NCDD Member Discount on the Int’l Assoc. of Facilitators’ Regional Conference in FL

If you hadn’t already heard, the International Association of Facilitators – one of our NCDD member organizations – is hosting its 2017 conference for the N. American and Caribbean region this May 8-11, and we encourage our members to consider attending. Even if you’re not an IAF member, dues-paying NCDD members are eligible for a $50 registration discount. NCDD supports the conference’s goal of growing the relevance of facilitation, and it will be a great way to make international connections with other D&D practitioners. You can learn more about this great opportunity in the IAF’s invitation below or learn more at the conference site here.


IAF 2017 N. American & Caribbean Conference: The Relevance of Facilitation

Where will you be May 8 to 11, 2017?

Hopefully at the 2017 International Association of Facilitators North America & Caribbean Conference (IAFNAC) – The Relevance of Facilitation – in West Palm Beach, Florida which takes place this May 8 through 11. As a facilitation practitioner in the IAF’s network, you can register for a $50 discount off of the conference workshops being offered on May 10 & 11.

Here is an opportunity to experience leading facilitators from the U.S., Canada, Caribbean, Sweden, France, Russia, and Australia, sharing their best practices across a wide spectrum of hard and soft skills and topics. These sessions are designed to give you proven strategies that you can use right away.

Session topics cover not only facilitator tools and techniques, but also the business of facilitation and ways for non-facilitators to use facilitation skills. It is ideal for anyone who works as a leader, coach, member, or professional advisor to teams and communities wanting to deliver change.

The Relevance of Facilitation offers 12 pre-conference training workshops and 25 conference breakout sessions. Review theConference Programme and register now by clicking here. Use the promotional code “[iafnt]” (lower case) to receive the $50 discount.

In between the power-packed sessions are plenty of times for networking and holding one-on-one conversations with other facilitators with interests similar to yours.

We are looking forward to a great conference, and hope to see you in West Palm Beach!

You can learn much more about the conference agenda, sessions, and registration details at the IAF conference website at www.cvent.com/events/iaf-north-america-caribbean-conference/event-summary-ace9b9b8604b490aa5894d43413abef2.aspx.

Join NCDD Confab on Non-Hierarchical Orgs with Loomio, May 4th

We are excited to invite the NCDD network to register to join us for our next Confab Call on Thursday, May 4th from 3-4pm Eastern/12-1pm Pacific. This one-hour webinar event will feature a conversation with staff of Loomio, a collaborative online decision making tool and a worker-owned cooperative based in New Zealand.

Some of you may remember that NCDD hosted a Tech Tuesday webinar on Loomio a couple years ago where we showcased the features of Loomio’s decision making tool. But during this Confab, the discussion will focus on Loomio’s organizational dynamics, philosophy, and what lessons the dialogue and deliberation field can learn from – and offer to – non-hierarchical cooperatives like theirs.

Loomio is part of Enspiral – a global network that is also a lab for new ways distributed innovators can collaborate. Their team recognizes that there’s a need and opportunity for new ways of working for diverse groups to become more nimble, creative and productive. Loomio recently made an open source handbook that teaches others to use their cooperative work processes, and a few of their staff have been on a US tour this month to host discussions with different organizations who want to share and reflect on “the challenges and delights of non-hierarchical, inclusive, intersectional, collaborative, horizontal organising.” We are inviting Loomio to share and reflect with the NCDD network as a “virtual stop” on their tour, and we hope you will join us!

We will be joined on the Confab by Rich Bartlett, one of the co-founders of both Loomio and Enspiral, and NCDD member MJ Kaplan, also a Loomio co-founder and social innovator in her own right. Rich and MJ will help us learn more about the unconventional, non-hierarchical approaches that their networks apply to shared work and collaborative workplaces, and engage in dialogue with participants about how these approaches apply to, intersect with, and diverge from the work of the D&D field.

You won’t want to miss this great discussion, so to register today to be part of it!

About NCDD’s Confab Calls

Confab bubble imageNCDD’s Confab Calls are opportunities for members (and potential members) of NCDD to talk withand hear from innovators in our field about the work they’re doing and to connect with fellow members around shared interests. Membership in NCDD is encouraged but not required for participation. Confabs are free and open to all. Register today if you’d like to join us!

