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Mini-Publics: The Future of Democracy or Democracy Theater? Reviewing the Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review

10/15 Thursday | 5pm

RSVP is required. Please RSVP here.

The Future of Democracy Working Group at the Institute for Public Knowledge and The GovLab at NYU Tandon invite you to a conversation between John Gastil and Jonathan E. Collins about the promise and perils of mini-publics.

Healthy Democracy, a US-based nonpartisan nonprofit, developed the Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR) process, which brings together panels of randomly selected and demographically balanced voters — also known as mini-publics —  to fairly evaluate ballot measures. The Oregon legislature authorized the first official CIR pilot in 2009. Two years later, Oregon became the first jurisdiction to adopt the CIR into law.

There are two questions that we as Americans need to answer before investing more time and capital into mini-publics — those institutions in which a diverse body of randomly-selected citizens reason together about an issue of public concern (Oxford Handbooks Online):

  1. Do they deliberate competently, yielding a well-informed and thoughtful statement for others to digest?
  2. If those statements are given to the general public, do they have any impact? Or do pre-existing biases blind people to new and impartial information on the issues appearing on their ballots?

In this conversation, we discuss the future of mini-publics and the spread of deliberative processes that link small-group deliberation to larger public processes, such as initiative elections.

For more background on the Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review ahead of the event, check out Dr. Gastil’s new book with Katie Knobloch from Oxford U. Press, Hope for Democracy: How Citizens Can Bring Reason Back into Politics, which showcases the encouraging results of the Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review and other democratic reforms.

Jonathan E. Collins is an Assistant Professor of Education at Brown University. His research examines how democratic processes can improve the educational experiences of students in low-income and minoritized communities, as well as the ways in which people of color, particularly African Americans, engage with American democracy. His research has been published in Political Behavior, the Urban Affairs Review, Politics Groups & Identities, the Journal of Urban Affairs, Local Government Studies, and the Harvard Journal of African American Policy. He has also had public commentary published in the Washington Post and Education Week.  Collins is the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards including the Urban and Local Politics Section of the American Political Science Association’s Susan Clarke Young Scholar Award, the Brown University Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship, and the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation’s Democracy Fellowship. Collins was also selected as a “40 Under 40 Emerging Civic Leader” by the Los Angeles Empowerment Congress.

John Gastil (PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison) is Distinguished Professor in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences and Political Science at the Pennsylvania State University, where he is a senior scholar at the McCourtney Institute for Democracy. Gastil’s research focuses on the theory and practice of deliberative democracy, especially how small groups of people make decisions on public issues. The National Science Foundation has supported his research on the Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review, the Australian Citizens’ Parliament, American juries, and how cultural biases shape public opinion. His most recent books are Legislature by Lot (Verso, 2019) with Erik Olin Wright, Hope for Democracy (Oxford, 2020) with Katherine R. Knobloch, and the novel Gray Matters (John Hunt, 2020).

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