Here you can find answers to all the questions you might have about public consultation and the current crisis of our system of government.
What is a Citizen Cabinet?
Elected officials often have a ‘kitchen cabinet’ made up of various experts, industry and community leaders to act as informal policy advisors. The idea of a Citizen Cabinet is to give the people a greater voice by creating a large, scientifically selected, representative sample of citizens – several hundred in each Congressional district or state, and approximately 120,000 nationwide – to advise Members of Congress on an ongoing basis.
Members of the Citizen Cabinet agree to participate for 9-12 months and are provided Internet access if they don’t already have it. On a regular basis, Citizen Cabinet members go through an online “policymaking simulation” on a key issue Congress is facing. This includes being briefed on the issue, weighing pro and con arguments on the policy options Congress is considering, and finally making recommendations on what Congress should do. These policymaking simulations are developed with input from senior congressional staffers from both parties and outside experts, from across the political spectrum, to ensure accuracy and balance. Once Cabinet members complete these simulations, the results are then summed up and reported so that each Member of Congress can more clearly hear the views of the people in their own district or state, as well as the nation as a whole. All of the findings, and the details on how the policymaking simulations are conducted, will also be reported to the Executive Branch, the news media and the public in a fully transparent online process.
When fully established, the Citizen Cabinet will be operated by a congressionally-chartered National Academy for Public Consultation with bi-partisan oversight from a board made up of citizens, academic experts and former elected officials. In the interim, the Citizen Cabinet model will be built out in stages, state-by-state and with a smaller national sample, operated by VOP and the Program for Public Consultation, a research center affiliated with the University of Maryland, with bipartisan oversight and in close cooperation with Congressional staffers and other experts.
The entire Citizen Cabinet process will be managed by a National Academy for Public Consultation that will have a professional staff and be overseen by a bipartisan Board (much like a Blue-Ribbon Commission). All of the materials presented to the Citizen Cabinet will be subject to a review by a Republican and a Democratic pollster as well as the academic survey researchers of the Academy. The goal of the Citizen Cabinet process is not just to present a neutral set of facts, but to also give each of the major points of view a full hearing, as one would see in a debate or a trial. The materials will be developed in dialogue with elected officials and their staffers from both parties, key stakeholders, outside experts, and the public itself, to ensure that the key arguments are fully presented. The process will also be transparent: The content of the materials presented to the Citizen Cabinet will be available online for anyone who wishes to review them.
The members of the Citizen Cabinet will be similar to members of a Grand Jury; the names and addresses of the Cabinet members will be confidential. When members agree to join the Citizen Cabinet they will be told that no individual or organization is permitted to approach them with the purpose of influencing them. They will agree in advance to report any such contacts. Also, the sheer size of a national Citizen Cabinet makes it impractical for interest groups to be able to influence it to any meaningful degree.
In three key ways. First, in a standard poll the goal is to elicit opinions, irrespective of whether this opinion may be based on misinformation or might be so superficially held that it could be changed by the presentation of a key argument. The aim of a consultation is to give the Cabinet member enough information, and an opportunity to hear key arguments on both sides of the issue so that the conclusions they come to truly reflect their values and priorities. Second, for many key policy issues, most people do not have enough information to have a formed opinion. The Citizen Cabinet process gives respondents enough information and the opportunity to consider competing arguments so that they can meaningfully weigh in on these issues too. Third, most standard polls are conducted with a national sample that does not offer enough detail to give Members of Congress input about their own constituents. The Citizen Cabinet will be large enough so that Members of Congress will hear from a meaningful sample of the people from their district or state.
Why aren’t current methods, like letters and town hall meetings, adequate for the public to communicate with government?
Is the public really not being represented? Isn’t the government already doing what the public wants?
- The correspondence between national public opinion and federal government decisions has been declining over the last decades and is now barely better than mere chance
- The way specific Members of Congress vote has little correspondence to the majority views in their districts
- Policymakers often have a poor understanding of the views of the public in general and Congressional offices often have a poor understanding of the views in their own district
There can be no doubt that in order to achieve a judicious exercise of the power of taxation, it is necessary that the person in whose hands it is should be acquainted with the general genius, habits and modes of thinking of the people at large.
Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 35, January 5, 1788