episode 14

Creating a Healthy Democracy For Everyone

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“It really takes visionary thinking to imagine what our democratic systems could look like.”

How can we include everyday people in political decisions? Duncan welcomes Alex Renirie, Linn Davis and Kacey Bull from  Healthy Democracy to the show to discuss democratic lotteries that empower citizens to participate in the political process with informed deliberative consideration of complex issues. In this episode, you can see how they’re making sure your voice matters. 

Discover how profound it is for citizens to be genuinely included in democracy, where they can help policymakers form legislation and have an impact in your local community. 

Learn how a healthier democracy that actually represents everyone’s voices is proven to increase trust in government. Voter apathy could be a thing of the past with these developments. Listen now to discover these awesome tools and how you can bring participatory democracy to your community. 

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This episode and much more content is available in written form


  • Discover how organizations like Healthy Democracy use democratic lotteries to choose a representative sample of the population.
  • Healthy Democracy’s Alex Renire explains how they ensure elected officials listen to the panelists.
  • Learn how we can overcome political apathy and level up our democracy.
  • Linn Davis describes how our current governmental systems are not respecting the wisdom of the 99% . 
  • Uncover what a deliberative and participatory conversation looks like.
  • Understand why Healthy Democracy doesn’t need to find consensus to affect decision making. 
  • Learn how to overcome the barriers to including these awesome tools in our democracy.
  • Discover how we can build the movement and change the game.
Click here to download the transcript

Duncan: Hello, everyone from Healthy Democracy, Alex Lynn Casey, Welcome to the Omni Win Project Podcast. Out of the gate, I actually would love for you each to just to quickly introduce yourself so we all can hear what your voices sound like and get to know who’s who

Alex : Great, thanks Duncan. My name is Alex Renirie. I’m program codirector at Healthy Democracy. I co-manage our program design and development with, along with Linn

Linn: And I’m Linn Davis, Alex’s program Codirector

Kacey: and Kacey Bull, the director of Outreach and communications at Healthy Democracy.

Duncan: Awesome. So I want to say that I’m actually really excited about this conversation because I read Rebooting Democracy maybe like a decade ago or something. And you know, it’s talking about citizen democracy and I’m like, this is so exciting. And it was like, so inspiring to me. And of course they talked about what had been happening with the Citizen Review initiatives up in Oregon I’m like, Wow, this has actually happening in real life. The citizens are getting a chance to participate in decisions that affect their lives. And so anyways, I just want to say I’m excited to be talking to you all, just like you’ve been all this, like your organization’s been on the leading edge of this whole work for a long time and it’s fun to, to talk. So you’ll have grown a lot as an organization

for those who don’t really know, I would love for just to start us off by like tell us what healthy democracy is and like what this lottery selected panel, this kind of form of democracy is. A little bit like what is it that you really wish people knew about what you do?

Linn: Maybe I’ll start that one off with sort of the big picture, like where we come from, why this exists as a concept, this, so it comes from the sort of the idea.

We are lacking something in our democracy fundamentally. And we can see that in sort of the ambivalence that most folks have toward our, our self-governance. And, and, and to some extent you know, reasonably, very reasonably. So very few of us have have really meaningful opportunities to participate in an in depth way.

And when we look at folks who are participating, who are making decisions on our behalf, it’s not necessarily a representative of the rest of us. And so those are kind of the two core things that the, the lottery selected panels or citizen assemblies, juries, whatever they’re called, all the same category of thing try to get at, but who’s in the room.

A representative sample of everyday people randomly selected all kinds of different folks of all ages, et cetera, doing the deepest possible work, the stuff that that public engagement does not do in basically any other. The actual meat of policy making the, the sort of technical research and also, or interpretation of technical research and the you know, evaluating of policy alternatives, the creation of policy alternatives, and then, onward toward implementation and depending on the case, that can be used at many different parts of decision making process.

The idea is really that everyday folks are really deeply involved in Yeah, actual, actual governance. Not just sending opinions to someone else, to to interpret. So that’s sort of the big, the big reason why this exists to fill a gap. And I guess another way of looking at it, we, we like to use these diagrams of pies of democracy pies, not, not splitting up one pie, but multiple different pies, where the first one is, is a pie that is open to.

Anybody could participate, surveys, voting, public hearings, that kind of thing. But theoretically, because we know that not everybody participates and it’s a very skewed sample that participates, no matter how you do that open selection, even if you are doing it quite well, there is still going to be quite a skewed sample on the other.

The other pie is, is a second pie, is sort of special invitation, which is really important. Stakeholder negotiations. You know outreach to targeted communities, marginalized communities especially, et cetera. But that is also often with a top down mindset. And it and it also is you know, it’s, it’s specific sort of by its very nature.

So this is kind of filling the other gap, the lottery gathering folks from every walk of life. And then the other piece being what folks actually do once they’re in the room, which is also quite different. Then the things that often fall into those other two categories.

Yeah. So scaling down to kind of the organizational level, Healthy democracy was founded in 2007 and the first decade of our organization’s programs basically focused on. The Citizens Initiative Review that, that you mentioned, Duncan. So this is a program that uses those two kind of fundamental components that Lynn just described.

Folks selected by Democratic lottery that were brought together at a state level to evaluate valid initiatives and then produce kind of balanced. High quality information, really trustworthy information for voters. That in Oregon was institutionalized into state law. And that information went directly into the voter pamphlet.

So that was about the first decade of, of our existence. And then since 2019, for the last few, We really shifted our focus to kind of do more of the meat of policy making that Lynn talked about. So rather than kind of being on the, the back end of policy and writing information for voters we’ve shifted our focus to really put folks at the center of policy making at the local level.

So we’ve been mostly working with cities, local jurisdictions to bring lottery selection and deliberation into local public engagement.

Duncan: I want to capture about when Linn, you were talking about with the, the pies, like I, I’m understanding because I’ve been through your website, it’s like a demographic sampling And like half the population’s women, half the population’s, men, like this percent of the population is this or that and that when we use different kinds of activism or engagement, We’re not actually getting the true representative sample of the population.

 One of the big challenges that like having a lottery based like system to choose who is participating, like actually creates like a true representative sample of the population. While our other processes are not actually getting a true representative sample of the population there.

It’s either the people who are engaged or the people who are willing to or interested in the topic, or just people who have the privilege that have the time to go to a city council meeting on a Tuesday afternoon. and so your process is solving kind of two issues. One is making sure that it’s actually representative of the population that’s being represented, but also that they’re actually getting a chance to really deeply engage in thoughtful conversations about the issues.

Like really think it through.

Alex : Yeah, yeah. That’s exactly right and we really see those, so as, as Linn kind of described the metaphor we often use of the the pie, which is what you’re saying, self selection, these open processes. Yeah. Directed kind of stakeholder engagement and then lottery selection.

We really see that as a whole ecosystem of participation and of healthy, vibrant, participatory democracy. And all three of those pie slices need to be present. They’re all methods that are complimentary, work well together. But we kind of need all three in order to make sure everybody’s voices are included in the system.

Duncan: Yeah. Cause that’s actually something that I had thought about is you know, we get a true representative sample of the population. It’s a small, relatively small group of people that are in a conversation together thinking about an issue.

I always wondered like, well, what about the people who are the advocates and the activists and the stakeholders? You know, like they want to have a more of a representation. And then we also, so we have all these different ways we can have democracy. What you’re seeing is your processes being something that’s additive into a, a greater system here.

