What if democracy was RAPID?

This is a really raw thought, but I’ve been mulling some great conversations with the likes of Tim Hughes (Involve), Graham Allen (ex MP who’s plotting a Citizens’ Convention), Claudia Chwalisz (OECD and author of The People’s Verdict), Mark Cridge (CEO of mysociety), Elena Bagnera (Centre for Public Impact) and others that I’ve had over the last few weeks — and I’ve got a bit of an idea I wanted to put forward.

Like I say, very raw, so please comment/challenge/build. It might be nonsense, so I’m giving myself 30 minutes to write this and won’t spend a minute longer.

The background thinking is a combination of two questions:

  1. How could we build on the processes of deliberative democracy to create something that has the potential for real scale and diversity of the modes of participation people are capable of, and visibility?
  2. Why does the old trope of “government should be more like business” keep coming back (like here, for example), and why does it always mean “government should be more like business c.1900” when actually the best businesses have changed completely?

That combo made me think of the RAPID model that Bain & Company developed in the early 2000s, which breaks down the process of decision making into five component parts, and suggests that each is best suited to different participants.

Source: Bain and Company

So what I’m thinking is, what if you split out the roles of decision making in democracy more clearly across the people you need to involve (just like businesses do)?

What I’m hoping is this might provide a framework — or at least a hint towards one — that could make clearer how different modes of participatory democracy could hang together as a whole that’s more than the sum of the parts of open policymaking, deliberative democracy, representative democracy, and so on…

My first thoughts on how it might be applied:

Input comes first — this is where you’re looking for as many ideas, options and approaches as you can possibly gather for how to address a particular issue. This doesn’t require representative samples — you want everyone who has something they want to contribute to be able to put it in there. This really lends itself to open online processes and tools like the Citizens’ Foundation’s Your Priorities platform, which powers Better Reykjavik among other things, or the way Mexico City crowdsourced possible items for its constitution, or in a slightly different role, platforms like Kialo which structure constructive conversations that might lead to ideas.

Then Recommend. For me, this is where long-form (or indeed short-form) deliberative processes really come into their own. They have to be representative, so you really need sortition-based recruitment. I tend to side with fans of longer forms (like Claudia here) that let people really get into it — and I think maybe this could be interesting in tandem with the above, as a porous process that lets the ideas of the people come in throughout…

Then there’s Decide. This is the place where the elected representatives still sit, and still matter. But if they don’t go with the recommendation, they need a clear reason why not. In certain circumstances, this might be the appropriate role for referenda.

Agree is then the role that elections should be playing, and maybe a better way of conceiving of them than we have today. In this role, elections would be thought of as a process of accountability to the public by way of a crowd version of a board of directors; not public as employees given the opportunity to choose our leaders, which is more how it feels to me today.

And finally, Perform, which I guess is probably the Civil Service — but with the public as facilitators and enablers, rather than for the public as service delivery, which is something we’re thinking about a lot…

Imagine if Britain’s relationship with the EU were being developed by this process, starting back in 2015. Open input as to how the relationship might best have been structured, followed by or in parallel with sortition-based deliberative process (perhaps initially to identify negotiation priorities), and only then a referendum… It’s maybe not an idle reflection that the Irish referendum (as brilliantly reported by Fintan O’Toole here) looks a lot more similar to this…

Like I say, I want to be really clear that I don’t know if this is a particularly useful contribution — but light references in conversation seemed to spark interest, so I thought I’d at least get it down.

Build/harpoon away.



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Jon Alexander

Jon Alexander


Co-Founder, New Citizenship Project and Author, CITIZENS: Why the Key to Fixing Everything is All of Us