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High Leverage Proposals for Electoral and Political Transformation


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by Tom Atlee

June 2003





Handle the lack of wisdom in our decision-making with high-quality DELIBERATIVE DEMOCRACY grounded in the citizenry. There are many forms of deliberation (see <>), but CITIZEN REFLECTIVE COUNCILS offer an especially efficient way to develop trustworthy, authentic people's judgements on any issue or candidate.

Citizen reflective councils are temporary citizen panels consisting of 10-50 randomly selected citizens who gather for several days of intense dialogue about public concerns on behalf of the public. High quality facilitation ensures they all get heard and that their conversation is productive. Their findings and recommendations are passed on to public officials and disseminated to the population through mass media and other means.

The wide variety of citizen reflective councils fall into two main categories: Citizen deliberative councils and citizen creative councils. Citizen deliberative councils are convened around specific issues, proposals, candidates, etc., and are given special access to briefings and experts on the topic they're considering. Citizen creative councils, in contrast, use citizens as "experts in their own affairs" and give them opportunities to creatively explore their community's (or country's) concerns and visions. They get special facilitation to encourage diversity, creativity and common ground.

Key to all citizen reflective councils is the creative use of diverse people and perspectives to generate insights and possibilities that seem, in the end, like wise common sense. These councils have traditionally been convened to advise the public and officials, but their advisory role COULD be designed with teeth in it.

For example, professor John Gastil in his book BY POPULAR DEMAND shows how such councils could be used to evaluate candidates. He suggests that after detailed in-person interviews with candidates, citizen panelists could come up with both written evaluations and numerical ratings. Their written evaluations could be detailed in voter information booklets and online, while their numerical ratings could be printed on the ballot, with candidates listed in the order of their ratings.

Democratic innovator Jim Rough and others point out that there is currently NOWHERE in our political system where the public has regular access to considered collective judgments produced by high-quality dialogue among diverse citizens -- a trustworthy, authentic voice of We the People. While this voice should not necessarily dictate final policies, it should be one of the most powerful voices present in official decision-making, including elections. It should be AT LEAST as available to the citizenry as all special interest voices -- from grassroots groups to multinational corporations, media pundits and government officials.

Citizen deliberative councils can also be used during elections to evaluate ballot initiatives, and after elections to review the performance of officials and the implementation of policies, as well as to provide coherent public input before controversial legislation or regulations are finalized. For more information, see and .


As of June 24, there is no current federal legislation specifically establishing citizen reflective councils. However, on May 7, 2003, the House of Representatives approved the "Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 2003" (H.R. 766) by a vote of 405-19. This bill includes a section that comes close, ensuring "that public input and outreach to the public are both integrated into nanotechnology research and development and research on societal and ethical concerns by the convening of regular and ongoing public discussions, through mechanisms such as citizens panels, consensus conferences, and educational events, as appropriate." This could be a breakthrough. However, the Senate version, the "Senate 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act" (S. 189) is currently in the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and has no specific citizen participation at all in it. If you'd like to lobby on this, see this Loka Alert or contact your representatives or candidates.