By the time you read this last week’s 2nd Summit for Democracy will have just been completed. Did you feel it was a decisive, action-led Summit which will make a significant practical difference to strengthening global democracy or did you log out on Friday with a hollow sensation of unfulfilment? The second equally important test is did the Autocrats observe the proceedings with a sense of fear and trepidation or a smirk of relief?
The dust has not settled yet but already the caravan has started up with the announcement that the 3rd Summit event has been announced for next year in South Korea. We need to pause and seriously reflect.
Should the Summit event be such an all consuming priority particularly if it continues not to be the place where serious decisions are made or endorsed. Perhaps the Summit should become that place but if not should more emphasis be placed on manifesting the global unity of democrats through a continuing Summit process throughout the year. This would turn the Summit into the permanent organisational structure that produces a stream of practical outcomes implemented in support of democrats across the world. This would require a means by which proposals from the Cohort structure, affiliated nations and elsewhere could continually go forward for decision and prioritisation .It would also mean creating a cohesive, relevant and nimble resourcing model out of the sclerotic labyrinth of historical funding which owes more to the cold war than as a modern response Autocracy’s new campaigns.
We will see if the apparent shift of emphasis within the Summit from the State Department to the US Agency for International Development [USAID] delivers the sharper policy and delivery edge that the times are crying out for.
The high hopes of last year’s 1st ever Summit for Democracy event did not quite materialise, it was one of the reasons that those connected globally with democracy’s success story-the 600 successful Citizens assemblies in recent times- got together and created the Summit’s newest Cohort on Deliberative Democracy and Citizens Assemblies [DDCA Cohort]. Having been working for a year now we hope that our efforts will have been backed by last week’s Summit in a concrete way and not merely been part of a passing contribution to a networking event. History has moved on in the last year not least in Ukraine and the threat to democracy from authoritarianism has no room for “business as usual “ from any of its main institutions. Getting together and meeting fellow democrats is always a good thing. However it should also be the place where our structures develop and change if they are to be able to tackle the mission set by President Biden “to meet the existential threat that Autocracy poses to Democracy”.
In our small but growing and innovative corner of democracy ,the DDCA Cohort -like many of the other Cohorts that we have spoken to- hopes that our year-round hard work can result in action. We made this clear in the ambition of “the deliverables” that we offered the 2nd Summit to act upon. We are led by two of the most successful deliberative organisations in the world -the Government of Ireland & the European Commission – and backed up by the lead NGO Australia’s newDemocracy Foundation .We are able to draw on the best deliberative expertise on the planet. We prioritized projects that we can all take forward with the backing of the Summit team and international partners once the Summit event has come and gone.
Many people legitimately feel that international and national institutions are distant and self-absorbed, and that they as citizens do not have a voice or power, in shaping the decisions affecting their lives. Trust in us and experts has been declining, misinformation and disinformation are prevalent, and political polarisation weakens our cohesiveness as societies.
To counter these factors the DDCA Cohort’s ambition is to spread interest in democracy’s most successful modern innovation – Citizens’ Assemblies. Randomly selected everyday people -microcosms of their communities or nations-get the chance to do “democracy in good conditions” and deliberate on issues with people different to themselves and work to find common ground solutions which can be implemented by our partners-the representatives that we elect. For further information on the work of the DDCA Cohort outlined below please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Our initial focus was to try to contact national governments to help them take a first step to adoption, with the goal of giving citizens the most visible and substantive role in public decisions. This exercise revealed big communication and data gaps in our organisations that need to be put right if coherent global progress is to be made.
National commitments on deliberation that we will continue to pursue include:
- A comprehensive program of informational workshops for elected representatives
2. Driving widespread adoption of the high quality guidelines for deliberation found in the OECD ‘Deliberative Wave’ report
3. Conducting in every country that wants one a national-level Citizens Assembly, as the cohort co-leads have successfully done.
‘Democracy’ seems all too frequently to be featured in news stories lamenting its decline and erosion. So another key objective has been to highlight that ways exist to reverse that narrative. Autocracy is global and so must be our deliberative democratic architecture. The Cohorts’ Working Groups will continue to press the Summit process however it is configured for more powerful and symbolic international institutions that we have been working on including:
1. A ‘Marshall Plan for Deliberative Democracy’ to roll out globally, starting with a program of support requested by the threatened new democracies in Eastern Europe.
2. Giving citizens a voice in the work of democracy and the Summit by creating a Global Citizens Assembly on Deliberative Democracy reporting throughout the year to the Summit.
3. Building a global “What Works” Centre on deliberation to network all the evidence and advice in the field for free to all nations and organisations who wish to take a deliberative step forward.
By developing deliberation and citizens assemblies the leadership and members of our Cohort working within the Summit process seeks nothing less than to renew our democracy so it is fit for the existential challenges ahead.
Autocrats fear two things the most, active and engaged citizens rebuilding trust and faith in their own democracies, and, a Summit for Democracy that consistently delivers hard outcomes to strengthen and evolve democracy.
This article was written by Graham Allen, Co-Founder of the Summit’s DDCA Cohort, and Convenor of the Citizens’ Convention for UK Democracy