About Our Guests

Rich Bartlett is co-founder and Director of Autonomy at Loomio, as well asa software developer, activist, and open source hardware hacker. He is also a co-founder of the Enspiral Network, a “DIY” social enterprise support network of companies and professionals brought together by a set of shared values and a passion for positive social impact. Rich believes in the boundless potential of small self-organising groups to reshape society in a way that works for the planet.

MJ Kaplan is a social entrepreneur and consultant who weaves across sectors and industries to enable groups to align purpose and operationalize innovative collaborative practices. She splits her time working with Loomio, Kaplan Consulting, teaching/coaching at Brown University and serving on Social Enterprise Greenhouse and Commerce RI boards. She founded Kaplan Consulting in 2000, a networked consulting group that works globally with groups to gain clarity about shared purpose and to design innovative approaches to work that are deeply human-centered, agile and adaptive. In 2013, MJ was Ian Axford Fulbright Fellow in New Zealand. MJ was awarded the Cordes Innovation Fellowship by Ashoka U and honored as The Outstanding Mentor for RI Business Women Awards. MJ earned her M.Ed. from Harvard University and B.A. Brown University.

Join Kettering’s “A Public Voice” Event on Safety & Justice

In case you haven’t heard about it already, we want to encourage all of you in the NCDD network to mark your calendars for A Public Voice 2017 (APV) on Tuesday, May 9th from 1:30-3pm Eastern.

APV 2017 is the annual event hosted by NCDD member organizations the Kettering Foundation and the National Issues Forums Institute that brings together Congressional and agency staffers in Washington DC for a working meeting on the results of the deliberative forums that KF and NIFI have hosted across the nation on pressing public policy issues.

This year’s APV forum will focus on what was learned about the public’s feelings on community-police relations during the Safety & Justice forums held this year in communities across the country. And KF and NIFI will be livestreaming the Washington event via Facebook Live, so you are invited to particiapte by sending your comments on social media directly into the program.

Here’s how they describe the event:

At this year’s A Public Voice event in Washington, we’re trying something new. We will introduce congressional staffers to NIF forum convenors from their districts, and those convenors will explain the most unique and transformational moments from the deliberative forums in their communities. Our aim is to illustrate the unique value of these forums and the breadth of the network.

Which means, WE NEED YOU. Put May 9 from 1:30 to 3:00 pm on your calendar, because we’ll be livestreaming the Washington event via Facebook Live.

We encourage our network to join the APV event on Facebook to get updates as the event nears and share about it with your networks. You can learn more about A Public Voice 2017 by visiting www.apublicvoice.org and checking out NIFI’s Safety & Justice deliberative forum discussion guide here.

Deepening D&D’s Impact by Connecting Politicians to Theorists through Practitioners

We recently came across an article that frames a key issue in our field so well that we had to share it. The piece is by Lucy Parry, a researcher with NCDD member org Participedia, and Wendy Russell of the Canberra Center for Deliberative Democracy, both of whom are contributors for The Policy Space blog. In it, they describe the gaps and similarities between D&D theorists and practitioners, and the power of their synergy. They propose that in order for our field to influence policy outcomes and ultimately help our democratic systems become more deliberative, we have to connect politicians and elected officials meaningfully to our field’s theoretical grounding, and that D&D practitioners might be the right bridge for that connection.
What do you think? How should D&D theorists and practitioners work together? How should they not? We encourage you to read the excerpt below from the Lucy’s great piece and read the full version here.


Bridging the Gap: why deliberative democracy needs theorists and practitioners to work together

…[O]ne of the obstacles for successful use of deliberative approaches is the challenge of bringing the normative ideals of deliberative democratic theory – what it should look like and what functions it should serve – to the reality of political decision-making contexts. This raises a potential ‘gap’ between deliberative academics and practitioners, given the constraints of translating normative theory into workable political reality….