Alex : Absolutely. Yeah. I think that’s, I think that’s really critical and especially when we think about who has historically had access to our democratic systems. I think things like targeted stakeholder engagement are extremely important to exist within that system of democratic reform. To ensure that, you know, we have, we have space to overrepresent folks who’ve traditionally or historically been underrepresented.

So this is certainly not a replacement for, you know, engaging folks who are organizers. Our activists have specific, you know, policy, advocacy expertise to bring to the conversation, and then in fact, those people are also integral to our lottery selected panel and lottery selected deliberative processes as, as sources of information and e.

So we really, we really see all of those strands as kind of coexisting and, and really needing each other to form an ecosystem of democratic engagement.

Duncan: My brain wants to like start talking about like, who should use this? And why is this working and how does it actually work? But let’s actually slow it down. Can you walk us through the process?

So how are these people found, and what conversation, what kind of conversation do they have? But tell us how you’re finding these groups of people and how you actually get a representative sample of the population.

Linn: I can take that one. So this, this could be a whole podcast episode unto itself and, and we’re real nerds about this. So I’m going to try to be as, as concise as possible. There are a number of different ways to find random people in the world and different organizations like us do it a variety of different ways.

We have usually done it via mail, so sending out a mailing sometimes a postcard, but usually a letter with a response. To randomly selected addresses. So perhaps 10,000 random addresses selected from an address database in a particular city or county or state. And then of the folks who respond, and usually there’s about a two and half to three and a half percent response rate.

There is then the second stage of the lottery, a public event where we use targets taken from the census or other sources. And I identify how many folks you know, in each of these categories should be on the panel. And then there’s some magical software that’s been developed by, by some researchers at Carnegie Mellon University as long as some other place, oh, as well as some other places that helps us sort of select panels that fit all those different criteria, causes a whole bunch of different variables all at once, age and gender, race and ethnicity, and educate, educational attainment cetera, etc.

and we used to do that by hand incidentally, but thank, thankfully there’s open source software that anybody can play around with incidentally now that, that does that. And, and then a panel is created. We also select a, a second panel which serves as alternates. And that is yeah, then we start contacting folks and and, and, and seat them on the panel usually about a month later.

Duncan: Awesome. I’m glad to hear about that alternate panel. Cause that was a question I was like, what about the people that wash out and then it messes up your numbers. Okay, cool. That answers that question. So these folks are basically just getting something in the mail that’s inviting them to be part of some process of democracy that they probably hadn’t heard of yet.

I mean, maybe in Oregon they might be, oh my God, a citizen review invitation, but it’s not like my jury duty, right? Where like, I already know what’s happening. So what kind of responses do you get or how do you tell people like, no, this is actually going to be a really cool process for you to participate in.

 What’s the pitch?

Yeah. So, so in that mailer that we send out to everyone, we really try to encompass how exciting of an opportunity it is to participate in something like this. And there’s a number of different factors we can use to make the mailer itself look, both officials, maybe having a city seal, if we’re working with a city.

But also different than politics as normal. So we try to be as transparent about everything that’s going to partake in, in this process while also making it feel fun and exciting and, and like an opportunity Sometimes that can be accompanied with a social media campaign or a campaign on the radio or in the newspaper that also tries to get the message out about what this process is and what it’s going to.

Cool. No, I appreciate that. So, I noticed in some of the panels, at least in Oregon, and you’re getting about, 24 people sometimes, like, how many people do you need? And I, I’m thinking about this because I actually tried crunching the numbers once about like, Took the US population.

And I was like, if I try to break it down to 24 people, like how people are going to show up. And it’s actually really interesting, you know, what those numbers are and like a lot of people don’t even get to half of a percent, and so you get a group as, as 24 standard number for your all’s work?

Linn: no, it’s, it’s not necessarily standard. It was sort of the original number that when Ned Crosby came up with the idea of the citizen jury back in the seventies. We sort of came to this number and I forget exactly how, but different processes in different parts of the world have done, you know, a variety of different numbers from 12 to a thousand.

 But I think over time the field is, is sort of solidifying around a number that is definitely higher than, usually higher than 24. But you know, somewhere in the range of 30 to 40 to 50. or a hundred in the case of a, you know, a big panel across a wider geography. The Citizens Convention on Climate in France a couple years ago was 150 people.

Huge project sponsored by the, the president of France. There was a similar National Climate Assembly in, in the UK that was a little less than that. I want to say maybe a little less than a hundred. The city level process that we just did was about 36. We’ve done processes that are only 20. We’ve done processes that are 40.

We’re mostly in that 30 to 40 range, I think these days. But you’re right, there is sort of trade offs here. Of course, more people on the panel equals more money, especially since we’re paying folks and paying for all their expenses and all, you know, it’s hugely staff intensive.

And there is also, you know, sort of a increase in complication potential for less deliberative quality. Although in all these size groups, really the meat of the processes happen in groups, in small groups within the panel of five or six. So to some extent it doesn’t make a huge difference. I think how big the, the total panel is about makes some difference.

On, on the flip side, you want to panel, you know, so that’s sort of why not to have a panel that’s too, too big. Perhaps. On the, on the flip side, you don’t necessarily want a panel that’s too small because of representation issues. Yeah, You get too small and, and it becomes very crude. I mean, it’s already, of course, sort of necessarily crude to some extent, having to put people in boxes in order to create this.

Stratified random sample in, in, in technical terms, but the larger the panel, the more granular you can be.

Duncan: Right? I’m imagining like pixels a little bit you know, better than just one pixel, as in like a one single representative in Congress.

You know, better than one pixel representing the whole city. The more pixels you can have, the more detailed of a nuanced conversation you can have. And now this is maybe gets to the process part. So they come, you give them like big information packets about like, here’s the issue that we’re going to be talking about.

This is all the stuff that needs, you know, that’s going to be, that people have said these are the different pieces. They start to engage in conversation about it and using like a lot of small groups to be able to give them a chance to really think things through. And it not just like one large group.

So what does this deliberative conversation look like? Like you’ve gotten your group of people, representative of the population and you’re having them talk about some complex topic.

So how do you get them through a process? What’s that experience like for them?

Alex : Yeah. So our processes move through a few main phases. The first of which, which I think is probably what makes one of the things that makes this approach the most unique is information gathering. So we don’t assume that anyone comes into the room with any preexisting knowledge.

Of course, everyone comes with their own life experience which is vital to the process. But we don’t assume that folks are experts or have any kind of technical policy background on the topic at hand, get into the room and for the first usually almost half of the process is spent just gathering information.

So hearing from a wide range of stakeholders and, and and technical experts and other kind of background, informational presenters reading information, and just taking in content. And this part of the process is really geared towards, you know, creating the conditions in which everyone is on the same side of the table, looking at a policy question together, right?

Creating this collaborative attitude from the outset in which folks feel a camaraderie and sense of teamwork. And just finding out information about the question that they’ve been posed with. So that’s kind of the first task. And then you know, of course throughout that process, folks are working to digest that information in small groups, take notes together, you know, harvest key takeaways from that knowledge.

And then they move into a phase of kind of talking about values. So talking about what principles should guide decision making on whatever the topic at hand is. So without even getting into the nitty gritty of policy, yet those two stages really focus on taking in this many perspectives, wide variety of information, and then distilling, okay, what are my values coming into the room?

What are the values of, of all the folks we’ve heard from. and, and then as a group kind of prioritizing those values or principles that’s often the first report that panels produce is guiding principles. And then they take that work as the foundation for thinking about concrete policy options. So really getting into the nitty gritty deliberating about, you know, in, in the case of the project we just did in Petaluma, very site, specific planning question, you know, what are the tangible site use options for?

