Lawrence Lessig on Sortition and Citizen Participation

 

When designing citizen engagement mechanisms I always consider sortition (or randomization) as a mechanism of participant selection. Nevertheless, and particularly in the #opengov space, my experience is that this idea does not resonate a lot: it sounds less sexy than crowdsourcing and more complicated than over-simplistic mechanisms of “civil society engagement”.

This is why it is always great to see someone like Lawrence Lessig putting forward a system of  “Citizen Conventions” for proposing amendments to the Constitution based upon sortition. In this video below, at a hearing at the U.S. Senate’s Commission of Justice, Lessig explains in a few seconds how such a system would work:

With his unique eloquence, Lessig also makes the best case for ordinary citizens to engage with the Constitution and reforms:

I think to the surprise of many people, you would see that ordinary people deliberating about what the Constitution needs and how the reforms should go forward, would far surpass ninety eight percent of what is commonly discussed in this particular context. And that’s because, frankly, politics is the one sport where the amateur is better for the nation than the professional.

Lessig’s remark on the amateur’s role in politics reminds me of something I read a while ago from the apologue of Protagoras. When charged with taking to humans the art of politics, Mercury asks Jupiter whether it should be distributed like the other arts, to the competent ones only. Jupiter replies that the art of politics should be distributed to all. Otherwise, says Jupiter, the city would not exist.

5 thoughts on “Lawrence Lessig on Sortition and Citizen Participation

  1. I read “participant selection” and shudder, thinking “Let’s not provide tools and mechanisms that will inevitably be used to stack the deck!”
    I began with the radical position: no selection; wide open, and transparent. But then added something else: Chatham House rule, which to me means that participation is anonymous, even though submissions are identified so that they can be threaded and analyzed by participant.

    this by way of paper trail; I’d lost track of your site!
    cheers
    –ben

  2. Pingback: 10 Most Read Posts in 2013 | DemocracySpot

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