In general, practitioners work at the coalface, adapting to political constraints and timeframes, and doing what works in these contexts. Researchers tend to stand back, describe how best practice should look, and critique attempts to achieve it. In bringing a critical eye they play an important function, but collaboration between theory and practice is clearly important…

In some ways, practitioners of deliberative democracy are uniquely placed at the interface between theory and policy worlds and can act as mediators between the two. On the one hand, they work within the constraints of policymaking, familiar with the day-to-day rigmarole. On the other, they have the most experience of real-life deliberative democracy: they see it, they do it. Practitioners know what deliberative processes can achieve, in empowering citizens and improving the quality and legitimacy of political decisions. They also know how deliberative approaches can fail.

It is arguably the case that despite the different work that theorists and practitioners do, they park their cars in the same garage; sharing a commitment to enhancing inclusiveness and public reasoning in political decision-making. What’s more, practitioners are uniquely placed to bridge a much wider gulf: between theorists and policymakers….

We encourage you to read the full original version by Lucy Parry and Wendy Russell of The Policy Space at www.thepolicyspace.com.au/2016/17/125-bridging-the-gap-why-deliberative-democracy-needs-theorists-and-practitioners-to-work-together.

How Should We Reduce Obesity in America? (NIFI Issue Guide)

The issue guide, How Should We Reduce Obesity in America?, was published on National Issues Forums Institute site in Spring 2017. This issue guide gives three options for participants to deliberate around the issue of obesity in the US. In addition to the issue guide, there is a moderator’s guide and a post-forum questionnaire, all available to download on NIFI’s site here.

From the guide…

Obesity is a health problem that is growing rapidly in the United States and other parts of the world. In this country, it is epidemic. About one in three Americans is obese.

It may be natural for people to gain at least a little weight later in life. But that is no longer the issue. The problem today is that by the time American children reach their teens, nearly one in five is already obese, a condition all too likely to continue into adulthood.

This issue guide asks: How should we reduce obesity in America? It presents three different options for deliberation, each rooted in something held widely valuable and representing a different way of looking at the problem. No one option is the “correct” one, and each option includes drawbacks and trade-offs that we will have to face if we are to make progress on this issue. The options are presented as a starting point for deliberation.

Option One: “Help People Lose Weight”
Take a proactive stance in helping people lose weight— persuasion and education by families and doctors, and the establishment of consequences by employers and insurance companies. Losing weight is a personal decision but it is one that affects all of us.

Option Two: “Improve the Way Our Food Is Produced and Marketed”
Although our food system does a good job of keeping the cost of food low, many of the resulting products are both very unhealthy and very enticing. We need to get better control of our food production system, including how foods are marketed to us, and ensure more equitable access to healthy foods.

Option Three: “Create a Culture of Healthy Living and Eating”
This option would promote overall, lifelong wellness by making sure our children start learning to make better choices as early as possible. This option also calls for reshaping our neighborhoods and buildings to help us get more exercise.

Continue reading

PB Network to Host Study Session on Deliberation & Voting

The Participatory Budgeting Project team recently launched the exciting PB Network – a learning and collaboration infrastructure for cities and institutions using participatory budgeting – which is hosting periodic “study sessions” online, and the NCDD network is invited! Their next study session will be a webinar focused on citizens juries and deliberative methods of decision-making this Wednesday, March 22. We encourage you to learn more in the PBP announcement below or sign up here.


Upcoming PB Network Event

We’d like to invite you to the PB Network’s next PBP Study Session on Wednesday, March 22nd!

One of the ideas behind participatory budgeting is that we need to get beyond the simple yes/no votes we’re usually presented with at ballot boxes. Choosing between 2 options doesn’t capture the breadth and subtlety of the needs that many communities face. Deliberation and new voting techniques can help get better decisions that benefit broader groups of people.

The study session will feature Kyle Bozentko of the Jefferson Center, who will share some lessons from “citizen juries“, which take a randomly selected and balanced group of citizens to deliberate and make informed and thoughtful recommendations about a public issue. We’ll also learn from Ashish Goel of Stanford’s Crowdsourced Democracy Team, who works on collaborative decision-making, including developing innovative ballot platforms for participatory budgeting in many cities across the US.

