Public Values

How the Citizens' Assembly is reinventing the public's role in decision-making

Expanding engagement offers the possibility of creating public innovation and consensus.

by Dr Amy Lang, MASS LBP Journal

Until recently, most public engagement efforts have been small in scale and in effect: citizens are asked to participate in a one-shot public hearing, a focus group or a poll on the issues, without much follow-up. Their input may well be used to craft policy, or it may get lost in the labyrinth of bureaucratic decision-making. Although public consultation has been a standard part of the policy development process for decades, we've still seen a decline in public trust and engagement with politics. This should not come as a surprise: the tools that we use to engage the public do not have a clear or lasting impact, either on policy or on members of the public themselves.

Expanding the scope, scale and duration of public engagement holds the promise of reinventing the public's role in decision-making. Where traditional public engagement exercises have been small in the number of citizens consulted and in what citizens are asked to contribute, larger processes like the Citizens' Assemblies on Electoral Reform can produce more representative, more thoughtful and more responsible public decisions. Citizens' Assemblies invite a randomly selected group of citizens to meet together over an extended period, to learn about a policy issue, to weigh the options and make judgments about what course of action to take. The Assembly process authorizes ordinary citizens to contribute to the public good, and establishes a transparent standard for transforming their recommendations into decisions. It creates a network of people who are empowered to speak about a public issue, to follow up on their proposal and to participate more fully in their communities.

The Citizens' Assembly process was invented in British Columbia in 2003 to address the issue of electoral reform. Given the conflict of interest public officials have trying to change the rules of the electoral game, this was clearly an issue to hand over to citizens...

To read the full article, please click on the link below.

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  Expanding Engagement: How the Citizens' Assembly is reinventing the public's role in decision-making, by Dr Amy Lang, MASS LBP Journal, April 2009

Posted: April 09, 2009

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