The Bigger Picture
Our work is part of a broader context of creative experimentation aimed at improving democracy. Many of the innovative practices we experiment with, such as the use of lotteries to select representatives, are also being advanced outside of schools in a variety of contexts. Pushing toward mainstream politics in the past decade, randomly selected Citizens’ Juries, Councils, Panels, Assemblies, and Parliaments provide everyday people the opportunity to investigate and advise on political issues that range from healthcare cuts, to local water and transportation policy, to municipal budgets, and even a national constitution.
Citizens’ Jury administered by one of our partners, the newDemocracy Foundation
Democratic Experimentation Worldwide
Even though it often doesn’t make the headlines, there are many groups working to improve democracy and there have been hundreds of noteworthy democratic experiments just over the past few decades. The interactive map below highlights a few that have inspired us, to give an idea of just how global this innovation really is (and to show some other groups doing important work that you should follow, support, and plug into!).
Click on a colored dot and more information along with relevant links will appear below the map, and let us know if there is a community, organization, or event you think we should add!
Communities that have experimented with innovative forms of democracy
Organizations dedicated to democratic innovation
Other innovative initiatives
The newDemocracy Foundation is an independent, non-partisan research organization aiming to identify improvements to democratic process. They are best known for teaming up with different levels of Australian government to facilitate Citizens Juries and for randomly selecting participants in Participatory Budgeting processes. Their Executive Director, Iain Walker, and Academic Director, Lyn Carson, are two of our Advisors.
The Jefferson Center for New Democratic Processes is dedicated to making democracy work for everyone, and has spend decades pioneering randomly selected Citizens Juries throughout the United States.
MASS LBP aims to reinvent public consultation, and is doing so primarily though their pioneering work with randomly selected Reference Panels and Citizens Assemblies throughout Canada. Their Principal and Co-founder, Peter MacLeod, is one of our Advisors.
Democracy In Practice
That's us! Since 2013, we've been collaborating with students to experiment primarily with random selection, rotation, and horizontal decision-making in student government.
Healthy Democracy is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to elevating the public's voice in American democracy, best known for their Citizens Initiative Review.
Center for Deliberative Democracy
The Center for Deliberative Democracy is devoted to research about democracy and public opinion obtained through Deliberative Polling, a process that involves randomly selected everyday citizens directly in important community decisions.
Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform
In 2004, 160 citizens of British Columbia, Canada were randomly selected to form a Citizens Assembly and investigate and propose electoral reforms. Their proposed reforms were accepted by the majority of British Columbians in a provence-wide referendum, but they fell 2.3% short of the 60% needed for the proposals to become law. The British Columbia Citizens Assembly was followed by the Ontario Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform in 2006-07. Since the 1970s, there have also been dozens of randomly selected Citizens Juries and Panels that have investigated a wide array of issues across North America - many administered by MASS LBP in Canada and by the Jefferson Center in the US.
Zapatista Good Governance Councils
For over a decade, the Councils of Good Government have been the highest level of government in the Zapatista controlled areas of Chiapas, Mexico. These Councils are comprised of the community's men, women, and youth, and members are replaced in a biweekly rotation on the premise that if everyone has a turn in government, everyone will understand government, and no one will fear their government.
Deliberative Poll on Public Works Projects
In 2005, 275 citizens of the Zegou Township of Wenling City, China were randomly selected to participate in a Deliberative Poll to prioritize proposed public works in the Township's budget. The Zegou's local Peoples' Congress voted to fund the top 12 projects ranked in the Deliberative Poll and have adopted the Poll permanently, opening the Township's entire budget to this participatory process in 2008. Deliberative Polling has since spread to other parts of China.
The "Crowdsourced Constitution"
Between 2009 and 2011 Iceland underwent a constitutional reform process that heavily involved both randomly selected and elected everyday citizens in events such as the 2009 National Assembly, the 2010 National Forum, and the Icelandic Constitutional Council. The Constitutional Council even accepted idea submissions via social media. Although this "Crowdsourced Constitution" was approved by a majority of Icelanders in a nation-wide referendum, it was filibustered by the Icelandic Parliament and has yet to be voted on by the country's elected officials.
