Democracia, con Claudia Chwalisz

18 de abril de 2023 - 28 min escuchar

En este episodio, la presentadora Hilary Sutcliffe explora . . la democracia desde otro punto de vista. Para la mayoría de la gente, democracia significa elecciones, gobernar y, cuatro años después, volver a hacerlo. Claudia Chwalisz, fundadora y Directora General de DemocracyNext, tiene ideas diferentes. Su visión es la de una democracia mucho más "democrática", en la que los ciudadanos tengan voz y voto en la gestión de su país, y en la que incluso se pueda prescindir por completo de las elecciones y los políticos.

Chwalisz creó y dirigió anteriormente el trabajo de la OCDE sobre participación ciudadana innovadora, y es coautora del informe insignia de la organización"Innovative Citizen Participation and New Democratic Institutions: Catching the Deliberative Wave", que documenta más de 600 ejemplos de cómo los ciudadanos han dado forma a la toma de decisiones.

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HILARY SUTCLIFFE: Hello and welcome to From Another Angle, a Carnegie Council podcast. I am Hilary Sutcliffe, and I am on the Board of Carnegie Council's Artificial Intelligence & Equality Initiative. In this series I get to talk to some of today's most innovative thinkers, who take familiar concepts like democracy, human nature, regulation, or even the way we think about ourselves, and show them to us from a quite different angle. What really excites me about these conversations is the way they challenge our fundamental assumptions. Their fresh thinking makes me—and I hope you too—see the world in a new way and opens up a whole raft of possibilities and ways of looking at the future.

Today I am delighted to welcome Claudia Chwalisz, who I first met when she was working on the future of democracy at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). She now runs a research and action institute called DemocracyNext.

Unsurprising perhaps, we are going to be talking about democracy. We all know about democracy, right? You have elections, you vote for whichever politician seems likely to deliver what you want, someone wins, and then they get on governing until four years later, when you get to decide whether they did a good job or not, and you get another go. But Claudia has different ideas, how about a democracy that is, well, much more democratic than that and might even do away with elections altogether?

Welcome, Claudia, and thank you so much for coming to talk to us.

CLAUDIA CHWALISZ: Thank you, Hilary. I am delighted to be here. It is nice to have this chance to exchange on your podcast.

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: Shall we start by taking a look at what democracy actually means and where it came from? I was not really clear after all what democracy did mean. I think it has come to mean elections, but I was surprised to learn from your work how it has meant many different things to different societies over the years. Can you just give us a run-through about that?

CLAUDIA CHWALISZ: I think that is a good starting point for this conversation because it challenges our assumptions a bit. I think in the context of this wider democratic crisis there is a relative consensus that we are living in the notion of what democracy even is comes up a lot, and the notion of democracy as elections has become enshrined as though this is given. It is in the UN Declaration on Human Rights and it is the way that most people think about it, but actually if we take a step back in history it is very recently that this notion of democracy came to be associated with elections.

Elections are not anything new, by any means—they have always been around—but the ancient Greeks and at different points from then on elections were considered a form of oligarchy. It is only much more recently that we started calling them democratic. At this point, after the French and American Revolutions, when most of the institutions that we think of as representative democracies today were established, the architects of those institutions were actually designing them to be intentionally oligarchic, and the word "democracy" was never even used. It is only much later when suffrage started to spread that people started referring to this system as "representative democracy," and today we often just say "democracy" to talk about it, but that does not actually make it democratic.

I think this moment that we are in today causes us to reflect on this. The ancient Greeks referred to democracy as the sorts of institutions that were comprised of people who were actually selected by lottery in combination with institutions where participation was open to all. Of course at that time that was limited to men of a certain status, etc., but we can take that principle and the premise of it both in terms of the random selection by lottery and participation by all and think about how we apply that in a modern context today.

