Monday, October 22, 2012

One More on Fixing Democracy, Part 2

This is the next to the last in a series of posts on how to make our democracy work better based on an article, The Wisdom of Crowds, How to involve ordinary citizens in complex political decisions, by Marco Visscher, in The Intelligent Optimist magazine (formerly Ode).


“Over the years, these citizen panels, made up of 12 to 18 volunteers, have fueled debate inside and outside the Danish Parliament.  They’ve also inspired new legislation, including a ban on the use of DNA testing by employers and medical insurers. And the model has found its way to other countries, from South Korea to Zimbabwe. This fall, ordinary citizens will be consulted in anticipation of the U.N. conference on biodiversity.  According to Kluver, this proves that ‘citizen participation can, in fact, be brought to the global level as well.’


“The model has also been applied with illiterate farmers in India.  Plans by the Indian government to give biotechnology a prominent place in agricultural policy would have significant consequences for farmers in the state of Andhra Pradesh, yet they were not consulted. So in 2001, several NGOs decided to form a ‘jury’ of local farmers. For a week they discussed, based on expert interviews, the consequences of the government’s plans. The week resulted in a prajateerpu, or ‘people’s verdict.’


“P.V. Satheesh, director of the Deccan Development Society in Hyderabad, was there. ‘Great excitement was in the air,’ he remembers. ‘Never in their lives had the farmers been consulted on such issues to give a verdict as a jury. The farmers we had assembled didn’t have the social power to ask touch questions. They were very polite and asked questions softly and a bit circumspectly.’


“Nonetheless, a lobbyist for a seed breeder bellowed that he had come to give a presentation and ‘not to reply to your stupid questions.’ One government official refused to stand in front of the group of farmers and demanded a table and a chair.


“The farmers advised the government to put its biotechnology plans on hold. According to them, malnutrition in their region would decline only barely or not at all, while dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides would increase.  They called for self-sufficiency and a vision of agriculture that better embraced Indian values.”

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