Institute for Political Science, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
The Unit for Social Innovation and Research "Stocznia" ("Shipyard") Foundation
Védegylet (Protect the Future)
Artemisszió Alapítvány: www.artemisszio.hu, HU. Opora: www.oporaua.org, Ukraine. Frontline Bucharest: www.frontlineclub.com/romania, RO. We are also seeking Slovakian, Croatian and Slovenian partners.
How can democracy be re-made for the 21st century? How can the informed will of the people be discovered in an era of fake news, demagogic politicians and social media information cocoons? The answer: randomly select a representative sample of people and have them deliberate in an informed and respectful environment. We will pilot a Citizens’ Assembly (skill-sharing with our partners) on a topic of timely political importance (eg. migration, the EU) to uncover the considered voice of the people.
Budapest, Hungary; with partners from Poland, Ukraine, Romania, and more Eastern European countries.
Citizens’ Assemblies populated by the diverse members of society are a way to radically transform our democracies, at local, national and EU level. They address rising populism by empowering “everyday people” – and they go beyond public opinion to the making of informed public judgements.
Rather than hearing the voices of the “usual suspects” we will use stratified random selection to bring a microcosm of Hungarian society together – listening to each other respectfully and exploring the diversity of opinions not normally reflected in typical political discourse.
This capacity-building pilot project will provide “proof of concept” for the citizens’ assembly idea in Eastern Europe. A key priority will be sharing these skills with our wide network of partner organisations.
After the successful completion of our pilot citizens’ assembly several local governments in Hungary will ask us to conduct Citizens’ Assemblies to address controversial local decisions. Within a few years the national government has mandated a Citizens’ Assembly to address a contentious topic of national public concern. Later we launch a campaign to add a permanent Citizens’ Assembly to the Hungarian parliament as a second chamber…
Meanwhile, the Eastern European Democracy Network (launched by our event) is supporting democracy activists in eastern European countries to hold their own Citizens’ Assemblies. The EU is taking notice of this wave of democratic experiments, and a citizens’ convention on the EU is proposed along similar lines.
To hold a Citizens’ Assembly we will (i) post invitations to 5,000 randomly selected people (ii) obtain socio-demographic data from the respondents (iii) take a stratified random sample from respondents to ensure a match with census data (iv) hold a professionally facilitated assembly, with input from key stakeholders and experts. Opinion change as a result of informed deliberation will be measured, and video, photo and high-quality documentation will be disseminated widely. Government officials will be invited, and afterwards we will meet with these and other officials to promote the method.
Our partner organisations from neighbouring countries will be involved in the detailed planning and execution of the project, and all processes etc will be openly published and shared.
Our democracy is broken and needs fixing. After years of activism, in civil society and political parties, we realised there is a better way to discover the informed will of the people: using Citizens’ Assemblies. They are a model for doing democracy differently; for how a better democracy could be instituted.
If our democracies do not evolve they may wither and die. People are increasingly disillusioned with politicians and the political process, and populism is surging. Informed deliberation among representative, randomly selected groups of people directly addresses these issues. What is more, they work. The outcomes are trusted, as demonstrated in Ireland by the same-sex marriage and abortion referendums – which were both direct results of the work of citizens’ assemblies.
Democracy in the world, and in Hungary in particular, is in need of new, innovative ideas. The recent interest and use of Citizens’ Assemblies is potentially one such idea. We wish to: (i) promote this tool in Hungary and Eastern Europe, (ii) establish ourselves as a trusted and capable provider of these processes to governments, so that eventually we can (iii) promote the institutionalisation of Citizens’ Assemblies as permanent governmental bodies and thus reinvigorate democracy. The direct beneficiaries will therefore be the organisations involved due to their increased capacity and skills, but the more important beneficiaries are the governments who can use a better, more legitimate way to obtain informed public judgement from the people they are meant to represent.
Two key aspects of Citizens’ Assemblies make them stand out (i) they increase the diversity of voices in political discussions by using stratified random selection to invite participants. None of the typical, dominant, biased, partisan political actors are usually selected by this process; (ii) given enough time and a good process the participants can explore issues deeply and in a nuanced way. Instead of producing yes/no answers, they explore trade-offs and discover not only what people think, but more importantly, why they think that way. Furthermore, as the sample of people is a microcosm of society there is always “someone like me” in the sample, and as they are not politicians, people trust the decisions and outcomes produced. We want to promote this impressive tool in Eastern Europe.
Funding requested from Advocate Europe
Travel, accommodation and catering: 11,600; Citizens’ Assembly (invitations, process design, venue, fees and honorariums for: participants, experts, facilitators, steering committee, childcarers, translators): 24,700; Other fees: 2,700; Result dissemination/public relations (video, photos, documents): 3,200; Office expenses: 5,500; Personnel/project administration: 13,400.
Linking with any other groups interested in pursuing similar ideas would be useful. Feedback on what inspires and what does not would be good, and advice on communications strategy helpful.