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: Very interesting because let's be honest. I am in the United Kingdom, you are in France, and obviously Carnegie Council is based in America, and democracy is not doing so well at the moment. It is not necessarily doing so well at the things that it aspires to do well with. Perhaps you could look for us at what it is about democracy that is not working in the current system and how your new ideas could make a new system that actually is more democratic than the elections we have come to know and think of as democracy in action.

CLAUDIA CHWALISZ: I think the sense of democracy not working is incredibly widespread. I actually came to all of this work through the research I was doing on populism and trying to understand the extent to which people's disillusionment with politics and with the system but also feeling like they did not have a voice or the agency to be shaping decisions that were affecting their lives was driving people toward populist parties and populist actors. Of course it is a complex phenomenon, so that is not the only thing, but it is a big part of that picture and it is related to those deeper underlying causes.

If that is the case, it is never going to be top-down decisions on the economy or anything else that gets to the heart of why people—I think very legitimately—feel like they are so far away from actually having control over their lives. There is a reason why phrases like "take back control" resonate with people too. Looking at this from this perspective I think that is why these different democratic innovations that are trying to create meaningful ways for people to be able to get involved in public decision making are having some resonance as a way to not just be treating the symptoms of these problems but actually those deeper underlying root causes of them.

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: Yes indeed, because I have spent the last three or four years looking at trust, particularly trust in governance. In my work on trust over the last few years I have noticed how inclusion, which is a fundamental driver of trust, has been at the root of people's confidence or lack of confidence with governance. Talking to your colleagues at the OECD, looking at how the parliamentary system and the policy system, is more effective if it is more inclusive seems to me to be a very interesting way forward. I know that you are talking to quite a number of governments who are much more open to giving up their power to citizens than I would have expected to have happen.

CLAUDIA CHWALISZ: Indeed. I think we often think of that trust problem as the issue is that people have lost trust in government, whereas actually I think it is just as much if not a bigger problem the lack of trust that government has in people. I think it is a self-reinforcing cycle in many ways. The way out of it is obviously something that will take some time because it takes time to genuinely build trust. There is no shortcut to doing that, as I am sure you know through all the work you have done on this topic.

There is no other way to do it besides governments actually creating these meaningful ways for people to be able to have a say in shaping decisions, and that is why this question of power, which is hard to talk about, is actually at the heart of all of this because it is only through demonstrating through actions and creating those genuine possibilities that things will ever really start to change.

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: I quote a lot the Global Satisfaction with Democracy 2020 report, which says that satisfaction with democracy is falling because citizens' expectations are not excessive or unrealistic but democratic institutions are falling short of what matters most for their own legitimacy, including—and we know this from the United Kingdom—probity in office, upholding the rule of law, unresponsiveness, and upholding the values of society, so democracy and elected democracy are not even doing the job that it is supposed to do very well, and the system itself is not upholding the values that they talk about in elections.

You have a vision and new ideas for a different type of system. Tell us more about that.

CLAUDIA CHWALISZ: It makes me realize I did not fully answer your previous question about what is not working. I started on one part of it, but there is actually a lot more, and that has to do with this concentration of power in the hands of a very few people and short-termism, which is ingrained in the design of a system that is run around electoral cycles that are on these short-term bases with campaigns starting a good year or more before the next election, so everything sort of stops. This has a detrimental effect not only on the incentives that drive the decision making that has to do with campaigning, lobbying, and receiving funds for all these things, but also has a detrimental effect I think on the actual quality of decisions and decision making not being optimized to bring out the collective intelligence of society and to put the public good first.

I suppose to come back to your actual question now about a vision for another kind of democratic future, to me this brings in these democratic principles of citizen participation, representation by lottery, and deliberation. I can maybe expand on that a little bit more so it sounds less abstract, if you like.


CLAUDIA CHWALISZ: Perhaps think of it this way. Imagine that today when you get home you receive a letter in your mailbox, and it is an invitation to be considered for your country's new executive assembly. Just like all the other people who received this invitation at random, if you choose to accept, it means putting your name in the hat for a second lottery to ensure that members of this top decision-making body will broadly and equally represent society's diversity.

