Our Winter 2017 Newsletter

Welcome to our latest update on the pursuit of a better democracy.

It has been a busy winter for newDemocracy. Projects are concluding and foundations are being laid for large projects to come. We’ve seen a flurry of international events from Athens to San Francisco. We’ve featured in The Australian, been developing our platforms for interaction, and widening our channels of influence. Read the highlights below, and stay tuned for more.

Yarra Valley Water

The newDemocracy Foundation has just completed its most recent project to date. 35 people from East Melbourne across to the Yarra Ranges met for more than forty hours over six days to deliberate over how Yarra Valley Water should balance price and service fairly for everyone in their 5-year costed plan to the Essential Services Commission.

Water infrastructure management and supply is a complex intergenerational equity issue that involves trade-offs between long term investment and short term price pressures.

The Jury heard from many diverse speakers, both of their choosing and interest-group nomination. They were conscious of the way they represented people like them in the room and the broader community of Yarra Valley Water customers.

This Jury demonstrated the ability of everyday people to grasp difficult cases of engineering, wrangle with complex price signalling, and produce a clear and comprehensive direction for their local water retailer. Yarra Valley Water trusted this nuanced topic to a jury of randomly selected members of the community.

You can view their final report here.

Click through to view footage from the final day

newDemocracy in the news with Campbell Newman

newDemocracy mentions in the media featuring:

Solutions for a changing world: Athens Democracy Forum

In cooperation with an array of international organisations ranging from the UN Democracy Fund to Google, newDemocracy is pleased to support the New York Times Athens Democracy Forum being staged in September this year.

The Forum is predicated on an acknowledgment that recent events across the world are challenging many aspects of society. It will pose the question of whether democratic systems be reformed to address this, or whether a complete overhaul is the only option? This is a topic of significance and given our active interest, not only in Australian but, global democratic innovation, we are pleased to be part of the event. With speakers as diverse as Kofi Annan (former UN Secretary General), Margot Wallström (Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs) and Hyeonseo Lee (North Korean Defector and Human Rights Activist), the Forum promises to tackle many fundamental issues. newDemocracy’s founder and Director Luca Belgiorno-Nettis will take part in the Forum, leading a series of world café style sessions designed to explore some of the global challenges the UN is tackling.

Stay tuned for reports, content and images from the Forum later in the year.

newDemocracy on the road

Various arms and legs of the newDemocracy team have been on the road speaking at events over the course of the year. The Club of Madrid’s World Leadership Alliance (the world’s largest forum of former Presidents and Prime Ministers) convened a gathering in Dili (30-31 July) entitled: ‘Towards a Next Generation Democracy – Regional Agenda for Asia-Oceania’. It followed a previous gathering at the Library of Alexandria attended by our Executive Director, Iain Walker. This time our Research Director, Lyn Carson, spoke about newDemocracy’s innovative activities in Australia and their relevance for the region. Other participants include Club de Madrid Members:

  • Jose Ramos-Horta, President Timor Leste (2007-2012) 

  • Jennifer- Mary Shipley
, Prime Minister New Zealand (1997-1999) 

  • Jigmi Yoezer Thinley
, Prime Minister of Bhutan (2008-2013) 

  • Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, 
Prime Minister of Indonesia (2004-2014)

The US PACE Funders Meeting

In late July, our Executive Director, Iain Walker, was invited to give the opening dinner address to the gathering of the largest philanthropic funders in public engagement and civic reform — the Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement funders.
In attendance were representatives from the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the Case Foundation and Democracy Fund, among others. The regular meeting was dominated by the idea that a tipping point moment is being reached in how democracies function and the invitation sprang from one funder’s attendance at the ‘Democracy in Geelong’ project and a realisation that projects of this reach and influence (being commissioned directly by a Minister) were not being attempted in the US (And perhaps ought to be).

It’s a long journey, but funders engaged with the pragmatism of the newDemocracy approach to find complementary methods to assist elected representatives which are in contrast to a heritage of primarily community-level investment among many funders.
Australia remains our central focus, but the interest of global reform funders is a pleasing development.