Deliberative Poll on National Energy Policy
In 2015, 400 citizens were randomly selected from all over Tanzania to participate in a Deliberative Poll regarding how the country ought to use newly found natural gas reserves. Their experience was publicized by NPR in this report. The Centre for Deliberative Democracy has conducted over 70 Deliberative Polls in more than 20 countries.
Deliberative Poll on Urbanization
In January 2015, 242 citizens were randomly selected from all over Tamale, Ghana to participate in a Deliberative Poll focused on the issue of rapid urbanization. Their experience was publicized by Vibe Ghana in this article. The Centre for Deliberative Democracy has conducted over 70 Deliberative Polls in more than 20 countries.
Farmers Jury on GMO Crops
A Citizens Jury comprised of 11 randomly selected farmers and urban consumers was formed in Belem do Para, Brazil in 2001. The jurors heard arguments for and against GMOs, in the end voting unanimously against their use. Inspired by the event, students in the State of Maranhão organized their own Citizens Juries on GMOs several months later. The Guardian published an article about the Citizens Jury here.
Ayllu Community Governments
The Ayllu is a traditional form of community in the Andes, especially among Quechuas and Aymaras of Peru and Bolivia. Although practices vary widely, leadership roles tend to be filled by married couples - as opposed to individuals - and leadership tends to be viewed as more of an obligation of service to the community rather than a privilege. Rotation is another fundamental element, with leadership positions typically having strict one-year term limits. Selection is typically done through nomination in a meeting of the community or in a semi-random manner.
Business Meetings of the Society of Friends
The Society of Friends (commonly called "Quakers") is a religious community found around the world that makes collective decisions in a way that is often compared to consensus decision-making. Interestingly, this process is often called "coming to unity", and is used in lieu of voting.
Irish Constitutional Convention
The 2015 Irish vote for marriage equality was news around the world, but few people outside of Ireland knew that the important referendum came out of a larger constitutional process. In 2012 Ireland formed a Constitutional Convention comprised of 66 randomly selected citizens and 33 parliamentarians to discuss constitutional amendments that would be put before the population in referendums. The Convention sat until 2014, and one of their strongest suggestions was that of marriage equality, with 79% of Convention members voting in favor of putting marriage equality on the ballot. The rest is history. An interesting article on the Convention's role in the marriage equality referendum was published on Equality by Lot here.
Citizens Jury on Health Care Reform
In 2014, 100 citizens were randomly selected out of a pool of 3,600 volunteers to form a Citizens Jury that investigated Health Care issues in Tunisia. Jury members were asked to guide the government on health system-financing, neighborhood health services, revitalizing and rebuilding confidence in the health sector, and promoting healthy lifestyle choices. The World Health Organization published an article about the Jury here.
In March 2013, 134 rank-and-file members of the Korean Green Party were randomly selected to comprise the Party's annual congress and decide its budget and plan of action for the coming year. Stratified sampling was used to ensure that 10% of participants came from minority groups including underage, disabled and LGBTIQ. The Party's official publication of the event can be found here along with an awesome video showing the different lottery approaches used by party affiliates in each city and province.
Prajateerpu / Farmers' Jury on Agricultural Future
In 2001, twelve citizens from communities of small and marginal farmers were randomly selected to participate in a Prajateerpu "Peoples' Verdict" that investigated their government's 2020 vision for food and farming. After days of expert testimony these men and women deliberated and reached a near unanimous verdict opposing contract farming and GM crops. Instead, they called for community control over resources as well as the maintenance of healthy soils, diverse crops, and indigenous local knowledge and practical skills (among other things). A full report of the Prajateerpu can be found be found here along with a cool video showing the innovative process.