Last year it was your partner who was invited to serve on the climate policy assembly, and what surprised them most was that after all of those deep-felt discussions the assembly was able to find common ground on difficult issues from energy sources and subsidies to renewables investment and extreme weather mitigation plans.

Just now your best friend is serving on the most recent judiciary selection commission, which was set up to take the partisanship out of the appointment of judges. Maybe many years ago it was your daughter who was serving as a member of legislative assembly.

Unlike jury duty anybody who is selected by lot to any of these assemblies is entitled to paid time off work to take up those civic duties—child care, transport, and other costs were all covered—and you receive a good state salary for your time, the same way that elected officials were once paid. The task on all these assemblies is to weigh evidence, to listen to one another, and to find common ground on our policy and legislative proposals. So rather than going to the ballot box once every five years there are regular lotteries for different assemblies all the time, and instead of parties and professional politicians it is ordinary citizens, people like me and you, your mum, your dad, sisters, brothers, friends, and colleagues, are the ones in charge, taking turns representing others and being represented.

This is the vision perhaps of what another kind of democracy that is not just all about elections could actually look like, thinking about this in the complex way that we actually have a whole set of different policy issues and public decisions to be taken and how could we reimagine another kind of democratic system that could have a different functioning logic putting forth the public good, acknowledging that people should have political equality, creating the conditions for people to be able to bring out collective intelligence but also to do that hard work of finding common ground. This is the vision for another kind of democratic future that we are working on at DemocracyNext.

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: It is very exciting. I have been involved in a number of public dialogues and advisory boards on various different subjects, and it has always surprised and shocked me how sensible these are. I might be frightened, thinking, Well, look, I don't want it all to be down to me, but actually that is not what it is about. It is the process, and I think one of the things is the process of democracy now is actually undemocratic, and this process is democratic.

There is a great quote on a website for Involve, this super organization in the United Kingdom, that says, "Policymakers think that engagement is all about getting shouted at in church halls and it is already frightening," but actually when they are involved in serious processes like citizens' assemblies and citizens' juries, they really, really see the legitimacy and effectiveness of these processes, which is much more effective than shouting at each other in Parliament from our little perspectives and not budging an inch. These processes are quite fluid.

I am just thinking of one I did on a quite complicated science subject. People can get their heads around complicated scientific subjects and come up with regulation in this case that was proportionate, sensible, and actually avoided all of this you/me push-pull, capture by industry, all of the things that make part of this democratic decision making ineffective, unhelpful, and unrepresentative.

CLAUDIA CHWALISZ: Completely. I am fully with you on this. We have so many examples from around the world on citizens being able to deliberate on all sorts of different complex policy issues from technical things around artificial intelligence regulation to urban planning decisions and long-term infrastructure investment plans, how should we regulate the big tech companies, all sorts of different issues—Should we change the Constitution on abortion? Should we change the Constitution on same-sex marriages?—ranging from these more high-level moral dilemmas to also what are considered technical issues around climate change policy, adaptation, and so on.

It is about designing and creating these conditions for people to have the time and the resources to be able to grapple with that complexity of the issues and also have that time to be able to listen to one another and have the time to deliberate because again there is no shortcut to trying to find some middle ground or some common ground on these complex issues where there is not one "right" answer, but it is something we need to decide together as a society because these are ultimately all political issues.

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: Absolutely. At your launch actually, your colleague Art O'Leary was talking about working in Ireland that a lot of the issues facing policymakers today are not black and white. It is all shades of gray. I like the quote, "Every political system needs to see this as a way of getting hard jobs done." Those jobs are about societal values: How do we do this? How do we make these trade-offs? This is the best way of getting these things done rather than the guys—let's be honest—in Parliament in some back room figuring out and being lobbied by various different sorts of vested interests and then something comes out of the sausage machine and we do not know what it is about.