Join us for a discussion on new innovations in participatory decision-making with broad sets of stakeholders.

The webinar will be:
Wednesday, March 22nd
1pm EST/10am PST
Click here to register and receive the webinar info

Linking Deliberation & Power for Better Democracy

The gap between the outcomes of D&D processes and real power to implement them is one that our field has struggled with for years. What could be possible if the well-considered recommendations and outcomes of deliberative democracy processes were given the legal power of decisions made through direct democracy? That’s the question that the team at Public Agenda – an NCDD member org – asked recently in on their blog (spoiler alert: they think it would look like PB), and we think their reflections are valuable for us to consider. We encourage you to read their piece below or find the original version here.


Deliberative + Direct = Better Democracy?

Following the Brexit vote in mid-2016, many U.K. voters who elected to exit the European Union expressed remorse at their decision. Immediately following the vote, websites explaining its potential consequences received record traffic. Though the decision has yet to play out, the results of Brexit may have profound and long-lasting ill effects on the U.K. economy.

The Brexit vote was an example of direct democracy. Direct democracy enables the public to decide on policy decisions without a proxy, typically through ballot measures or referenda. California is well-known for its use of direct democracy in its many ballot propositions, a practice that started in 1911.

The counterpart to direct democracy is called deliberative democracy. In deliberative democracy, people discuss issues but usually do not make public decisions directly. In contrast, while people do make decisions in direct democracy, they usually don’t discuss those decisions first.

Each form of public engagement has its pros and cons. As we see in the case of the Brexit vote, direct democracy may not necessarily lead to well-considered decisions that benefit the common good and inspire public confidence. Meanwhile, deliberative democracy can and has led to informed recommendations based on common ground from citizens. However, in many instances those recommendations did not affect policy or other decisions. These experiences can leave citizens frustrated and even more distrustful of government.

Could a combination of direct and deliberative democracy better meet the (rightful) demand of the people tohave a greater say in the decisions that affect them? Could it rebuild trust and reduce alienation between the public and its leaders? Could it lead to common ground on decisions that benefit the public good?

These are questions that the present political moment, and its accompanying anxiety, demand that we explore. Luckily, there is a testing ground available for it right now.

Participatory budgeting (PB), a process that enables residents to have a say in how local tax money is spent, is the fastest-growing public engagement process in the U.S. While processes differ from community to community, PB has incorporated both direct and deliberative democratic practices to varying degrees.

As Matt Leighninger points out in a white paper we published in December, the steering committee meetings and neighborhood assemblies that occur at the beginning of the PB cycle, the delegate meetings that take place during the proposal development phase, and the idea expos held before the final vote can be (but are not always) deliberative. Meanwhile, the vote on the proposed ideas at the end of the cycle exemplifies direct democracy.

Can PB improve democracy? Can a combination of direct and deliberative practices achieve a balance that is both well-considered and actionable? To determine those questions, we need a critical mass of communities employing PB in a way that uses both deliberative and direct practices. We also need research that explores these questions specifically.

In the meantime, Matt, who is our vice president of public engagement, starts the conversation in the above-mentioned white paper, “Power to the People! (And Settings for Using It Wisely?)” “Power to the People” examines the extent to which North American PB processes are applying deliberative principles and practices, explores the tensions and challenges in making PB more deliberative, suggests questions for further research and offers recommendations for public officials and practitioners for improving their PB processes.

As Matt writes, “Through the creative exchange between people who care about public participation and approach it with different tools, assumptions and areas of expertise, we may gain the next wave of much-needed democratic reforms.”

To learn more about the extent to which PB employs deliberative principles and processes, click here.

You can find the original version of this Public Agenda blog piece at www.publicagenda.org/blogs/deliberative-direct-better-democracy.

Bridging Our Divides with NCL’s All-America Conversations

NCDD members might want to check out the All-America Conversations initiative being hosted by the National Civic League, an NCDD member organization. NCL is encouraging communities across the country to host short, public conversations focused on questions of how we can begin #BridgingOurDivides, showing that our country can still work together. They are providing a toolkit and webinar training series to help conversation hosts plan and convene these events, and we encourage practitioners in our network to consider hosting one yourself. You can learn more in the NCL announcement below or by learning more here.