In this case, the fairgrounds property, right? In another case that might be some other sort of tangible policy option. But this last part of the process is really, you know, when the. The concrete deliberation about recommendations comes into play and that’s guided by, you know, whatever the top ranking or top prioritized principles were that the panel you know, decided were there kind of core values.

So those are the three main stages. And then yeah, depending on the type of question they’ll produce any number of, of deliverables reports to that end, then some recommendation at the, at the end.

Duncan: Yeah. I keep on hearing in the background, like the importance of like, what stage is this happening? It’s like a different thing. If you’re getting a citizen review panel to like look at a written piece of legislation and to explain it to people. It’s another thing when you’re Petaluma trying to figure out what to do with the fairgrounds and there’s a whole bunch of options and, and it’s much more of a creative process.

And I can imagine that, especially with like a lot of issues, like some people come in there and being like, oh, I have an idea about this. And hopefully this information expands the, the field so that people can start thinking in like a little bit of a different way or start understanding, oh, there’s more perspectives here.

But then I really hear what’s really cool is like the importance of talking about values and principles first is like, you’re getting straight down to like the heart of like, why is this important? And that that’s like, starting there seems like really key. It’s like kind of like core, you know, you get to the bottom of the iceberg kind of situation.


Linn: Yeah. If I can add something to that, I, I feel like what’s what I find really. One of the things that I find really different about this and some of the dialogue based work that we’ve also done in the past is that having some kind of what may seem like you know, very specific policy kind of questions or usually one framing question or, you know, one, one kind of topic actually helps to reveal perhaps better than an open ended question, the kind of core values.

That we share or don’t share as a community and allow us to talk about them in a political environment that is otherwise toxic and inhospitable to values based conversations that are really honest, like the way that we can talk about values in our current political culture, to some extent is by talking about the vacant land down the street, because, because that’s, that’s something that, that we can, you know, that’s going to be values laid in a few steps into the process, but we can at least all, you know, we can sort of we have a personal connection to it. We have a personal interest in it

Duncan: I was fascinated by like the tension between limits and constraints and creativity, right. That like, I like to say, like, if you put a, you know, 20 people onto a soccer field and give ’em a ball, and you said, do whatever you want with it, they want to know what to do with it. Right. But if you give ’em the rules, like you can’t touch it with your hands and you got to get it into the goal at the end of the thing, and you guys are two different teams, then all of a sudden like, oh, okay, we can play soccer and we can do that forever.

But there is something interesting that With some of these issues, you know, like getting people to like focus on some sort of concrete thing, instead of just like, let me hear just you talk about whatever is important to you. Like that can get a lot really quickly, there’s actually a lot of ungrounded political conversations.

I feel like I have sometimes. Whereas just like from one topic to the next to the next it’s really can be really challenging. So I’m kind of an assumption I’m making here. And so people go through this process, they talk about it. They come to some kind of consensus and some idea about what to do move forward with and some language or I guess again, it depends on what kind of what the effort is, but they come up together with some proposal about some complex issue.

Is that what I understand?

Alex : Yes, and no. So we we often talk about, you know, this approach or our approach at healthy democracy being a little different than consensus based decision making. So a lot of folks in our, in our field and public engagement multi-stakeholder work really aim for, for consensus and, and practice that method of decision making.

And in our processes, we don’t necessarily aim for consensus. So we really embrace Multiplicity of, of views. And the deliberative process is more aimed to, you know, prioritizing ideas, never never leaving ideas out of the final product, but rather putting things in priority order. So it can be understood kind of the degree of support certain recommendations have from the panel.

But I think this is also context specific as, as you say, Duncan. So we try to think about, you know, based on the framing question, based on the policy context, you know, what kind of recommendations or product will best serve that? That context. And for instance, in our, our last project, the panel produced three possible visions for, for the fair ground’s property.

And that, you know, stemmed from a list of over a hundred different site uses and bundled into packages, you know, in six groups that then turned into five groups to four groups to three groups. And so there’s this kind of winnowing down process and prioritization process and negotiating trade offs.

But we’d really try to balance that kind of finding agreement. Without ever forcing consensus where it doesn’t exist. And we think there’s a lot of value in keeping that variety of viewpoints in, in a final report. And in this case, you know, delivering multiple viable plans to city council, that then they can do some cost analysis and additional, you know, analysis that have to do with implementation and decide, which is feasible, which has, you know, broader community support.

But certainly in a different kind of process, you know, we might, we might do that agreement seeking to, to a greater extent and have a panel produce more of a, you know, majority or or consensus like recommendation. So it does.

Linn: Yeah, just to add on, on sort of where this, where this last process stopped and, and kind of yeah, what that, I think one of the things that can happen sometimes in a push for consensus is that there is always limited time and resources.

And if that push is made heavily, and if the goal is, is sort of dependent the, the final, yeah. The project is dependent on some, on some consensus then that can, that can force some level of co of coercion. That’s really. Not very democratic that can happen really subtly often or more overtly, but, but can happen.

You know, in a way that I think is detrimental in the long term. So in this case, this was the restart of a political process that is heavy and multifaceted and is going to go on for quite a while. And this panel met for a hundred hours or in total, they’re going to meet for over a hundred hours, which is a lot.

And, and yet we didn’t feel like it was appropriate to do that, that next phase of like, Further technical analysis negotiation, getting down to like, this is what the site should actually look like, because that feels like, at least to me, that feels like that would require another process of equal length.

And it’s going to get that in the rest of the political process, not in a deliberative, you know lottery, selected process, but we certainly have envisioned sort of that being the next step. It’s not that we don’t think a lottery selected panel could do that. It’s just that sometimes I think we sort of try to shoehorn processes into tight timelines and force them to reach consensus in environments that, you know, it, it, it takes maybe 30 hours, 40 hours for the panel just to get up to speed on the issue at hand, let alone even start to dig in to any of the potential values, options, bundling of options, alternatives, analysis, technical analysis, and beyond.

So I think that’s a, you know, just a, a thing. That’s, you know, we’re we try to keep in mind.

Duncan: Thank you. That’s this is helping me understand, like the pie that you were talking about at the beginning, there’s various aspects in the democratic process and that this is like this really excellent supplemental aspect. And what I also like about it is it seems like that this is an upgrade that we can do to our democracy without really needing to change any very much, right?

Like the, like, we don’t have to, you, I know that there’s proposals of having there be like a sortation based, you know, Congress or something, you know, I like, wow, that’s going to be a long process until we’re lottery, selecting our representatives. But in this case, like we still get to have the structures that exist.

We still have the city council person and the mayor and the, whatever. They’re just being more and informed because this citizen panel has. Thought about the issue and, and they can now look to, okay, well, this is what the population or a sample of my population wants. And so yeah, I appreciate that. And that’s great information to be able to say, Hey, like everyone agreed that this is the idea, and this is what our favorite is.

You know, some people have concerns about this. And so I imagine that the report has like some interesting nuance in it. And by the way, for folks that are listening to this and are curious about what’s going on in Petaluma or even where Petaluma is, there’s a lot of great information.

I’ll make sure that it’s all available in the, in the episode notes. So. How do you make sure that the decision makers are actually like dialed into this? I feel like this is always like the tragedy of this kind of work is that everyone comes and comes up with a great solution and then the decision makers are like yeah, no, I don’t want to do that.