National Deliberative Poll on Crime
In October 2002, 283 Bulgarians were randomly selected to participate in a National Deliberative Poll focused on the issue of crime. The process was so well received that another Deliberative Poll focused on Roma people was conducted in 2007 with the participation of the country's Prime Minister and was highlighted by the New York Times this article. The Centre for Deliberative Democracy has conducted over 70 Deliberative Polls in more than 20 countries, including other European countries such as the UK, Greece, Denmark, and Italy.
Participatory Budgeting Project
The Participatory Budgeting Project works throughout the US and Canada to create and support Participatory Budgeting processes that deepen democracy, build stronger communities, and make public budgets more equitable and effective. Since 2011, they have helped over 100,000 citizens participate in processes to decide over $98 million dollars in public money, going to 440 local projects.
In 2009, a Citizens Paliament was held in Australia in which 150 people randomly selected from each federal electorate spent four days discussing and debating ways to improve democracy in Australia. The Citizens Parliament identified 6 key reform areas, among them calls for reduced duplication between levels of government and across state boundaries, and inclusion of a process of redress for broken political promises - areas very rarely explored in parliament today. Check out this awesome video of the event here! The event was funded by the newDemocracy Foundation, an organization that has funded and facilitated Citizens Juries and randomly selected Participatory Budgeting initiatives throughout Australia.
The National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation is a network of thousands of innovators who bring people together across divides to tackle today's toughest challenges. NCDD serves as a gathering place, a resource clearinghouse, a news source, and a facilitative leader for this extraordinary community.
National Deliberative Poll on Foreign Policy
In January 2004, 725 randomly selected citizens from 10 cities across the US engaged in a day-long deliberation about the President's call to go to war in Iraq. At the end of the process the majority of participants said they believed establishing a democracy in Iraq was less important than ensuring the country has a stable government. They also strongly favored involving the United Nations or other countries in the rebuilding of Iraq and rejected the notion that the United States should be able to unilaterally invade other countries that appear to pose a threat without international support. The Delibeartive Poll was highlighted in this article. The Centre for Deliberative Democracy has conducted over 70 Deliberative Polls in more than 20 countries and throughout the US and Canada.
Participatory Budgeting (PB) was established in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989 as a means of involving ordinary citizens in the annual municipal budget decision-making cycle. By the turn of the 21st century, some 20,000 citizens participated in popular assemblies affecting the distribution of around $160 million in public funds. The success of the Porto Alegre experiment, both in terms of engaging significant numbers of citizens in the budgetary process and redistributing resources to poorer neighborhoods, has led to international recognition and the spread of PB across the world to North America, Asia, Australia, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, and all parts of Europe.
Democracia En Red
Democracia En Red is a group of entrepreneurs and enthusiasts from different backgrounds who believe in technology's potential for the service of citizens. They are working to motivate a new culture of participation: one where instead of choosing between pre-set options, people can create their own. To that effect, they have built a number of democratic tools to facilitate better and more diverse participation, such as DemocracyOS. Take a look at a great TED talk by one of its members about upgrading democracy for the Internet era.
Nomination of Congressional Candidates (2015)
In January 2015, the Mexican national political party, Morena, mixed random selection with traditional elections to nominate two-thirds of its multi-member congressional district candidates. In a move to get everyday people into politics, 3000 rank-and-file Morena party members were elected in district assemblies (5 men and 5 women from each of 300 district assemblies), and from these 300 were randomly selected. Another 150 academics, human rights defenders, writers, and rural leaders were nominated as well to fill the remaining third. A translated article about the event can be found here.
The Danish Board of Technology Foundation
The Danish Board of Technology (DBT) Foundation continues the work of the Danish Board of Technology, which pioneered Consensus Conferences beginning in the mid-1980s. Similar to Citizens Juries, Consensus Conferences involve the examination of an issue by a randomly selected group of everyday citizens with advice from an array of experts. Although they are more common in Denmark and the US, Consensus Conferences have been convened throughout the world. Most recently, the DBT Foundation coordinated the largest ever citizen consultation on climate change.