All-American Conversations: Bridging Divides. Building Community.

National Civic League is launching All-America Conversations to demonstrate that locally, we are still able to work together across dividing lines to create stronger, more equitable communities.

Communities that host All-America Conversations will:

  • Better understand residents’ aspirations for the community
  • Learn how residents talk about and see community challenges and divisions
  • Gain clear insight into what small actions would give people confidence that we can work together across dividing lines
  • Help residents engage with one another in a productive conversation
  • Demonstrate a commitment to inclusive engagement

All-America Conversations are designed to help cities and other groups understand residents’ aspirations for the community, the divisions facing the community and, most importantly, the small, specific actions that give people a sense of confidence that we can work across dividing lines.

The format/template for All-America Conversations is flexible and scalable. Some communities will decide to focus on engaging underrepresented residents about their specific concerns and perspectives. Others will hold conversations designed to bring together people on different sides a specific divide to talk with one another and explore shared values. Some communities will use these questions and conversations as part of a large public meeting with breakout conversations.

Conversation Resources and Support

All-America Conversation Toolkit

Everything necessary to hold a productive and meaningful conversation – just add residents.

The toolkit walks you through:

  • How to identify whom you want to engage and how to recruit participants
  • Where to hold the conversations
  • How to set up the room
  • Selecting and preparing facilitators and note takers
  • What questions to ask
  • How to adapt the conversation guide to different types of meetings

The kit also includes a tips for facilitators and note takers, a note taking tool, ground rules, a sign-in sheet, sample recruitment letter, sample email to engage the media around these conversations.

Download the Toolkit and other resources

Support and Coaching Calls

NCL is hosting a series of 1-hour conference calls to provide support for communities or organizations hosting All-America Conversations. Calls will include a brief overview of the purpose and potential of these conversations and available resources. The main focus is providing local communities with the support, coaching and guidance necessary to make the conversations work for them. So, each call will include dedicated time for support and coaching from NCL experts to help you adjust the conversations to fit with existing efforts, your local context, staff resources and community needs.

You can watch the Jan. 31st, 2017 toolkit webinar here:

You can find the original version of this National Civic League announcement at www.nationalcivicleague.org/all-america-conversations

Free NIFI Community-Police Relations Discussion Guides

We want to encourage our network to learn more about the new Safety & Justice discussion guide from the National Issues Forums Institute. As NIFI and the Kettering Foundation – both core NCDD member orgs – prepare for their yearly A Public Voice event in DC, they are collecting reports from deliberative forums on community-police relations and criminal justice reform to show policymakers that deliberation is more than “bumper sticker talk” and media representations.
NIFI is inviting all those hosting discussions on this critical issue to share their data and learnings with them so that they can be included in the conversation in DC, even if those conversations don’t use NIFI materials. You can learn more about how to participate and get free discussion guides in the NIFI blog post below or find the original here.


Special Spring ’17 Offer: Free Safety & Justice Materials to First 100 Moderators

Recently, the relationship between police and the communities they serve has become the focus of intense scrutiny, conversation, and even protest. The issue is difficult to talk about – and yet, we must, or this
issue could tear our communities apart.

A problem like this requires talk, but not just any talk. We need deliberative forums where  community members of all ages, races, ethnicities, religions, and professions can get beyond the talking points and bumper stickers. Forums where they can share not just what they think, but why. Places where we can consider tensions and tradeoffs and see where we may have common ground.

But in order for there to be forums, there have to be conveners and moderators.

And that’s why your community needs YOU. To get people started, NIFI is offering 20 FREE hard copies of the Safety and Justice issue guide + copy of the starter video to the first 100 moderators who can convene a forum between January 1, 2017 and March 15, 2017.

Sign up for your free materials HERE.

NIFI is offering these materials in partnership with the Kettering Foundation. Kettering will analyze participant questionnaires and other forum information for a report to policymakers at the A Public Voice event on May 9, and in a full report on the entire forums series at the end of the year.