I like this idea that this new approach is about "getting hard jobs done." Tell us some of the examples that you have heard about some hard jobs, really innovative, interesting ways of doing something that would not have resulted in a societal consensus in any other way.

CLAUDIA CHWALISZ: Indeed. I think before sharing one or two examples, which is the best way, I do want to make it clear that there are actually hundreds of examples. At the OECD we looked at 600 of these deliberative assemblies, so citizens' assemblies, citizens' juries, or panels—they go by different names—all these processes that have in common the fact that people are randomly selected to be broadly representative and have the time to grapple with decisions and have to work toward common ground on their shared recommendations. These have ranged from urban planning to climate change to infrastructure and so on, but I think some of the most powerful come from Ireland actually. You made reference to this earlier.

It has been a decade that Ireland has been using citizens' assemblies on an ongoing basis at the national level. One of the best-known examples is the citizens' assembly they had about changing the Constitution around abortion. This took place during a process they were doing between 2016 and 2018. There were a hundred people randomly selected representing that diversity of Irish society. They heard from lots of different experts on the issue but also advocates from both sides of it, they heard from people with lived experience, they listened to one another, and they recommended that Ireland should change the Constitution on abortion, but they also made more nuanced recommendations about if people were to vote for this change, how should the legislation change, so going into more nuanced discussions about under what conditions and when, etc.

Those are those tricky dilemmas where there is no "right" answer in a way, so it is not just a black-and-white or yes-or-no question about abortion, yes or no, it is actually again in those shades of gray so somebody did recommend there should be a referendum, which did take place, and the Irish public voted in favor of constitutional change, and it is one of four constitutional referendums that have taken place after citizens' assemblies have recommended them. The other ones were on same-sex marriage, divorce, and blasphemy.

The most recent citizens' assembly on gender equality that took place last year also had a whole host of different recommendations, and actually the citizens' assembly on biodiversity loss also recommended a constitutional referendum, which read, "Give nature the same rights within the Constitution." It has not been decided yet whether that will actually happen, but this is just to say that there has been this great diversity of issues, also including climate change, devolution of power, and a whole host of different issues that have been tackled in this way.

You mentioned this quote by Art O'Leary. This was actually in reference to how Irish society views these citizens' assemblies. People in Ireland see citizens' assemblies as the way to get hard stuff done.

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: It is astonishing. I remember reading about another example in Taiwan, the vTaiwan process, which is online and offline, and how they for four years were trying to do online alcohol regulation the hard way and then they did a collaborative process with citizens, and it took four months, everybody agreed, the Parliament agreed, and it was done. People think of these deliberative processes as incredibly long and tortuous, but they actually can shortcut processes and have things done with greater legitimacy in a shorter time, which I was quite surprised by, to be honest.

CLAUDIA CHWALISZ: There is often this notion that citizens' assemblies are so time-consuming, to take six months on an issue, but actually they are often unblocking problems on which politicians have been stuck and doing nothing sometimes for years or decades, so I think we need to look at it in this bigger picture.

For instance, now there is a citizens' assembly at the national level taking place here in France around end-of-life issues, euthanasia, assisted dying, again, not an easy dilemma, and it is something that has been in the wider political debate for many years, and citizens are now meeting over the course of nine weekends between December and March to come up with recommendations for how to move forward on this issue. So it might seem like, yes, a long period of time, but it is also a complex issue. They are actually spending more time deliberating and examining it from all angles than most politicians spend on issues they are legislating on as well. So it is also, what is the point of comparison here too?

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: That is interesting. I talk to policy people on and off, and I am always a little bit horrified at how un-deliberative it is and how quickly they have all got to do it and how little thought in some ways goes into quite difficult decisions. I hear that these processes are actually something that policymakers are saying, "Actually it does give us legitimacy, actually it is not all my problem." In that case it is something that they can feel gives their job legitimacy.

You have got even more adventurous ideas than having policymakers use these processes as part of the democratic deliberations of elected parliaments. You are thinking of doing away with elections altogether. Tell us about how that is going to work.