You know, how do you keep them involved

Alex : Yeah, it’s a great question. And, and certainly I think the, the forefront of our field in many ways and the area area for growth in our, in our work I think there are a couple unique things about that are common to this approach that ensure. But residents and communities have more of a pathway to political influence than perhaps some other forms of public engagement.

One is that at the start of every panel, we, and, and this is common of lottery, deliberation practitioners around the world. We ask that elected officials promise to formally consider discuss and respond to the panel’s recommendations at the, at the end of the process. So there’s always some formal mechanism by which electeds respond to the panel’s work and ideas, and you know, there are Great examples in other, other places of that going far beyond a formal response to actually going to referendum or, you know, having more concrete, political power which I think is, is really the exciting kind of Vanguard of, of ensuring political influence.

But that’s one strategy that’s, that’s common and does really give panelists, I think a sense of empowerment and, and really that at the very least they’re being heard and listened to and, and considered. And then, yeah, I think, oh Linn, do you want to add anything else there?

Linn: Oh, no, I was just going to throw in another thing that during the process feedback loops can often be helpful in sort of ensuring a level of sort of building trust between the panel and, and decision makers and also staff or whoever the decision making entity is.

And, and also, you know, in both directions. And, and that’s sort of a, you know, kind of an inform informal mechanism in this process in Petaluma, there’s also sort of another informal mechanism in the form of the panel, after the final report is done by panelists to self organize and advocate.

Alex : Yeah. So one, one innovation that we’ve also incorporated in the Petaluma project is that panelists are, are funded to work kind of beyond the delivery of their recommendations.

So the panels divided into subcommittees. And one of those subcommittees is the, what we’re calling the policy impact subcommittee. So engaging with policy makers, decision makers to kind of ensure or continue their engagement and advocacy and help ensure that throughout the rest of that political process, that inevitably takes place.

You know, even after the formal panel sessions have concluded that the panel’s recommendations are still kind of central to the conversation and being heard for, for, you know, longer and not, not just being forgotten as, as that kind of, you know, standard political process plays out. Cool. Thank you.

Kacey: Yeah.

And one of the other subcommittees is the public outreach subcommittee of the panel. And every meeting that they’ve had, they’ve kind of closed with wanting to refocus on what their purpose is with these extra hours that they have. And they come back to each time, they want to get the message out about the recommendations and about what they really mean to every organization.

They have a list of over 30 media outlets groups that they want to talk to organizations that they want to reach out to, to explain what their recommendations mean. So that win decisions are made by city council. The whole community can stand up and say either, yes, that’s what, that’s what our panelists were asking for, or no, that’s not what they meant and you’re not being held accountable.

And so it’s this really inspiring way that panelists themselves become the best advocates, not only for these kinds of processes, but for the recommendations that they’ve produced.

Duncan: I love that cause I really hear, like, we want to make sure that these people really understand what it is that we’re talking about here. And, and recognizing that whatever’s in the room and report is, and probably not going to be perfect and all that actually was watching some of the panelists coming out of their thing.

They were sort of talking about the experience. It seems like it’s a really profound experience for people to actually engage in this level of democracy. tell me what that looks like for you all, like what are some of the things you’re seeing people experience.

Kacey: Okay. Yeah, sure. You’re you’re right. Duncan in what we find people are very moved by having this experience. We hear things over and over expressions. Like this is democracy, or you engaged us in the real work of democracy. This is community. And it’s really inspiring to not only hear those messages, but then watch how it changes the way that panelists engage with their local governments or with issues in their communities after there’s a, a large body of research from, from Katherine, no block at Colorado state university and John GASL that talks about kind of the emanating effects of processes like this.

And first and foremost on panelists, it gives them a whole skill set of just how to be a good citizen, how to look for really reliable information, how to have respectful and cooperative conversations, how to advocate for voices that aren’t being heard in that, in that moment. And. Maybe most notably it also increases their trust that government is working for them.

Their government is accountable to them and it increases their, their levels of feeling like their voice matters in their government. And so it’s, it’s not just the personal stories that we hear from panelists going through it, but there’s actually some really robust research that shows the power that, that these panels can have on panelists, but also the greater community.

Studies have shown that if this was done in relation to the C R so that the citizens initiative review. So folks in Oregon, just knowing that their state had citizens initiative reviews, increased their levels of trust in government having participated or not. So that’s pretty cool.

Duncan: I just like that just, this is democracy. This is community like it’s amazing as being the country, that’s kind of the Vanguard of modern democracy. That would be a revelation for people, right? Like, wait, this thing that we’re doing with like the voting and the ads and all the different things is like not covering it.

So you have this really profound process here and, and it’s like offering this like added value. And the question that it’s kind of like a core to, there’s like a whole project here is like why are we not using this more often?

What are some of the challenges to this? I mean, I heard cost, right. And so it, it costs some money to get people to come together and have the facilitators and spend a hundred hours with 36 people, you know? But I don’t know, like either what are the challenges or where do you see the opportunities?

Like, how do we get this out there? More? What, what are you seeing around that?

Alex : Yeah. I think absolutely cost is a barrier. And you know, really startup cost, especially for medium and small sized, you know, local governments that we talk to kind of need some support and, and institutional development of this model for it to be accessible.

And so we’re really looking at designs that will reduce. Reduce or remove those barriers for folks who might not have gigantic public engagement budgets. And you know, maybe trying to do this kind of work in house more, we’re thinking about ways of, you know, training up government staff and, and local leaders to use some of these tools.

If not, you know, if not entire processes, but that being said really the, the whole process is so, so beneficial in its entirety. And and I think it really takes, it really takes visionary thinking about what our democratic systems could look like. So I guess on a more philosophical level, some of the barriers that we, that I see are you know, a lot of our democratic interventions or reforms addressing.

You know, one of the kind of systemic challenges we, we see in our democracy. So whether that’s, you know, lack of inclusion, lack of representation, polarization, kind of these interventions that get at one angle, but don’t really reimagine systems and think about what is, what is the new model that we’re building to get, you know, inspire folks, give folks hope that there is an approach that have hits up these multiple, multiple challenges in our, in our democracy right now.

So that’s a little bit higher level, but I think, I think it really does take folks who don’t just want to do. Don’t just want to tweak the current practices, right? Don’t just want to do public engagement, slightly more inclusively or, you know, add stipends or, you know, do a little bit more deliberation in their public workshops.

It really takes Folks, you know, elected staff who are willing to think really big about, you know, even what a us seemingly small local policy question could mean, or could model for democracy as a whole takes kind of visionary leaders and that, you know, that investment in developing a movement in the United States that can financially and you know, in terms of people capacity support that vision.

Linn: If I can add, I feel like just as you probably know, there’s this is taking off in a much bigger way. In some other places around the world, there, there are these processes happening on every continent now and in some places over the last 10 years, especially they’ve just absolutely taken off. They sort of came into the modern political consciousness about 50 years ago and everywhere where they sort of developed, they developed as kind of an academic experiment and it’s, but in the last 10 years or so in, in some places, particularly in Europe,

it has become an entire, you know, separate section of democratic thinking that this is, this is filling sort of a a gaping hole in, in our representative democracies. Either supplementing or replacing existing systems, but in either case usually supplementing first, almost always. But sometimes, you know sometimes big projects, sometimes small projects.

The fact is we do spend quite a bit on the local and we have quite a lot of systems boards and commissions and requirements for community advisory committees on capital projects and all this kinds of stuff. That a lot of countries don’t have actually.

It’s very top down oriented facilitation. It’s always passed through staff rather than panelists speaking for themselves. There’s a lack of empowerment. There’s a lack of longevity, sort of following the recommendations through the entire process. There’s a lack sort of comprehensiveness Around the whole process, et cetera.