Smart Cities Leadership Masterclasses
The Cities Leadership Institute led a national roadshow program assisting the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet with enacting the Prime Minister’s Smart Cities commitments. When cities were asked what they needed help with in order to make this happen – it was the question of how to work productively with communities on top of the list.
We appreciate that the Executive Director of the Cities Leadership Institute, Katherine O’Regan, invited newDemocracy to deliver this part of the presentation. We focused on explaining the importance of using the five key principles of deliberation – hearing from representative samples of the community, drawing on diverse sources of information, allowing extensive time for public discussion and reflection, sharing the problem (rather than ‘selling’ an answer) and being public with a level of authority around what government will do with the results. While obvious, we do like to challenge governments that frequently they would score 0/5 when you test the forms of engagement they use.
Well attended, by 20-50 guests in each city, these were excellent forums to expand the practice of making considered, trusted public decisions.

Grandstand: singing our own praises

Over the last two years, we’ve curated a series of bespoke events for Sydney supporters, tackling an array of topics and contemporary issues.

We’ve designed the series to provoke debate, discussion and reflection and have been pleased to welcome some exceptional and incredibly diverse speakers on some fascinating areas.

For example, Sally Walkom (formerly from Moorebank Intermodal Company); Lucy Cole-Edelstein (Director Straight Talk); Gooch Lee (randomly selected jury member); and John Green (Australian Hotels Association NSW) helped give a glimpse of what really happens in a Citizen’s Jury room.

The Hon. Rob Stokes MP (then NSW Minister for Planning; Rod Simpson (Greater Sydney Commission), Elizabeth Farrelly (SMH columnist and author) and Professor Michael Neuman (formerly UNSW) tackled how to plan cities with people in mind and in control.

Most recently, Howard Parry-Husbands (Pollinate); Kathy Jones (nDF Bound Member and Executive Chair of KJA) and Jonathan O’Dea MP (Parliamentary Secretary to the NSW Premier) delved into the latest research on what everyday people want from government decision making.

The good news for non-Sydney readers is that we also produce short videos from each of the events and feature them on our website. And soon, we will be taking the Grandstand on the road, metaphorically speaking, staging events in other states to ensure supporters from other parts of the country can be part of the events. Watch out for more.

The Demos

We’ve created a new Facebook group as a space for discussion, action and collaboration on all things newDemocracy. We’re here to help answer questions, give you the tools for action, and discuss ideas about democracy.

This group will work best with lots of discussion, so please don’t hold back with your ideas, comments or questions. Whether they’re about citizens’ juries, deliberation, or the concept of democracy more broadly, the more respectful discussion we have, the better.

To celebrate the launch of this new group, we’ll be hosting a webinar with newDemocracy staff doing a Q&A where you can learn more about how we design and shape our projects; hear about the initiatives we’ve got lined up for the rest of 2017; get to know other supporters and find out how you can be part of a fundamental change to how we do democracy.

Register for the webinar here.

Losing the ability to compromise

There was a game we played when I was young in which you were labelled  depending on your loyalties to either Holden or Ford; Pepsi or Coke; Union or League; city or country; Saints or Rabbitohs; orange or green – you get the picture. The latest census shows that we are a much more varied society than the limited and rigid tribalism that the game tried to reinforce.

But, what of the political dualities of Left or Right; Labor or Liberal in politics – are they any less meaningless than examples above? Within a party, there is such a divergence of views such that a party’s essence, its inherent values, are lost to an outsider. In fact, what does the routinely bandied expression, ‘a broad church’, mean in the context of modern political parties when the social, economic and even philosophical differences between them is often less pronounced than the differences between the core of the party and its fringe members.

When different parties/factions/ tribes cannot agree on anything – with a “my environment/ education/ welfare/ broadband/ whatever policy is better than yours and whatever you say, I’ll find fault with it and say the opposite” mentality – no wonder the public is looking for a more centrist alternative. In France, the election of the centrist Emmanuel Macron was seen, not as an affirmation of his policies, but rather a rejection of his polarising opponents.

In Australia, an Essential Poll as reported in the Guardian found that:

“Australian voters are resoundingly sick of their bitterly polarised politics and a sizeable group says they would consider voting for a new centrist political party.
The new survey of 1,830 voters found 71% agreement with the statement “I wish both sides of politics would try to meet each other in the middle more often” and 45% said they would consider voting for a new party that took ideas from both sides of politics” 


We found similar results when we commissioned the research group Pollinate to gauge the level of trust in democratic structures and how those structures could be improved.

Presumably, all parties and their members believe sincerely that they are working towards the betterment of the community. But, no one party or individual has a monopoly on what that ‘good’ is – and our system is seeming to lose the ability to compromise thus losing many good ideas and the benefits that could bring. We, here at newDemocracy, have a way of regaining the public’s trust through measures that willing MPs and Ministers can utilise so that governments may once again lead and not just prevaricate.

– Manuela Epstein

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