Internet Win – Wikipedia entry on ‘Citizens’ Assembly’

I recall studying the Enlightenment in West European history and being fascinated by Diderot’s Encyclopédie project. It was an amazing effort and achievement in its own right, but can really only be understood in the broader context of Enlightement goals and values, perhaps best explained by Kant in his essay: ‘An Answer to the Question: “What is Enlightenment?”

Kant explains his thesis in an admirably succint manner in the essay’s first line: ‘Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity’. Knowledge and reason can allow us to take greater control of our own individual and collective destiny – rather than remaining passive and fearful. However, one’s capacity to learn is limited by available resources, and the media is often skewed in its presentation of the political world.

That is why Encylopedias are important to humanity – they try to present the ‘facts’ about an issue or event. In modern times, Wikipedia took this a step further by introducing and facilitating crowdsourcing: allowing multiple voluntary contributors and editors to collaborate around individual entries.

So, for anyone interested in the notion of Citizens’ Assemblies – please check out the recently created Wikipedia entry on the topic at:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens%27_assembly#Proposed_citizens.27_assemblies .Feel free to moderate, revise or add to the section yourself.

Here is a brief quote about how Citizens’ Assemblies pertain to Irish and UK politics:

‘In Ireland, political reform has become a popular topic since 2008 due to the 2008–2011 Irish financial crisis and also due to accumulating revelations of political corruption. As a means to decide on political reforms, the idea of citizens’ assemblies — and other similar processes — are gaining in popularity.

During the 2011 general election, most of the smaller parties and all of the major political parties that were then represented in parliament included commitments to supporting a process of this kind. Subsequently, the commitment to a constitutional convention was included in the programme of the the new government. Several lobby groups are also campaigning for a citizens’ assembly in Ireland. These include We the Citizens, who hosted a citizens’ assembly in order to demonstrate the merit of citizens’ assemblies in practice,[1] and Second Republic, a grass-roots group who produced a Proposal for an Citizens’ Assembly on Political Reform in Ireland.[2] No decision has yet been made by the government on the form of the constitutional convention.

In the United Kingdom, following a series of public scandals in 2001, a petition campaign has begun to form a people’s jury of 1,000 people to investigate issues around media ownership, the financial sector, MP selections and accountability and other matters.[3]

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14 thoughts on “Internet Win – Wikipedia entry on ‘Citizens’ Assembly’

  1. Not suggesting that you all should be ‘done’ under the Trade Descriptions Act (or whatever its Irish equivalent is), but it would probably be more accurate and honest to rename this site ‘The Citizens’ Assembly Advocacy Blog’. Anyone looking for debate on genuine reform of democratic governance wouldn’t get a bum steer.

  2. Wow – not sure where that’s coming from, Paul. I’ve always had a very open policy on any posts that I publish. All appropriate comments (i.e. no spam, no personal insults) get published. Even comments that seem mindlessly cynical to me personally.

    • No worries. It’s mainly me. I see public debate and the open contest of ideas and often conflicting interests (of the kind that might have some impact on sensible public policy) being closed down on a number of fronts. And I’m not alone in forming this view. It’s a bit dispiriting, but entirely predictable.

  3. Matt,

    Fow what’s it’s worth – and this hasn’t changed – my ‘counterpoint’ is that any implementation of even the slightest vestige of the CA concept will be entirely in the Government’s hands. One doesn’t need to be a cynic to predict how that will turn out.

  4. CA’s will never ever happen in a country like Ireland – it’s simply not intellectually possible for the political establishment to allow mere ‘ordinary people’ to decide an issue and to have their decision implemented.

    Perhaps it’s too cynical but I don’t hold out any hope of there being any real reform in Irish politics during this government or any other because the people in hte new government all had their political attitudes formed in the worst days of cronyism/parocialsm and I can’t see how it is possible for people of their age to be able to take on board new ways of doing things.

    The easy way to test the desire for reform is to look at the little things and the finances of politics and you’ll see ther’es been no reform.

    We’re going to have an election were two old school local chief style politicians (Mitchell & Higgins) are going to tell us why they deserve an extra €320 on top of the pensions and other incoem they have and like Mrs McAlesse toed the Fianna Fáil party line and did nothing to prevent the slide toward the IMF, even if it meant causing a crisis and stepping on toes, so too will the above two tow their respective party lines.

    Gay Mitchell has voted against all attempts to bring some transparency to the expenses he claims, Higgins refused to publish receipts for his and these men claim they have something new to offer? They don’t. They are from the past and part of the problems that led us to where we are.

    A CA is all very well when those advocating it want to control it and run it (and no doubt claim expenses for doing so) but it won’t do a thing to help local democracy.

    I think in the current Irish political system, that the public repeatedly choose so they must like it, a CA would be nothing more than the same as a US lobby firm and the people behind it would be part of the same pally political establishment who all know each other and sell each other their own books or comment on each other and write about each other.

    Yet ….

    In Iceland, a much smaller country where people know each other even more and where politics is less crony ridden than Ireland has tried it for their new constitution but … they’ve become bogged down and have achieved little.

    Is there a single example of a CA being given a genuine mandate and its result being fully implemented?

      • Actually in British Columbia and Ontario the CAs outcomes went, as promised, straight to referendum and the formercase was very nearly passed by the citizens in the referendum vote. More generally there are plenty of examples of participatory processes – such as deliberative polls and participatory budgeting initiatives – whose outcomes are implemented.

  5. I’ve made the case many moons ago, but here goes again. The process of parliamentary democracy isn’t working, but any proposal to by-pass or supercede it – and this is how any CA proposal will be viewed – will be squashed by TDs and government (despite the honeyed words, vague commitments and the political favouring of leading proponents). And there should be enough evidence that the vast majority of citizens are very jealous of their absolute right to decide (every 4-5 years) who represents them and who governs them. The problem is that, in the interval between elections, those who are elected to govern (and, more importantly, the legions appointed by those elected to govern and the vested interests with whom they are so easily intertwined) are not subject to sufficient scrutiny or being held properly to account. The focus is on the ‘who’, but insufficient attention is paid to the ‘how’ once the ‘who’ have been elected. But, equally, there should be enough evidence that there is no widespread popular support for additional or supplementary processes that might assist in resolving this problem.

    It always has been, is and will be down to TDs in the Dail to decide how much they want to and can change the current parliamentary process and procedures (within the current constitutional arrangements) and to what extent they might require an additional mechanism (which a CA would be perfectly capable of providing) either to address changes that need consitutional amendments and the people’s consent or changes on which the ‘tyranny of faction’ is preventing them from reaching agreement.

    The focus has to be on TDs en masse. Anything else, in my view, is futile and will only raise false hopes.

  6. @ David, but isn’t setting the bar for voter turnout and yes level so high done so as to ensure the whole process fails?

    If there was a genuine committment to a CA then shouldn’t a normal majority be sufficient? The nearest we ca nget is maybe the Swiss Canton votes?

    I still can’t see how a CA would ever be allowed to work in a country like Ireland.

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