And and yeah, we, we could do a lot more with the money that we’re spending right now, but just as like a, a note on kind of what what, what I feel like at least are the kind of the, the core things that, because it certainly is Alex said the you know, local government leader, government leaders and staff and electeds who are often sort of the, the linchpins in making these things happen, practically speaking.

But the thing that’s going to build the movement is, and that we’re, that what we’ve seen in Europe at least is several other folks in society as well, large civil society organizations and, and philanthropic organizations to fund startup costs to get things off the ground where, you know, to get them started in places where they can’t replace or where folks aren’t willing to let them existing public engagement spending.

And, and also advocacy groups in other fields, notably in Europe, it’s folks working on climate oriented advocacy who have really taken this on and sort of what they feel like is a potentially game changing kind of reform that could have long term effects to the ability to you know, PA pass in their view, better climate legislation.

But they’ve taken sort of a broad view of it in a really interesting way. I think that could be true of any activist organization or, or other issue based movement to see that sort of, Hey, let’s stop fighting the same kind of electoral game that we’ve been fighting forever, or, you know, the. Protest and advocacy game that we’ve been fighting for.

Let’s just change the entire game instead. Let’s think about a, a deep level of, of, of how we might make, make this change happen. That that has been so slow to happen. And that applies no matter what issue you’re talking about and that you care about, and that’s been essential to making it sort of pop off in Europe, I think as well, sort of we’re talking about kind of top down and bottom up kind of push together.

Duncan: I wrote down here, like vision, money and courage. Right. Sometimes this is going to cost us, you know, how many hundred thousand dollars or million dollars or whatever, you know, and then not recognizing that that’s a challenge for different levels, but also we spend money on these processes.

I’m thinking right now, like Oakland did a whole task force on how to change the police budget, you know, since 2020. And California has a, like a task force right now, working on reparations for slavery, and both of those, these are people appointed by the governor, the mayor, whatever different groups.

And so you’re already having that distortion of like, who’s actually represented. I imagine it’s costing a lot of money to do that. But then there’s that combination of the vision and the courage to say. What if we actually just had actual Californians make this decision or think about this, or what if we actually just had actual, Oaklanders make this decision, you know?

And then there’s the courage to actually take that step forward and say, I’m going to like put my political, you know, like self on the line. Right. But I want to play with this vision part here a little bit because that’s where my heart goes. And right now it seems like all, so many like political reforms democracies there. Okay. Let’s change some of the voting rules or let’s change some of the campaign financing rules, you know, and like these tweaks or whatever, all these little tiny little things that people are trying to do, everyone’s just trying to tweak the system.

People agree that democracy’s broken, but they’re not thinking, what would it look like for us? Totally rethink the way this thing works.

You know, and actually I was like doing some, like Google trends searches the other day. And I was throwing in deliberative democracy and participatory democracy. Some of these, like, there’s like less than like a hundred people searching these words in like a month in the United States, you know?

And I’m like, what is going on? You know? I mean I think deliberative democracy might be tracking in thousands, but it’s like some things are getting like a million searches a day, you know? So

what are your hopes and fears about the future of our democracy and how does this fit into it?

Alex : I think, I mean, you know, we, we often talk about studies that show, I think by 2020, over 50% of residents in the us are dissatisfied with, with democracy. And I’m sure, I’m sure you’ve had similar conversations with many guests on your show about the overall state of, of our, you know, our democracy at the national level.

And I think for, for a million different reasons, kind of, as, as Linn talked about at the beginning here, People feel incredibly disillusioned with our systems of governance, right? There’s this, there’s this huge divide between how we think about government, capital G and people who are governed and very few opportunities to experience deep, meaningful trust building and collaboration.

And so that’s, I mean, my fear is, is that that will, that will take us to increasingly dangerous places in our ability to work through these small, small questions, small problems together that will get so disillusioned with the concept of our representative democracy and not feeling like a part of it that we’ll forget how to even have the small conversations that.

Are required to live in a community live at a, even a small scale, you know, in, in a city, in a neighborhood with other people. So really, I, I mean, on a personally I’m excited about our work shifting more and more to the local government level, because I think that’s where, that’s where there’s, there’s hope for me in kind of rebuilding our institution, our democratic institutions from the ground up from, you know, taking more discreet policy questions and using that as a platform for creating experiences of collaboration that people can buy into and then reorient to the broader concept.

Of democratic systems at the national scale or state scale. And, and hopefully that begins to give us, you know, the, the puzzle pieces for reimagining what participatory governance and deliberative democracy could look like on a, on a much broader scale.

Linn: I was just thinking about the the, you know, the Washington post change, its little tagline at one point to democracy, dies with darkness and you remember, I feel like, I feel like, yeah, transparency is important, but I feel like the much bigger threat to, to democracy than, than a lack of transparency even, or then sort of singular individual threats or movement threats to democracy is perhaps that I, I feel like democracy probably dies with disillusionment and disinterest and, and sort of distance that as Alex said, we think of government as this entity right now where.

At least, I really hope that at some point in the future, we can think of government as just a tool. We don’t. Yes. There are people who do work for, for government, for pay, but we all basically are government. We are, government is just a, a thing that we all use to, to do stuff with each other. Rather than a thing that does stuff to us or for us either positively or negatively, it is right now, a very patronizing sort of relationship from the perspective of the 99% of folks who are living their lives.

And that’s not a recipe for ongoing our ongoing ability to make decisions with each other, which is the core of what we’re talking about here. So yeah, I feel like that’s the, that’s the real meeting here is we, we have to get many more people and people who look like all the rest of us involved in all the stuff of governance.

All the stuff that we think that everyday folks are impossible, you know, it’s impossible for folks to do right now. We think like, oh, that’s too complicated. That’s too contentious. Oh no, that needs to be negotiated between X and Y parties. Oh no, that needs to be left to the technical experts. BS. We can all be involved in that stuff.

Yes. There’s a really important role for technical experts in particular, but there is an interpretation of expertise that always needs to happen for decisions to get made. And the question is not whether that interpretation is happening. It’s who is doing that interpreting. Unless we are all involved at some point in our lives.

And ideally periodically during our lives, in, in little bits of that, there’s, there’s no reason why we should be surprised at, at, at folks growing disillusionment, and that is more true of our sort of younger generations than, than older generations. It is a progressively worsening problem that you know, there’s no time like the present to solve with sort of big ideas.

Alex : Yeah. If I can add just one more thing there. I think whenever we talk about disillusionment, it’s also really important to talk about. Access. So it’s not just an attitude of, of disconnection, but there are systemic barriers to participation, right? Someone working a full-time job it’s unreasonable that we should expect as a society that folks opt in to participation and the ways that our current systems of public engagement require without the kind of support that, that, you know, our processes tried try to rectify to some degree or offer to some degree.

You know, if we want folks to engage deeply at that, at that meaningful transformative level, we should pay people. We should, you know, offer childcare and elder care reimbursement. We should make sure folks have a ride to the meeting. We should, you know, provide these really tangible. Mechanisms or universal accessibility that just current, just aren’t available in our, in many of our existing systems.

So not only kind of correcting for or not, not only treating this as a problem of, of interest, but you know, who has access, who doesn’t and how do we really actively and intentionally level the playing field to make sure that governance is something we do that is expected and supported by, by society.

