We recently talked with Jane Suiter and David Farrell, who were instrumental in the implementation of the Irish Citizens’ Assembly. The Citizens’ Assembly uses deliberative mini-publics to recommend policies to the Irish Parliament.
Listen to our interview with them here!
While we were talking, Jane discussed a deliberative democratic initiative happening on the other side of the pond, right here in the United States. We thought we’d break it down for you.
The Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review
The closest thing we have in America to a Citizens’ Assembly is Oregon’s Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR), and while it’s a mini-public, it functions in a fundamentally different way than Ireland’s deliberative body. The Citizens’ Initiative Review is a process that utilizes deliberative mini-publics to create comprehensive, voter-friendly summaries of ballot initiatives to be decided during an election. These summaries are then widely distributed to voters.
The process works like this:
Step 1: More than 10,000 residents of Oregon are solicited via mail to become part of that election cycle’s CIR. Of the respondents, 24 are picked to represent an accurate portrayal of Oregon’s ethnic and political diversity.
Step 2: The CIR members undergo training to learn how to engage in civil debates with one another, and how to evaluate the material they’ll be given.
Step 3: The CIR members then hear testimony from individuals and groups who are both for and against each ballot proposal. In addition to this testimony, they receive presentations from neutral third-party experts, which they use as background information. This step is almost identical to the way in which the Irish Citizens’ Assembly carries out its meetings.
Step 4: Once both sides have been heard, and expert testimony has been taken, CIR members break into small groups to discuss what they’ve learned. These groups are presided over by moderators to ensure that opinions are being heard, and that equal opportunity is being given to each member. While the Irish Citizens’ Assembly has 100 members, and the CIR is comprised of only 24, this step is similar as well.
Step 5: Once deliberation is concluded, the members reconvene and craft a statement regarding the specific ballot initiative. This statement, much like the report created by their Irish counterpart, includes key findings and recommendations. The CIR statement also includes the best reasons to vote for or against the ballot measure, as well as a list of which members supported it, and which members didn’t. The statement is then disseminated widely, and is available as part of the Voter’s Pamphlet the Oregon electorate receives.
Since its passage into law in 2011, the CIR has been hailed as a success. According to Penn State’s McCourtney Institute for Democracy, the CIR in Oregon provides easy to understand summaries of ballot initiatives, written by citizens for citizens. This increases the accuracy of voters’ political decisions, creating a better informed electorate willing to make better decisions. A study by the International Journal of Communication at USC Annenberg found that voters are very willing to turn to their deliberative peers for insights and advice, and predicted as mini-public proliferate and become mainstream, most voters will trust and value the information and recommendations presented in them. As it stands in its infancy, the CIR’s own website reported that 40% of Oregon voters read and used the CIR summary when voting on ballot measures in the last election.
- “ Relating to Elections; Appropriating Money; and Declaring an Emergency.” HB2634 2011 Regular Session – Oregon Legislative Information System, olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2011R1/Measures/Overview/HB2634.
- “The 2018 Citizens’ Statement.” Massachusetts Citizens’ Review, www.cirmass.org/the-2018-citizens-statement.
- “About the Citizens’ Assembly.” The Citizens’ Assembly, www.citizensassembly.ie/en/what-we-do/.
- “Citizens’ Initiative Review.” Healthy Democracy, healthydemocracy.org/cir/.
- Denver Post. “First Citizens’ Initiative Review Delivers Guidance for Voters.” The Denver Post, The Denver Post, 27 Apr. 2016, www.denverpost.com/2014/09/30/first-citizens-initiative-review-delivers-guidance-for-voters/.
- “Evidence from Oregon Shows That Citizens’ Initiative Reviews Can Improve Voters’ Decision-Making about Ballot Measures – The McCourtney Institute for Democracy.” The McCourtney Institute for Democracy, The McCourtney Institute for Democracy, democracy.psu.edu/outreach/blog/evidence-from-oregon-shows-that-citizens2019-initiative-reviews-can-improve-voters2019-decision-making-about-ballot-measures.
- GASTIL, John; RICHARDS, Robert; KNOBLOCH, Katherine. Vicarious Deliberation: How the Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review Influenced Deliberation in Mass Elections. International Journal of Communication, [S.l.], v. 8, p. 28, jan. 2014. ISSN 1932-8036. Available at: . Date accessed: 19 Dec. 2019.
- Hbeshear. “Arizona’s First Citizens’ Initiative Review to Be Launched.” Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, 20 Aug. 2014, publicservice.asu.edu/content/arizonas-first-citizens-initiative-review-be-launched.
- “Impact.” Healthy Democracy, healthydemocracy.org/impact/.
- “Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review.” Involve.org.uk, 13 June 2018, www.involve.org.uk/resources/case-studies/oregon-citizens-initiative-review.