the recommendations. The assembly process is reviewed and evaluated. It is widely publicized throughout using social and other media and online activity to engage interest and participation of the wider public using surveys and requested input, conversations and comments.

4. The advantages to elected representatives of using Citizen Assemblies

- The public develops trust from watching ordinary citizens in Assemblies deliberating together respectfully and inclusively as they work through their differences in a much wider context than normally accessible to individuals. In contrast, when governments decide between competing interests collected from many individual public submissions, the public receives little understanding of perspectives different from their own, thus deepening divisions in the community.

- The expense and delay of litigation from those opposing government decisions and actions is reduced when the issues have been moved towards resolution publicly by citizens in Assembly.

- Citizen Assemblies do not replace elected representatives who have responsibility for the final decisions. (However it has been made clear to us from some disillusioned activist organizations that prior agreement on an open debate by government of the Assembly’s final recommendation is essential, rather than government decisions contrary to the citizens’ conclusions being made behind closed doors and without transparent justification.)

- Given the random selection of Assembly participants from the voting public, representatives know that making Assembly-based decisions unpopular with vocal vested interests will not endanger their re-election.

- Representatives gain greater understanding of their communities’ needs and can draw on citizens’ lived experience and creativity in solving problems.

- Citizens better understand an issue’s complexities and offer more ready support for necessary compromises.

- Voter engagement, enthusiasm and trust is greatly enhanced.

- Governments and officials have expressed delighted surprise at the positive community energy developed in the process, the high level of comprehension of complex and technical subjects developed by well-informed non-experts, and the very helpful creative input and consensus reached from the diverse participants.

- New Zealand local and national governments have committed to implementing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of Agenda 2030 — inclusive public participation in decisions is a foundational and crucial strategy in this programme vital to our future.

5. Responses of the public to Citizen Assemblies

Assembly participants are ordinary people, usually selected randomly from the public. Most are without vested interests and lack the financial resources needed to effectively lobby government. This, combined with the transparency of the process, has been shown to give the public confidence that recommendations of Assemblies are more likely to be unbiased and in the interests of the community. The public are involved also through media reporting and commenting, webinar discussions, live-streaming of parts of the process, online submissions and through the Assembly members visiting affected focus groups to hear their input.

Participants report increased enthusiastic civic engagement, solidarity, confidence in the democratic process, willingness to take responsibility for their communities and to support each other in the ensuing actions, and in times of difficulty. They ask for more Assemblies.

The Australian state of Victoria recently has legislated that deliberative democracy must be used in shaping all their future legislation.

6. A few selected references describing Citizen Assemblies and/or indicating the very large evidence base that shows their effectiveness and value for both public and governments

1. Report of Matike Mai Aotearoa – The Independent Working Group on Constitutional Transformation. This report is the result of 252 hui between 2012 and 2015. › MatikeMaiAotearoa25Jan16

2. Max Rashbrooke, Government for the Public Good: The Surprising Science of Large-Scale Collective Action, 2019, BWB

3. describes nearly 2000 examples of Deliberative Democracy

4. 25-page Highlights of the OECD Report Analysing nearly 300 Citizen Assemblies, June 2020, Innovative Citizen Participation and new Democratic Institutions; Catching the Deliberative Wave, full report 06da-en.htm (to download the briefer highlights, see half way down this webpage)

5. Handbook written by New Democracy, 2020— Enabling National Initiatives to Take Democracy Beyond Elections, from a joint ongoing project between the New Democracy Foundation and the United Nations Democracy Fund to promote deliberation and citizen involvement in democratic decision-making › wp-content › uploads › 2020/10

Appendix 1. Te Reo o Nga Tangata—The People Speak - Building a people’s platform for "Doing Democracy Better"

The People Speak is a grassroots group supporting deliberative democratic processes in response to the climate crisis. We are an independent entity that will:

- Work in partnership with mana whenua and our elected representatives, to fully connect with the diversity of our communities in respectful dialogue and actions

- Support new ways of working through a Just Transition, in response to the climate crisis

Summary of the Connection between Deliberative Democracy & Climate Issues

- The People Speak sees deliberative democracy as the best process to deal with seemingly intractable issues around climate change.

- We see deliberative decision making in the form of Assemblies, being used elsewhere to break political deadlock by building community consensus and support for decision makers to take further and faster action on the climate change issues we need to address now to be able to give our future generations a chance.

- A Climate Assembly is an opportunity to build a better democratic structure and process suited to Aotearoa’s unique context of a nation with; a strong indigenous Māori culture and Te Tiriti between Māori and Crown, a representative democracy, a mixed member proportional voting system and a single chamber Parliament.

- We can use experiences and ideas from both Aotearoa and other nations to build a better platform suitable to our unique context and one that is scalable from a Climate Assembly in the Wellington Region to one that can encompass nationwide issues.

- TPS is dedicated to being ‘open source’ and sharing our research, learning and design with other regions and with national groups to ‘do democracy better’ for climate change.

by OGPAdminSM on June 10, 2021 at 04:10PM

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  • Posted by stowellj June 17, 2021 at 16:26

    Thanks for this. A thoroughgoing summary. Totally support the suggestions and the reasons for them. What will it take to persuade our parliamentarians and public servants to embrace this kind of democratic innovation? Wish I knew. Anyway, kia kaha.
  • Posted by annesb July 12, 2021 at 15:41

    Thankyou. A thorough summing up. There is the Local Government Act section 3 purpose - however this seems to go unheeded and although this legislation has in place avenues for submissions, public forums, processes have gone awry.
    The democratic innovation citizens assemblies or people speak would involve true democratic process - would be essential that process is embraced by parliamentarians, public servants, local government. The facillitator would be essential as there is a listening and respect skill to bring the whole group through to solution. It is not calling the citizen assembly or people speak together and telling them the idea or decision has been made and this is it without any input from them. Teamwork essential.
  • Posted by Jan_Rivers July 21, 2021 at 16:40

    I like this. I wonder whether some problems call for different approaches though. For example there are some specific problems caused because NZ's NGOs are small and under-funded and there is limited capacity to respond to government intentions. Also some big problems are caused by things that do not rise to attention at all. FAcial recognition for example, the appearance of motorised transport on pavements, the use of big data and one I'm interested in the proliferation of gender ideology across government. We were never asked as a society about these things but people in the Wellington beltway just thought they would be good ideas. How do we make sure big tech, big biotech and dangerous enthusiams can be addressed when they are never even consulted on?
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