CLAUDIA CHWALISZ: I think that is the black-and-white way of putting it. It also exists in some shades of gray. What I am working on and what we are thinking about at DemocracyNext is trying to open up an imagination to what another democratic future could look like in the longer term and in the bigger picture, really questioning the centrality of elections in that, so perhaps there are still elections, but maybe they do not play that central role of defining what our system is today and defining what we consider as democracy.

If we look back at different points in history, if we go back to Athens, which some people might be more familiar with, there was some form of elections, but that was not the defining feature of the system. That functioned together with different assemblies that were selected by lottery and different assemblies that were open to participation by anybody.

I think we need to examine this in a contemporary context today, for the 21st century, but I think there are a lot of historical examples and a lot of good contemporary examples, like the ones we have been talking about, which show us that there could be another democratic way that maybe does not involve elections or even political parties. We do not have all the answers of what that looks like, but it is a bit of an exploration of what could we imagine this being and then doing some more pragmatic work into rethinking how parts of the system today are working.

For example, one of our strategic areas of work is around urban design and planning decisions. These take place on a continual basis. At any one moment in time there are often a hundred different planning decisions going on in a city, so how could you actually rethink a system that involves people in a meaningful way as being the decision makers of those decisions that are affecting their everyday lives literally on the street, creating a way for them to be able to weigh the trade-offs, get past the NIMBYyism ("not in my backyard") which everyone talks about everywhere, and get to another system that is genuinely democratic and where we could be starting to see how this could function in a different way for one part of this wider ecosystem of decisions, if that makes sense.

There is both the big-picture vision and then a more pragmatic route of thinking, What are the ways in which we can explore getting there?

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: Absolutely that makes sense. This is what this podcast is all about, Claudia—I am so glad to have you on—looking at the world in a new way, opening up new possibilities and new ways of looking at the future. Thank you for doing exactly what I hoped.

Tell us, what can people do who are interested in learning more about this? How can they get involved in different countries, and where can they go for more information, which we will put in the notes below this podcast?

CLAUDIA CHWALISZ: It is a good question, and I hope this has inspired some people to be interested in these questions.

I am going to steal what I think is a good end-of-conversation thing from Baratunde Thurston. There are three different things he gets people to do at the end of his podcasts. One is to internally reflect: What do you think it would feel like to live in another kind of democracy that does not necessarily have elections, just to think about it? What could that feel like?

Another is then to become more informed. If you are interested in this, perhaps check out the DemocracyNext website, maybe you look into the OECD report, "Catching the Deliberative Wave." Look up some of the research that is happening in this area. We posted a whole bunch of links also to other people's research through our link tree, so it is not just about promoting our own material here.

The next is to publicly participate in some way or other. There is this international network called Democracy R&D, and it has a network of practitioners and deliberative democracy organizations in different countries around the world. Perhaps if you are interested in your country, you can see what is the local organization doing work there that you could contact.

Otherwise, I would encourage people to sign up for the DemocracyNext newsletter because we are developing how we are going to set up a community of people who are interested in these ideas in different ways. We are still in the planning phases of this, but we feel like there is so much interest internationally but also just among people who are interested in this as citizens as well and not necessarily as people who are policymakers, et cetera. We want to find a way to channel that energy, to bring people together, and to help enable others to bring forth this work in different ways. We will share updates about that and other things we are doing work on in the newsletter as well.

HILARY SUTCLIFFE: That is fantastic. Claudia Chwalisz, thank you so much for envisioning this very exciting future for us, and I hope the listeners will get stuck in and make the world more democratic.

CLAUDIA CHWALISZ: I hope so too. Thank you, Hilary, for hosting this. It has been a pleasure.

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Carnegie Council para la Ética en los Asuntos Internacionales es una organización independiente y no partidista sin ánimo de lucro. Las opiniones expresadas en este podcast son las de los ponentes y no reflejan necesariamente la posición de Carnegie Council.

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