To qualify for this special offer, you must:

  • Host a forum on Safety and Justice between January 1, 2017 and March 15, 2017.
  • Ensure that each participant and moderator complete a post-forum questionnaire.
  • Send all questionnaires back within a week of hosting the forum (all questionnaires must be sent by March 15, 2017).
  • Collect participant contact information for additional A Public Voice and NIFI opportunities.

I am asking each of you to consider offering a forum to a group with whom you have contact and who you feel is interested in this issue – your church, a book club, a class you are teaching, a civic organization to which you belong, etc. You can make a significant contribution to spreading awareness of public deliberation and to helping to find a solution to this significant public issue.
– NIFI President Emeritus Bill Muse

You can find the original version of this NIFI blog post at www.nifi.org/en/2017-safety-justice-offer.

The Challenge of Populism to Deliberative Democracy

As populism sees a global resurgence, it is critical for our field to examine what this phenomenon means for our work. That’s why we encourage our network to give some thought to the insights offered in this piece from Lucy Parry of Participedia – an NCDD member organization. In it, Lucy examines the way citizens juries in Australia might violate core tenets of populism, and encourage us to consider how deliberative democracy – especially approaches using mini-publics – may need to evolve to avoid being delegitimized by populist challenges. You can read the piece below or find it on Participedia’s blog here.


When is a democratic innovation not a democratic innovation? The populist challenge in Australia

The following article by Participedia Research Assistant Lucy Parry was originally published by The Policy Space on October 11, 2016.

Democratic innovation is burgeoning worldwide. Over 50 examples from Australia alone are now detailed on Participedia, an online global project documenting democratic innovations. In some states, ‘mini-publics’ proliferate at local and state level. South Australia in particular has wholeheartedly embraced the notion of deliberative democracy and has embarked on an ambitious raft of citizen engagement processes including several Citizens’ Juries.

According to Graham Smith (2009) a democratic innovation must (a) engage citizens over organised interests and (b) be part of the wider political process. Mini-publics operationalise these aims through convening a group of citizens who are at least broadly representative of the wider population to deliberate on a given topic.

Despite fulfilling Smith’s criteria, democratic innovations in Australia run the risk of becoming neither democratic nor innovative. Scholarly debate over mini-publics peaked over a decade ago – isn’t it time to move on? Moving on necessitates moving with the times and dealing with contemporary challenges. One such challenge is the rise of populism. Australian democratic innovations typically rely on premises that are fundamentally opposed by populism: random selection and expert knowledge. This populist challenge cannot be ignored, and theorists and practitioners must meet it together.

Inside the room

A Citizens’ Jury is a well-known mini-public format: a small(ish) group of randomly selected citizens who meet several times to deliberate on a given topic. Random selection underpins the process in two ways. It aims to produce a descriptively representative sample, making the jurors literally a ‘mini public’ (Fung 2003; Ryan and Smith 2014): a microcosm of the wider population. Random selection also relates to deliberative quality: bringing together a group of random citizens reduces the likelihood of the loudest voices dominating. As Australian research organisation newDemocracy Foundation points out, ‘governments inevitably hear from the noisiest voices who insist on being heard’; lobbyists, Single Issue Fanatics (SIFs), Not-in-my-back-yards (NIMBYs) – call them what you will. Mini-publics are designed to foster a less adversarial, more nuanced debate with a group of random citizens.

I have observed Citizens’ Juries in the flesh and it is quite an extraordinary experience. Watching a room of disparate and diverse people evolve into a committed team negotiating technical topics like wind farm development leaves me feeling almost jubilant (I don’t get out much). When you are inside the room, watching the deliberative process at play, it really is wonderful. Australia is home to a number of practitioners including newDemocracy Foundation, DemocracyCo and Mosaic Lab, and it is undeniable that some great work is going on in Australia in this area.

