What if citizen participation in policymaking led to better policies and to increased engagement in politics?
Projects and organisations which inspired us Nikolay had long been disengaged from politics. Qualified but underemployed, he was absorbed by the rise of right-wing populism in the early 2020s. Before long, however, he came to see that beyond the slogans the populists had little to offer, but he still didn’t trust the established political system.
The reactionary politics of the late 2010s and early 2020s had been replaced by a more progressive politics, leading, among other things, to the introduction of the four day week, and in turn a more equitable distribution of work and more good jobs for all. Having personal experience of the hardships of bad working conditions, he was particularly interested to find himself called up to the citizens’ jury process, or “Qarar”, on new regulations to improve security for freelancers and gig workers.
Reading through the invitation email, he finds that he will be required to participate in the Qarar one day a week for the next three months. Because the Qarar day falls on one of his usual work days, he’ll be compensated for his lost earnings and his employer will receive financial support for a temporary replacement.
Over the past decade, citizen juries have moved from the fringes to the mainstream at local, national and European level, largely as a response to rising disengagement from politics and realisation that policies were better, and more legitimate, when citizens were involved in shaping them. The jury Nikolay has been called to is a national one. As it would be unfeasible for him and 49 other jurors to travel to the debating chamber once a week, they will join using a VR headset.
Logging into the Qarar on the first day, the format is explained. Experts from all sides of the debate will give evidence. They’ll hear from economists, company bosses, employees, freelancers, academics and others with informed contributions to offer. Speeches will be automatically transcribed for later reference, and jurors will be able to publicly note questions they’d like to ask during and after the testimonies.
Because there are 50 jurors, they are informed that not every question can be answered. Rather, an AI facilitated system will synthesise the questions to bring them together into themes. Jurors will confirm that the synthesis is accurate before the questions are formally posed, though the natural language system has proven to be pretty effective so far.
Just like the evidence from the expert witnesses, the jurors’ deliberations will be made public. While the expert witness contributions will be live streamed, in order to protect privacy and encourage honest and frank deliberation, the jurors’ conversations will be released as anonymised transcripts after the event. The intention is full transparency in lawmaking. It also allows the public to ask questions of the jurors about the way they’re coming to their decisions, both during sessions and in between weekly sessions.
To test the opinions the jurors are developing against those of the wider public, Qarar’s AI tool will gather and collate their ideas. Key statements will be developed and members of the public can respond on online polls, using a slider to say whether they agree or disagree. Demographic data is also gathered, using differential privacy technology to ensure anonymity, and to make sure that particular groups aren’t dominating the outcome. In most cases, the jury’s decision will be final but this process ensures that the jury’s approach reflects feeling in the wider public.
Over the three months, the jurors work on a system for employee security in the gig economy. Nikolay feels proud of the work they have done. He doesn’t agree with every aspect of the new approach, but he recognises the efforts made to reach consensus and, like the other jurors, he thinks that overall the approach is a good one.
The final step is to watch as the system gets incorporated into national law. The government is not required to accept every decision made through the Qarar, but in cases where it disagrees it must set out its reasons for disagreement and the evidence that they’re based on.
In most cases, though, the government implements the decisions of the jury. Each decision is broken down into a series of actions with deadlines for each. Jurors and the public at large can monitor progress on the Qarar’s public platform, and call for explanations if deadlines are being missed or a new approach is needed.
Scrolling through six months after the jury ended, Nikolay feels pleased to see a series of green traffic lights next to the key actions, indicating that the legislation should be in place by the end of the year. He’s also surprised himself by how much more engaged he is in politics overall, joining debates, and responding to Qarar’s platform’s online polls.