A citizen's assembly is a group of "random" yet representative individuals former with the aim to deliberate on a specific issue of national interest, listen to the view of a broad range of "relevant" parties on the issue, and produce a conclusive answer to it. Some suggest a citizen's assembly is the only/best way to solve the Brexit deadlock (e.g. here).

Yet, there could be several reasons why such an assembly might fail. For instance, the selection of individuals could end up not being random. A prime reason for this might be self-selection. Although the demographics of the group might be representative, some pre-selected individuals might choose not to participate, because of lack of interest, because the issue is (considered) not relevant to them, or because of distance, or lack of material resources. Another reason could be that those who are called to present arguments to the assembly might not represent all the views (the linked article speaks of a liberal bias). These and other problems might indicate that the conclusion reached by the group might not truly represent that of the population.

So, the question I have is, do citizens' assemblies work? By work I mean, do they "truly" represent society? Is there any empirical evidence on this?

PS: someone might validly say that at least they represent it better than parliament/MPs.


Citizens' assemblies are actually quite common in the UK, the US, and any nation that has adopted common law procedure: a trial jury is precisely a group of arbitrarily chosen citizens tasked with making a specific public decision. And based on the extensive body of research into trial juries, we know that such juries, while imperfect — subject to a number of biases, manipulations, and weaknesses, including those mentioned in the question — generally make useful, effective, and correct decisions.

The reason trial juries are as effective as they are is mainly a matter of framing. Jurors are examined by so that people with extreme, 'die-hard' views are excluded; jurors are sworn in and instructed to make their decisions according to the weight of evidence; they are asked to decide on their own conscience, excluding outside influences. The result is that most jurors approach they question gravely, realizing that their decision will have a direct effect on the lives and well-being of a number of people. Most people will rise to the occasion when tasked with a significant and important role.

Citizens' assemblies for larger public issues have unique problems, having to do with scale and prominence. The more people involved in the assembly, the more likely the assembly is to break down into intellectually stale factions; the more public the decision process, the more likely that external influences and grandstanding will come into play. But if a properly grave and solemn frame can be established for the proceedings, then one-time citizens' assemblies for specific issues are a perfectly viable form of decision-making.

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