Duncan: Wow. Yeah. Thank you for that, that like layer of nuance and, you know, essentially it seems to come down to like democracy is us. Like we, it is all of us and, and and so we want to make sure that it’s accessible for everyone to participate. And we also need to make sure that people recognize that.

And yeah, I think I was reminded right now, something I heard once that it’s like, you know, like you’re in traffic and you’re like angry that you’re in traffic, but like you are traffic like you are a car on the highway trying to go wherever you’re trying to go. But it’s like, that’s like some other problem.

Instead of being like, I’m 1000th of this problem or 1000000th of this problem, you know, this is, I I’m participating in this. So, yeah those numbers that were coming out or how many people are disaffected with democracy or think it’s in crisis or how many think it’s going in trouble?

You know, I’m like, oh, wow. That’s so fascinating. It’s interesting. People have a lot of different reasons why they think that’s happening, like very different reasons why but the fact that we don’t have like a real capacity or to actually participate in, like in, it is the thing that will kill it.

I mean, for me, that’s the threat, you know? And, and so I’m really with you on this. So I’m curious actually, where you all are thinking about going as a, as a organization and, and woven in with like a bigger movement. How do you think about getting this more awareness about this being a possibility and how do we get this more out there?

Linn: Yeah, I think approach it from, from a variety of different angles is what we I sort of mentioned earlier, there’s kind of a top down and bottom up sandwich between approach. And I think also, you know, it’s, it’s important to us to continue to just do it that, you know, we’re sort of advocate practitioners and

we never want to not actually be doing it as well. And that’s, I think really important. And yeah, I mean, there’s, there’s sort of a, there’s a little bit of a chicken and egg problem right now that like, we sort of need more capacity in order to doing more of this. And yet we need more projects in order to have the, the resources to build capacity to do them.

So it’s, it’s like a lot of kind of things in its early stages still it’s got those kind of chicken and egg and it’s going to require both, some upfront funding to kind of hit it off the ground. And some, sort of engagement with, with folks who are working on a variety of other kinds of issues who may be excited about this.

It is, you know, on the one hand, it is just a tool that could be slotted in anywhere. And on the other hand, it is like a potential kind of game changing, systemic thing. So think of it however you’d like, but I think however it happens is, is good foot in the door anywhere. And it, that’s not to say that this is brand new at all.

As I said, it’s been here in the us for 50 years and it’s happened in a variety of different forms. And it’s happening a lot of other places at all different levels of sort of expense and size and scale. Alex mentioned a little bit earlier, like there are sort of big systemic kind of versions of this that, that, that we get excited about.

Sometimes we applied for this big grant about a year ago, sort of a, you know, off the wall, kind of, okay, 10 million design contest kind thing. And, and it allowed us to, to put down on paper, what has been a long term dream of the organization for a long time? In fact, we worked in reforming the initiative system, the dream was really to, to not just produce voter information, but to produce, to eventually have a whole system that gets in front and is proactive gets in front of the initiative system for what it was originally intended to do, which is a way for everyday people to bypass state legislatures where necessary. And it’s corrupted by money, easily corrupted by money, but it has the potential to filter out a multitude of ideas from around a state and get them down into eventually into policy language that could make the ballot.

So that was our sort of big grandiose system change proposal that we’re pitching to people Who might be able to give it a try. But in the meantime, yeah, working on small scale stuff, working on doing this as cheaply as possible in rural areas, for example. So we kind of need all, all things happening all at once and more folks in a variety of different fields who, who are interested in actually, if I can just say something about that, it’s not just folks who are involved in the conflict resolution space or in sort of traditional political organizing that that we feel like are, are, you know, potentially interested in this.

One of our best advocates was an anesthesiologist for, you know, up until a few years ago and was like, oh my gosh, let me get my retirement figure, you know, do this. Instead, there were folks on our last moderating team who were pastors who were lawyers who worked in mediation. There’s a lot of folks with some relevant skills and to either be able to advocate or be part of, sort of practitioner side of making these things, developing time felt and still.

Kacey: Yeah, I have, I have a few things I want to throw in, in the mix too. From a social movement perspective, right? We need, my colleagues have talked a lot about how there’s organizations doing this to a more radical extent or to a more moderate extent and for participatory democracy or, or deliberative democracy to move forward.

We really need both of those feeding each other. Right? So it’s something that’s more extreme makes us look more moderate . So if, if someone’s going to pay us for the work that we’re doing you know, like, oh, well we look we’re, we’re not trying to replace governments. We’re, we’re supplementing things that are already there, but at the same time, we also need those really radical systemic organizations thinking and, and producing processes as well.

And then your question about how, how to kind of build awareness. You know, again, we’ve talked about top down or bottom up, and the answer really is both it’s that we need. Everybody who’s heard about this or had some experience of these kinds of processes to start asking for, for more of them.

Right. And it can feel really overwhelming when you first learn about this because we have a lot of really jargony language or what, what exactly is lottery selected deliberation or what does it mean for another organization to say something like let’s get rid of elections altogether? Like, what is that

So I think first and foremost, there’s a lot of organizations out there doing great work and who are trying to create some educational materials that make some of these ideas more palatable or comprehensible. So go, go find those and then, and then distribute them to whatever organization you’re a part of or whatever your network is.

And at, at every level start asking. Decision makers are people with power now at a, at a local state or, or even national level to start thinking about more inclusive ways of decision making and start asking for that.

Linn: That reminded me of something I wanted to add from, from a little while ago, actually, in terms of like, sort of what the catalyst is, these things starting in places haven’t, before I, to some extent, if we’re just talking about sort of at the local government level government official that you might know thing that I think that sort of beautiful, the combination that the magic combination is a, a level of investment and interest and a level of need.

So we’ve talked about the interest, but these things typically happen first in places and situations where there is some really difficult political situation. So. One of our colleagues in the field likes to start with the question of like, what is most difficult for you right now?

What is really hard? What is a lose, lose situation for you right now that you’re dreading, that’s probably the place where this kind of thing is going to be able to happen first. Now we don’t think that that’s the only place that these could be great systems, but that’s the thing that’s that, that current public engagement is really lacking in its ability to, and the political system in general handle.

And that’s what these were sort of originally built for. So give us your most toxic political problems, please.

Duncan: This is great. And you know, I appreciate, you know, just like Kacey and like what you were saying and just like, like ask for it, right? Like, like, you know, people who have had this experience, like, it’s, it’s important to go ask for it just before starting this project. I spoke with my like local city council person and he had no idea what I was talking about.

He was like, I’m like, you know, deliberative citizen representative process. And he was just like, I listen to people when they come to my office, I, he was just like in such a defensive place cause he thought, I was saying like, you don’t listen to the people, you know? And I’m like, no, no, no, I’m I know how hard it is for you.

I get it. So one thing is like, do these like advocacy materials, like advocating for these kinds of processes. Do you have like a collection of those? I mean, I’m thinking like, I know that NC D D has something like this

Kacey: so, I mean, we’re, we’re still trying to build that, but we do have some right now we have kind of a, a four page, you know, little informational packet that talks about what these are and the benefits of them.

We’ve also created a, a short kind of explainer video that, that follows the same track to what are lottery selected panels. Why do they work? And in what settings do they work? So yeah, we have some

Alex : of those and

Kacey: I can point you towards some other places, democracy, R and D also has some, or has links to other organizations that have, that have lots of.

Duncan: Okay, cool. This is something we can collaborate on for sure. Cause I’m like trying to collect these as well. It’s interesting that in democracy it’s not just like, oh, I want to have opinion about this issue, but like, I want to have an opinion about how I have an opinion about these issues, you know, and that was actually it, when I like tried to also like talk to the Oakland city clerk, I’m like, what kind of legislation do you have about public participation?

