Trial of a full representative deliberative process

What do you think would encourage more active citizenship and partnership in New Zealand?

It has been demonstrated many times in diverse parts of the world that being personally invited by authority, as a result of a civic lottery, to take part in an assembly, large or small, tasked with deliberating on a particular, usually tricky, issue, evokes an enthusiastic public response. Through receiving information, learning about an issue, seeking further information if needed and then developing a common response through facilitated deliberation in small groups citizens can be empowered and use that power for the benefit of society at large. Those who have been part of such assemblies commonly remain more engaged politically, more likely to raise their voice and more likely to vote. Those in power who commission such assemblies find that sound decisions and sound judgements are made in this way.

So, build on the success of Commitment 5 of the 3rd NAP, further adding to the policy toolbox and commissioning an assembly meeting all the criteria of the OECD for a representative deliberative process, tasked with considering one or other of the difficult topics of the day.

Who should be involved?

Since an essential element of the kind of citizen engagement recommended here is that the process be commissioned by authority, that means that the process should be commissioned by a Minister, and preferably by a Minister in Cabinet. Which Minister would depend on the proposed topic and brief to the assembly. The procedures for commissioning, establishing and running an assembly are well documented internationally. The mechanics of recruitment should be contracted out to one or more independent bodies. On the side of participants, they should be chosen by a two stage stratified random process from the electoral rolls.

How would that make a difference to you and others?

With plenty of publicity both around the process itself, letting the public see and know that we were trying out a new way of incorporating demographically representative and deliberative input from the public into policy, I would be thrilled. The general public, our civil servants, and elected representatives would, hopefully, be interested and learn that such processes are valuable and essentially democratic, including “people like us”.

What have you heard friends and family members, or others, talking about when it comes to this topic?

Because I am interested in participatory democracy and frequently bend their ears my immediate family know possibly more about the topic than they would wish. There is a group of, mainly journalists, but also some organisations such as Trust Democracy advocating generally, and Aotearoa Climate Emergency and Extinction Rebellion calling for a citizens' assembly specifically on climate change and ecological degradation. So essentially this would be an opportunity for Government to make the public at large aware of the possibilities of this form of engagement process.

Why the contribution is important

It would be highly advantageous to move beyond our current practice for public consultation by submission, which, for all its potential inclusivity, presents significant barriers to participation by the public at large due to the skills necessary and the intimidating nature of the process. There is a huge difference between calling for submissions in the normal way, where all the onus remains essentially on the submitter who, whether an iindividual or organisation, is isolated from other submitters, and actively inviting individuals to take part in a process where everything is done to ensure effective deliberation and participation, if chosen. New Zealand is one of the few liberal democracies that has not yet tried out such processes, has not joined the "deliberative wave", to quote the title of the 2020 OECD report. Our decsision-makers and burocrats perhaps see such processes as an infringement and diminution of their power. This is not an accurate picture. Sharing power is a demonstration of trust, and Government needs to trust the citizenry just as the citizens need to trust Government. Such processes as recommended here build two-way understanding and trust and tend to produce sound outcomes to tricky issues. At the very least, they show transparently and openly what groups of citizens, learning and working together, jointly think about the issues presented to them. 

by stowellj on February 28, 2021 at 04:01PM

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  • Posted by stowellj March 01, 2021 at 14:01

    Would be good to be able to edit these ideas, or at least to correct the typos, though I see someone has kindly done that. Thanks.
  • Posted by design55 March 01, 2021 at 22:20

    Taking these ideas a bit further is an easy step if the Minister appointed has set the parameters correctly. However, often the process is marred by the inclusion of too many people setting the policy which then is usually mired down in political jargon and often the result of such inclusivity already has a determined outcome as directed by the policy statement and or questions. And as noted by stowellj is the fact that no one is usually part of a larger combined submitter group.
  • Posted by pgov March 02, 2021 at 15:40

    This I think would be particularly useful to raising the level of discourse in NZ. By having to present their thoughts in front of an audience and directly to authorities, people may be prompted to think more carefully about their proposals. Even if this is not the case, the feedback received from those thoughts will help people to consider more widely the consequences of certain decisions and appreciate the difficulty in reaching a solution that works for everyone. In a way this could help develop analytical skills that should have been taught in schools.
  • Posted by maxrash March 09, 2021 at 16:07

    Strongly support this idea. Citizens' assemblies are a major democratic innovation, and New Zealand has been lagging behind the world here. Such assemblies have the potential to elicit informed public opinion/consensus on major issues, profoundly improve decision-making, help deal with complex/contested issues, contribute to more active citizenship, and help people hear each other across political and cultural differences. The next action plan should include a commitment to run at least one citizens' assembly to see how they operate in the New Zealand context. One major issue to be addressed, which has already occupied significant time among those trying to get citizens' assemblies going here, is how a demographically representative assembly, in which Māori would be in the minority, can be combined with a wider drive to ensure equal decision-making as envisaged by the Treaty/te Tiriti.
  • Posted by stowellj March 11, 2021 at 10:54

    Good points maxrash. Whether, and in what way, Māori could, or might wish to, be included in such an experiment or demonstration, is a key issue in adapting this democratic innovation to the needs of Aotearoa New Zealand. A good start might be to rethink the Multstakeholder Forum within the NZOGP so as to make it a body separate from the EAG and designed to make joint decisions with the Public Service Commission on the content of NAP4. The re-constituted Forum could include Māori and also youth representation. The key move from the point of the PSC would be from regarding the Forum as purely advisory to being a means of co-design of NAP4. This would be a low risk change, given the very low profile of NZOGP activities.
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