Our Final 2017 Newsletter

Welcome to our final update for the year on all things newDemocracy.

It has been a busy close to the year for newDemocracy. Projects have concluded and foundations are being laid for next year’s large projects. We’ve seen a flurry of events from Athens to Melbourne, all focused on doing democracy better.

Athens Democracy Forum: Kofi Annan’s Push for One Major Change

newDemocracy Foundation Founder, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis was invited to be a delegate at the Athens Democracy Forum. The forum featured a wide range of current and former politicians, New York Times journalists and staff, and our own democratic tragics.

At the forum, Kofi Annan gave the introductory speech. His speech highlighted one key reform to democracy inspired by the Athenian model and David van Reybrouck’s contemporary work ‘Against Elections‘. The speaker’s depth of experience with the most acute global problems indicates that this idea is spreading to the highest offices.

Luca Belgiorno-Nettis second from the left, Kofi Annan, and David van Reybrouck at the Athens Democracy Forum in September.

Australian Symposium for Trusted, Long-term Decision-making

The Australian Symposium for Trusted, Long-term Decision-making was a deliberative event that met on two occasions, in Melbourne on October 31 and in Sydney on November 22. The Symposium was jointly convened by a range of individuals and organisations spanning the Australian Institute of Company Directors, Foundation 1901, newDemocracy Foundation, The Benevolent Society, University of Melbourne and University of Technology Sydney. Participants from business, academia, journalism, policy making, and former politicians met to find agreement when addressing the question:
What changes can we agree upon to deliver effective long-term decision-making which earns public trust?
The participants produced a report listing eleven key recommendations that addressed trusted, long-term decision-making, and democracy in Australia more broadly. The report and a short summary video (as well as the resources given to participants) are available here.

The newDemocracy Foundation performed secretariat services for the Symposium, in addition to Founder Luca Belgiorno-Nettis and Board Member Kathy Jones participating in the Symposium.

A view from the Board:
newDemocracy’s place in a changing political environment

With this final issue of the newsletter for the year, we thought we’d offer a perspective slightly different from that of the newDemocracy operational team. Kathy Jones is the Executive Director of communications consultancy KJA and a Board Member of the newDemocracy Foundation. We asked her for her thoughts on newDemocracy’s place in a changing political environment.

“I believe that most people have an innate sense of what is right and wrong and when challenged are keen to understand and accept their civic responsibility and sometimes even take an active role in this. This is a result of personal observation – from working for over 20 years in the community engagement field and in particular my experience watching the commitment and application that randomly selected people involved in citizens’ juries show. My observation is that, given the opportunity, people are keen to be active participants in the democratic process. 

But, we do live in an increasingly noisy world. Simplistic slogans and stylised leadership often seem to be all that cut through. The impact of social media, for example, is that we now expect a 24hr news cycle. A decade ago one major announcement was news for a week, today if its on the morning cycle we expect something fresh for the evening. The court of public opinion is growing, but the people in that jury often can’t know what they’re talking about because they don’t have the required range of information or the time to consider an issue.

From a former staffer – “but the worst part is – governments respond to the headline not the substance!  I have experienced first hand what this sort of ill considered information flow can do for a person, for a government and for a policy program”. The outcome of this is the feeling that our social cohesion – the raison d’etre of democracy – is being undermined. Social cohesion is founded on productive dialogue across a multiplicity of views not headline grabbing adversarial debate. 
This makes citizen participation, which is at the core of what newDemocracy is about, increasingly important. When people understand how and why others are making a contribution and even make a contribution themselves, then we see deliberation, cooperation, and collaboration – humanity at its best.

When these principles are applied to a problem, they lead to people delivering both understandable and defensible outcomes.  This is what is at the heart of newDemocracy’s belief in Citizens’ Juries as a tool for effective deliberation. 

Deliberation is the solution to group polarisation. Considered and real engagement by citizens at the front end of issues, policies and projects yields rich insights that can shape the final deliverables. Insights that if applied to project and policy design can yield results that are nuanced to community needs and are less divisive because they are what people want.

If people see where their feedback is shaping outcomes, they are more likely to be open to discussions about trade-offs and compromise – and decisions which support, not undermine, social cohesion.