And they’re like, you know, these don’t really, even, it’s not even there. Right? I mean, they have their, like their rules about how they’re going to do the three minutes talking and they have a whole procedure around it. So it seems like an entire staff person’s entire job is just to regulate people with their three minutes at the zoom meetings.

So I wanted to ask you, like, people are inspired by this, and then you want to see more of this. Like what do they do? So one ask, talk to your local officials and also help them identify like, those really gnarly problems that they seem to be really stuck with. And they don’t want to deal with, like, that might be a great place to, to get help.

you know, Anything else you guys want to say about like, for those who want to see this kind of change? What else might we be doing? Who else needed to be in this conversation?

Kacey: Yeah, so, I mean, first visit our website. We do have a lot of materials. We have a monthly newsletter you can sign up for. Second as a nonprofit, you know, part, a large part of our mission is spreading the word about what these panels and processes are.

So if you have questions , you know, ask us, feel free to reach out for more information. And if you want to bring this to your, to your community, you know, we’re happy to work with you as thought partners or farther down the road, if we can help moderate that great. But we’re really just invested in having this movement take off and to whatever extent we can help you in your search of that, you know, we’re, we’re happy to.

Alex : Yeah. And kind of answered. Both of those questions, I think, and I know probably a large part of your audience Duncan are perhaps practitioners who are also thinking about democratic reform and public engagement, conflict transformation. And I think one really exciting avenue for me is connecting with more practitioners who are thinking about collaborative problem solving in, in different ways than we do different modalities, different approaches.

I think that deliberative democracy as a field grew out of a very academic lineage and we have a lot to learn from other participatory movements, other lineages of thought around conflict and human systems more broadly. And so I’m really excited to just connect, connect with other practitioners, other, you know, thought partners who are doing similar work outside of, of this field and talk about how our approaches, our models, our work can coexist, can support each other.

Cause I don’t, I don’t think it’s any one model in a vacuum that’s going to solve these problems. And I think, I think part of the struggle sometimes and what you said about going to your city counselor and you know, never having heard about this particular model is that we’re so inundated with, with solutions that are hyper specific, that we forget about the common values in all of these interventions and forget about how to thread them together in ways that address.

Many problems all at once and you know, really yeah. Work together as, as practitioners to develop more holistic interventions in, in the system. So yeah, to, to other practitioners who are, who are hearing this, you know, please reach out and let’s think about ways of, of co-creating those,

Duncan: those solutions.

Yeah. Thank you. I mean, last week I spoke with a guy from who does convergent facilitation and, you know, similar thing doing with like super gnarly issues and getting group people to come together and they’re applying it in similar ways and it’s a really neat tool. And one of the things that he said was that we can even use this process to think about what’s the best process to do this in. And so applying your process right now, I’m thinking first let’s get informed about what the problem is. Okay. You know, problems with our democracy. Okay. Two, what are the values in the principles that are going to guide our decisions on this?

And that would be a really rich conversation, right? Like what are the values and principles that want to guide our sense of democracy and, we start establishing like the criteria for success, or even going all the way back to like getting to yes.

Like the original sort of mediating people. Like the first thing is, is like, what are the things that we’re going to measure the outcome by? You know, but finding those underlying values I think are important to us. I think there’s like a really interesting thread there. And yeah, so I look forward to also helping facilitate either just through this podcast or other ways of helping like connect more of these dots and like getting more people engaged and involved.

I have some colleagues that we’re working on, like a really, really tricky issue where they like environmental justice folks and politicians and legislators and, You know, they’re like someone did conflict resolution really needed you to be the person there but there are skill all these different skill sets.

And so the mixing and matching I’m really into that idea. And especially because

 we just need more of all of this. I’m going to have to figure out who this quote is from. I think it’s from some musician, they said, don’t worry about anyone stealing your great idea.

If you have a truly great idea, you’re going to have to shove a down people’s throats

And so, you know let’s keep on spreading the word and talking about this more. Any other closing thoughts for you all

Alex : just so appreciate the opportunity to, to be in conversation and yeah, among so many great minds to have already graced this podcast. And I’m sure many more to come. Thanks for weaving, weaving the threads and, and this ecosystem of, of democratic reformers and, and systems changers. .

Kacey: Yeah. And I I’ll just echo that.

Thanks so much for, including us in these kinds of conversations. And we’re really excited to see, to see where we go next.

Duncan: Thank you. Thanks for being part of it.

Healthy Democracy Logo
Alex Renirie
Linn Davis
Kacey Bull

Healthy Democracy

Alex Renirie, Linn Davis

& Kacey Bull

About this episode’s guests

Healthy Democracy is a US-based nonpartisan nonprofit that works to elevate everyday people in public decision making.

It uses democratic lotteries to empower new voices and guarantee representation across our many diversities. The organization designs deliberative processes that prove a more collaborative politics is possible. Healthy Democracy partners with governments, nonprofits, and other organizations to bring together lottery-selected panels that tackle our most difficult policy issues.

Linn Davis and Alex Renirie co-lead program development and process design at Healthy Democracy. They co-coordinate HD’s complex public processes and consult on deliberative democracy projects in the US and abroad. 

Kacey Bull manages various outreach and communication projects. She builds and maintains relationships with HD’s outside partners and leads educational programs about the work they do.


Connect with Healthy Democracy

Guest Resources

Healthy Democracy

Healthy Democracy Logo

Healthy Democracy is a U.S.-based nonpartisan nonprofit that works to elevate everyday people in public decision making.
They use democratic lotteries to empower new voices and guarantee representation across our many diversities. And they design deliberative processes that prove a more collaborative politics is possible. Healthy Democracy partners with governments, nonprofits, and other organizations to bring together Lottery-Selected Panels that tackle our most difficult policy issues –­ from housing to health care.

Democratic Lotteries

A New Kind of Democracy

Lottery-Selected Panels are innovative democratic systems that help governments tackle difficult policy questions. Panelists are everyday people capable of extraordinary collaboration and sophisticated decision making.

1. Invitation 2. Democratic Lottery 3. Information gathering 4. Deliberation (Feedback Loops) 5. Recommendation
2022 Petaluma Fairgrounds Advisory Panel

First of its kind in California!
The Petaluma Fairgrounds is the heart of the city – and its future should be decided through robust and inclusive community engagement. The Petaluma City Council approved a contract with Healthy Democracy to facilitate a Lottery-Selected Panel as a way to bring the community into important discussions about the future of the fairgrounds.

Learn all about the panel here.

The participants met from mid-May to mid-July 2022 and in their 90+ hours of deliberation, the Panel will be asked to provide a series of policy reports that answer the question,

“How might we use the City’s fairgrounds property to create the experiences, activities, resources, and places that our community needs and desires now and for the foreseeable future?” 