Since it was founded in 1988, Mehr Demokratie has been a driving force for referenda and better electoral law throughout Germany. They have been particularly active in promoting Citizens Initiatives, in which everyday citizens initiate public referendums to change or create state law.
The G1000 was a multi-part initiative in 2011 and 2012 that consisted primarily of a Citizens Summit with 704 participants (90% randomly selected and 10% chosen to represent marginalized populations), of which 32 were randomly selected to form a Citizens Panel. The initiative took place in response to Belgium's recent "democratic crisis" and allowed everyday Belgians to examine issues such as unemployment, health care, the division of wealth, and immigration. It is difficult to measure the policy impact of the recommendations presented in the G1000's final report, but it did attract significant attention from the Belgian public, media, and politicians. Similar initiatives, such as the G1000 Amersfoort are taking place in the Netherlands and the UK.
Switzerland was probably the first country to institute initiatives/referendums. Since 1848, any Swiss citizen can petition for national referendums to challenge laws passed by the Parliament and to amend the constitution. Switzerland is also unique in that political power is relatively decentralized into cantons, two of which continue to involve direct citizen participation through general popular assemblies.
¡Democracia Real YA!
¡Democracia Real YA! ("Real Democracy NOW!") is a grassroots citizens' organization and protest movement throughout Spain that denounces the way big businesses and banks dominate the political and economic sphere and aims to solve these problems through grassroots participatory and direct democracy based on people's assemblies and consensus decision-making.
Amesi Dimokratia Tora!
Amesi Dimokratia Tora! ("Real Democracy Now!") is a grassroots citizens' organization and protest movement throughout Greece, inspired by the Spanish ¡Democracia Real YA! movement, that rejects the current political status quo in Greece and operates through directly democratic peoples assemblies.
Democracy R&D is an international alliance of nonpartisan NGOs, research institutes, and consultancies. It is currently made up of 14 organizations in 11 countries: Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, United Kingdom, United States of America. Democracy In Practice is a founding member of Democracy R&D.
Deliberative Polling for Constitutional Change
For the first time ever, the Mongolian central government has officially convened a random sample of its entire citizenry to deliberate about possible amendments to its constitution. The results have gone to the Parliament as the first step required by law in possibly amending the constitution. Read more about this exciting and ongoing political experiment here and here. Also check out this video. The Centre for Deliberative Democracy has conducted over 70 Deliberative Polls in more than 20 countries around the world.
Democracy Co is an organization with a wealth of experience designing and facilitating deliberative processes that engage everyday citizens, including many large Citizens' Juries.
The Sortition Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation whose mission is to promote and institute sortition in empowered assemblies.
The Sortition Foundation envisions a world free from partisan politicking, where a representative random sample of everyday people make decisions in an informed, deliberative and fair environment.
Policy Jury Group
The Policy Jury Group was founded in 2017 as a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Their programs are based on a large body of democratic experimentation and innovation that has taken place over past decade in a variety of political contexts around the world, based on deliberative mini-publics. Their work is focused on how Policy Juries can be used within government, rather than a service, or consultation, provided by the private or non-profit sector.
Building on the Past
Our efforts might also be seen on an historical continuum, as neither random selection nor rotation is new. Both were fundamental to governance in Athens, Greece where the word “democracy” was first coined around 2,500 years ago.
TED-Ed: What did democracy really mean in Athens?
The rotation of everyday people in-and-out of leadership positions has also been a central practice in the Ayllu system, a form of governance used in many rural Andean communities in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador since pre-Inca times. Random selection and rotation of decision-makers has also been central to the court jury system in many countries worldwide. Seen together, the modern initiatives above are indicative of a renewed interest in the transformative potential of these practices, as well as the emergence of a more creative approach to governance more generally. Democracy In Practice forms part of this creative present, learning from our experience and thereby working to contribute to a more democratic future.