Most importantly, a deliberative and engaged society is essential to achieving a democracy which helps drive social cohesion through collaborative decision making.  Whilst the marriage equality plebiscite was not in itself a deliberative tool, the results did show that citizens were engaged with the plebiscite – from beginning to end, showing that “the Australian people really are the true custodians of our civic character”, in the words of Liberal Senator Dean Smith.

I love the work we do at newDemocracy because it involves real people in a real way in our democracy. Our systems and processes can and should be challenged to ensure that what is at the heart of our democracy – social cohesion – evolves in a way that reflects our 21st century world. “

– Kathy Jones,
newDemocracy Foundation Board Member

newDemocracy in the news

  • In The Sydney Morning Herald, Peter Hartcher argued that ‘Judicious use of plebiscites and citizens’ juries can be a useful adjunct to parliamentary processes’, drawing on the Foundation’s advocacy for juries;

  • In The Newcastle Herald, Griff Foley reflected on public decision making in Newcastle and the way in which citizen juries provide a unique way of including the people affected by decisions in making them.

  • In Medium, Executive Director Iain Walker reflected on his time as a guest speaker to the Philanthropy for Civic Engagement (PACE) group in the United States, calling for innovative solutions to the issues facing democracy in the US and abroad;

  • Matt Ryan, former Deputy-Chief of Staff to South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill, spoke at an event in Spain organised by the Regional Government of Gipuzkoa. He spoke to many of the principles of newDemocracy, including innovation in the way we do democracy and involving citizens directly in decision making processes. See the footage here;

  • In The Herald Sun, Nicholas Reece reflected on the marriage equality postal survey and other instances of direct democracy used in the past, and suggests that we should explore different ways of making decisions, such as through the use of citizens’ juries.

  • In Real Democracy Now!, Nivek Thompson interviews Dr. John Gastil from The Pennsylvania State University, on the topic of the Legislature by Lot workshop that newDemocracy’s Lyn Carson and David Schecter participated in. The Real Democracy Now! podcast features interviews and discussion on all things democracy and deliberation, and can be found here.



newDemocracy on the road

The newDemocracy team continues to been on the road speaking at events at this end of the year. Iain Walker presented to ~50 councils at an Essential Services Commission event in Bendigo, looking at how they can incorporate principles of deliberation into their work with local communities when these are so different to metro councils (much smaller budgets, dispersed populations etc.). Iain’s talk here focused on the way in which newDemocracy works toward applying principles of deliberation – achieving public judgment rather than focusing on uninformed public opinion – not just a single jury model.

Iain also spoke at a seminar on deliberative democracy in local government hosted by the Electoral Regulation and Research Network at Victoria’s Parliament House. This is a topical matter for the Victorian Parliament, considering that the recent recommendations of the Greater Geelong Citizens’ Jury have been (mostly) passed into legislation, and applied at the recent council election. There has been debate inside and outside State Parliament about the role of citizens’ juries, including those stemming from a recent supportive article by Campbell Newman in The Australian.

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. It has quickly grown to over 200 members.

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.

What is democracy?

We write about it; we discuss it (endlessly!); we research it and try to reform it; we have even appropriated it into our name. Democracy. A word that everyone recognises but in fact are we referring to the same thing? Are we speaking the same language when we discuss Democracy?

Our office did an unscientific vox pop question exercise asking people to briefly explain what they understand by the term. The main themes that appeared are:

  • Cynicism in the implementation of the system

According to Henry, (39, painter and decorator): “Democracy is the illusion given to the general public that they “the people” have a say, and it isn’t a dictatorship.”

  • Democracy is elections and voting

According to Nick, (40, lawyer): “Democracy is/means universal franchise, free (as much as humanly possible) of corrupting factors that would hinder its exercise.”
Or for Alison, (business owner): “… it is having to vote for the least offensive Muppet on election day…”

  • Democracy is a means of fair representation for the majority

Kelvin, (79, retired accountant) expressed a common view:  “It’s going to be a cliché – government by the people for the people”.
According to Tina (14, student): “Democracy is where everybody gets a say in what happens and everybody gets a choice and opinion for the matter”.
What do you think Democracy means? We would love to get your views. I will end with my favourite reply from Dexter, 10 years old, and perhaps a future PM.
‘The government listens to The People instead of the other way around.’

– Manuela Epstein
newDemocracy Foundation Administration

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