But alas, the path of democracy never did run smoothly. Suffice to say that cracks begin to emerge when you are outside the room. If decisions are legitimate to the extent that they have been deliberated upon, then the decisions made by a mini-public suffer a legitimacy deficit, given the typically small group involved (Parkinson 2003). And although some recent Citizens’ Juries have sought to expand the number of participants, this diminishes the quality of dialogue (Chambers 2009). Furthermore, in the past 15 years a growing number of scholars have sought to move beyond the mini-public paradigm in deliberative democracy to tackle deliberation at the large scale – through deliberative systems (Dryzek 2009; Parkinson and Mansbridge 2012), deliberative cultures (Sass and Dryzek 2013) and deliberative societies.

Yet, the practice of deliberative democracy (in Australia at least) clings to the mini-public approach. South Australia is notable for its extensive citizen engagement yes, but is it really innovative? The Western Australian Department of Planning and Infrastructure undertook a similarly ambitious program of mini-public style engagements over a decade ago. This critique is not a reflection on the quality of democratic practice in Australia, nor is it a criticism of what goes on inside the room. It is instead a concern that further underpins the need for deliberative theorists and practitioners to work together.

Outside the room: the populist challenge

Remember those NIMBYs and SIFs that mini-publics aim to exclude through random selection? Their exclusion rests on the assumption that the quality and outcome of deliberation is better without those insistent voices. The aim is that through a process of deliberation, people will become ‘more public-spirited, more tolerant, more knowledgeable, more attentive to the interests of others, and more probing of their own interests’ (Warren 1992, p8). Producing deliberated public opinion involves weeding out weak and poorly informed arguments. Again, this is all very well if you are inside the room. If you’re outside the room, you may very well object.

And let’s face it, those objectionable voices are not going away. As Ben Moffit points out, ‘Populism, once seen as a fringe phenomenon relegated to another era or only certain parts of the world, is now a mainstay of contemporary politics across the globe’. The voices that a Citizens’ Jury wants to keep out of the room now have the room surrounded. If we continue down the mini-publics road, the very thing that allegedly legitimises mini-publics will also be its downfall. The assumptions underpinning random selection are that it is representative of the wider community; and that it facilitates better quality deliberation by bringing together everyday citizens rather than insistent voices. Whether these things are accurate or not is a moot point – what actually matters is how they are perceived by broader publics. It is sad but possibly true that for those outside the room, what goes on inside the room doesn’t matter. And I suspect that the argument that a Jury is representative and very well informed is simply not going to cut it.

Trust in the Australian political system is at a staggering low with very little trust in any level of government; mini-publics in Australia are almost invariably associated with a government body or statutory authority. Mini-publics rely on information presented by experts; populism rejects the knowledge of experts. With all the will and most independently-recruited-and-facilitated process in the world – people may just not trust it. And yet, even if there were greater trust in politics, the justification of random selection explicitly rejects populist public opinion – and vice versa. Bridie Jabour’s Guardian interviews with One Nation voters exemplifies this disconnect. One Hanson supporter is quoted as saying:

“I’m not a politician, I’m not an accountant, I’m not anybody who knows anything but I see stuff and think ‘that doesn’t look right to me’, the average Joe Blow feels things more than they actually understand or know, they feel things, they know stuff.”

The logic of randomly selected mini-publics goes against this. The question is how to respond; the populist challenge cannot simply be ignored or sneered at. Yet in a way, this is exactly what mini-publics can be perceived as doing.

The time is right

We are at a critical juncture in Australia. One option is to continue plying the mini-public trade and make extra efforts to engage more people in the process, and to better explain mini-publics to a wider audience. The question is whether we simply need to work on explaining ourselves better, or whether the populist challenge requires deeper reflection on the practice of democratic innovation and deliberative democracy. I am inclined toward the latter.

The challenge that populism poses should be seized as a catalyst to re-think the practice of deliberative democracy in Australia. Mini-publics are one of many worthy options; deliberative democracy is a far broader church – and democratic innovation even more so. Randomly selected mini-publics are not a cure-all. At best, they are an important piece embedded in a broader democratic process. At worst, they are a viable threat to the practice of deliberative democracy itself.

You can find the posting of this article on the Participedia blog at www.participedia.net/en/news/2016/11/13/when-democratic-innovation-not-democratic-innovation-populist-challenge-australia.