“Smart Public”

The public is very smart if you give it a chance. If people think their voice actually matters, they’ll do the hard work, really study their briefing books, ask the experts smart questions and then make tough decisions. When they hear the experts disagreeing, they’re forced to think for themselves. About 70% change their minds in the process.

Thus spoke James Fishkin, a developer and researcher of  deliberative democracy (审议民主), a concept that has been practiced in countries as different as America, China, and Greece. And no, it didn’t get Greece into the current mess – it was only used on a local level there. Same in China (of course).

Everything can be hyped, and I’m sure that’s true when it comes to Fishkin’s concept, too. But the good thing about it is that it is almost two decades old.

The polls that result from deliberation can be used in two different ways. They may replace actual votes (i. e. replace the general public with a more informed public), or they may become a possibly weighty referential force in debates after the deliberative poll, and before the general public votes. Chinese politicians – as far as they like the concept at all – are probably more likely to prefer deliberative polls as replacements for real public votes. The main advantage would seem to be that the deliberators will take their task of making a decision even more seriously, if they have the last word on it. The problem: what’s a statistically representative sample of a community?

But either way, there’s probably no small chance that there’s more to it than there is to, umm …, say, Twitter.

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