Testimonials from the Panelists

Watch the entire panel process here:


Episode 40: All About Sortition w/ Linn Davis and Madeline McCarren

In this episode of Democracy Nerd Podcast, they ask:
Does America have “Greek-style democracy” all wrong? Would it be possible to have democracy without holding any elections? Joining the podcast to discuss the idea of sortition–or “democratic lotteries”–are Linn Davis from Healthy Democracy and Madeline McCarren from Democracy Without Elections to explain that not only is sortition is a thing, but it is all ready being used in America and around the world.Shift from citizen review to citizen deliberation

Democracy Nerd logo

Other Resources


Rebooting Democracy: A Citizen's Guide to Reinventing Politics

Rebooting Democracy: A Citizen’s Guide to Reinventing Politics

by: Manuel Arriaga

Our democracies are failing us, but is there anything we can do about it? Rebooting Democracy: A Citizen’s Guide to Reinventing Politics takes readers on a global journey in search of solutions. From Vancouver to Saint Petersburg, from France to Australia, we discover that there are sensible ways to reform our democracies. As we zoom in on these real-world democratic breakthroughs, we also pick up insights from the social sciences-from key ideas in political science, sociology and economics to the latest research in social and cognitive psychology-that clarify why elected politicians will always fail to represent us. In a concise and engaging way, this book invites readers to explore five concrete, innovative ideas that will change the way we do politics.
Want to stay in the loop? Visit rebootdemocracy.org.

Featured Section: Discovering citizen deliberation in the Pacific Northwest

Open Democracy book cover
Open Democracy: Reinventing Popular Rule for the Twenty-First Century
by: Hélène Landemore

Open Democracy develops a new paradigm of democracy in which the exercise of power is as little gated as possible, even as it depends on representative structures to make it possible. In this version of popular rule, power is equally open to all, as opposed to just those who happen to stand out in the eyes of others (as in electoral democracies). The book centrally defends the use of non-electoral yet democratic forms of representation, including “lottocratic,” “self-selected,” and “liquid” representation.

Topics Discussed in Episode

Dissatisfaction with US Democracy

“Three in five Americans are dissatisfied with American democracy” (read about this at YouGov America or The Hill)

A significant majority of U.S. and global citizens are dissatisfied with the current state of democracy. With this level of frustration, it seems like this is an opportune time to try a way of improving things.
Below are the results of various polls from Pew Research:

“Global Public Opinion in an Era of Democratic Anxiety” (Dec 2021)

85% of U.S. Americans say the political system needs major changes or to be completely reformed.

“Americans’ Views of Government: Decades of Distrust, Enduring Support for Its Role” (June 2022)

65% say most political candidates run for office ‘to serve their own personal interests’

Trust in the U.S. Government has been chronically low. In 2022 only 20% of Americans trust the government to do what is right.

Neither democrats nor republican trust the government. 

Lotteries, Sortition and Participatory Democracy

The idea of using sortition or lotteries to select semi-random and representative samples of a population to engage in deliberative dialogue about public policy issues is being discussed in a number of spaces. Below you can find work from Malcolm Gladwell, Of By For and Democracy R&D.

Here are two TED talks about using sortition to improve democracy:

Democracy R&D

Democracy R&D is an international network of organizations, associations, and individuals helping decision makers take hard decisions and build public trust.
Their mission is to “collaboratively develop, implement, and promote ways to improve democracy, from the local to the global level.”

They have a fantastic resource page full of examples of projects. Across all their work and partnerships, they are commited to following three principles:

    1.  We randomly select participants to achieve a group that broadly reflects the diverse demographics and perspectives of the community, region, or society in question
    2. We give participants access to quality, balanced information and a mix of relevant experts
    3. We help participants deliberate about the issue in question and work through their differences with the help of skilled facilitators

Here are some examples of their projects:

Malcolm Gladwell on Using Lotteries to Choose Leaders

Malcolm Gladwell (author and journalist) has become a strong advocate for using lottery to choose all forms of leaders.

He explores the idea in this episode of his Revisionist History podcast: “The Powerball Revolution” 

And in this episode of Big Think where Malcolm discusses the idea in detail: Malcolm Gladwell: How would lottery-style elections change American politics? | Big Think

Of By For & Goodbye Elections, Hello Democracy

Of By For is an organization that believes “The key to transforming our toxic politics is to have everyday citizens called upon to serve through a democratic lottery.”

They advocate for a new direction for America: from elections to lotteries, as a “way to heal our divide and turn things around.”
Check out their first-of-its-kind documentary:
Goodbye Elections. Hello Democracy.

John Gastil (Author & Academic)

John Gastil is an academic and author. studies political deliberation and group decision making across a range of contexts. His work on the Citizens’ Initiative Review has helped evaluate an exciting new form of public deliberation that should improve initiative elections. His Jury and Democracy Project has investigated, and hopefully helped vindicate, the jury system as a valuable civic educational institution. 

His paper “Assessing the electoral impact of the 2010 Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review,” co-authored with Katherine Knobloch, Justin Reedy, Mark Henkels, and Kathy Cramer in American Politics Research details the impact of Healthy Democracy’s work on the Citizen Review Initiative in Oregon. You can read a summary here: “Evidence from Oregon shows that Citizens’ Initiative Reviews can improve voters’ decision-making about ballot measures”

Here is a selection of books by John Gastil and others:

Hope for Democracy (Cover)
Legislature by Lot (Book Cover)
Deliberative Democracy Handbook (Book Cover)
By Popular Demand (Book Cover)
Jury and Democracy (Book Cover)
Democracy in Motion (Book Cover)
The Public Policy Cycle

The “public policy cycle” is a model for understanding how any piece of public policy moves from the initial identification of a problem to the passing of new legislation. There are different strategies to intervene depending on where things are in the process.

Often people are frustrated because at the time they are aware of a new policy, most of the decisions have already been made. It is best to seek public participation and input early on in the cycle.

For a good article about how to leverage and improve this process, I suggest this two part essay by Alberto Rodriguez Alvarez + Dana Chisnell from The Beeck Center at Georgetown University (January 20, 2021)

    1. Bringing Design to the Public Policy Cycle
    2. Harnessing the Policy Power of Stakeholder Mapping

The model consists of eight steps in a circle that is meant to encourage an ongoing, cyclic and iterative approach to developing and improving policy over time with the benefit of cumulative inputs and experience. (Source: “Improving the Public Policy Cycle Model”Pipka.org)

The eight steps of the policy cycle are:

Issue identification – a new issue emerges through some mechanism.
Policy analysis – research and analysis to establish sufficient information to make decisions about the policy.
Policy instrument development –identification of instruments of government needed to implement the policy.
Consultation – garnering of external and independent expertise and information to inform the policy development.
Coordination – once prepared a policy needs to be coordinated through the mechanisms and machinations of government.
Decision – a decision is made by the appropriate person or body.
Implementation – once approved the policy then needs to be implemented.
Evaluation – process to measure, monitor and evaluate the policy implementation.

Public Policy Cycle: identify issues, policy analysis, policy instruments, Consultation, coordination, decision, implementation, evaluation,

About The Omni-Win Project

The Omni-Win Project is a multimedia effort to raise awareness of the myriad existing and emergent opportunities to improve our democracy and heal our political culture.

Our mission: facilitating the healing and evolution of our democratic systems and political culture, so that we can co-create a future that works for everyone.

Meet The Host

I am omnipartial: I am biased in favor of the success of everyone and the whole. I believe it is possible to improve systems of communication and interaction in ways that will allow humanity to thrive and evolve through our complexity and diversity.

My purpose in life is to support an omnipartial revolution. How? By helping the world understand the fractal nature of conflict and how we can transform conflict into a positive and inspiring experience. We are all in this together. I firmly believe we can do this complex dance through life with much more grace and beauty.

I am specifically committed to transforming how we work together in teams and organizations and how we experience conflict and collaboration in our democracy.

Fractal Friends

Duncan is also the host of the Fractal Friends podcast. An exploration of our self-similary across our diversity.

Fans of the Omni-Win project podcast will enjoy this collection of episodes: https://www.fractalfriends.us/transforming-politics about Transforming Politics and Healing Democracy

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