Iain Walker, executive director of the NewDemocracy Foundation, said this sentence with confidence. What he means? Even if we all agreed that democracy needs to be rebooted, only writing journal articles about possible innovations and improvements is not enough. New ways need to be practiced to find out if they are realistic, applicable, and ready to be implemented on a larger scale. That’s what the NewDemocracy Foundation is currently doing in Australia.
The thought that politicians don’t represent the people anymore has become more popular, and participation rates at elections are decreasing. The question is raised: How can people be represented in a better, and more trusted way? The NewDemocracy Foundation suggests an additional citizen’s senate as a possible solution: Ordinary people, like you and me, coming together for a limited amount of time to find solutions for a specific, given problem. Whether that sounds like hell or paradise for you, it is worth having a look at, because in the end: What is there to lose?
The citizen’s senate
In practice, over 40 randomly chosen people come together for about 50-60 hours, spread over six months, to discuss a certain problem provided by politicians. Within this time frame, they discuss in changing groups of five to six people what possible solutions could and should look like. The structural design of these meetings is given, the execution lies fully in the hands of the participants. During the process, they can choose their own sources of information, consult experts and talk to involved stakeholders. Like many other people, the foundation is convinced that the lack of trust in politicians is one of the biggest issues that democracy currently faces. “Wouldn’t you feel more represented by people like you and me?”, Walker asks provocatively, assuming that politicians have a different mindset and are often concerned and distracted by other duties than making decisions for the common good.
So far, the trials have been a success and the feedback from councils and participating citizens has been very positive. The diversity of people is one of the biggest advantages when it comes to finding solutions to long existing problems. Everyone, no matter what profession, skills, physical abilities or viewpoints a person has, can contribute if chosen trough the random sampling. Citizens who then consciously decide to be part of the senate are eager to gather information and dedicate their time to find a solution that is thought through and benefits society. They are not stuck in any preset processes of decision making or politcal games, and they don’t have any pressure based on upcoming elections. The NewDemocracy foundation is proving that democratic systems can and should be changed.