Giving ‘We the People’ a Greater Voice
VOP seeks to give the American people a greater voice by:
- Creating Citizen Cabinets at the national, state and district levels–large standing panels comprised of a representative sample of the citizens in each jurisdiction, to be consulted on current issues, using new online interactive tools called ‘policymaking simulations’ to give voice to the people on an unprecedented scale; and
- Making these same online resources available to all Americans, so they can get better informed and more effectively communicate their views to their representatives.
How the Citizen Cabinets Will Work
The national Citizen Cabinet will consist of a base national sample of several thousand citizens, with state and district level Citizen Cabinets of at least 300 citizens each. These citizens are scientifically selected to be representative of each jurisdiction and are connected through an online interface. Each Citizen Cabinet member will serve for a period of several months, and Internet access is offered to those who do not already have it.
On a regular basis, members of these Citizen Cabinets go through an online public consultation exercise – called a ‘policymaking simulation’ because it simulates the process elected officials go through – on a pressing issue facing Congress. For each issue, Citizen Cabinet members:
- Get unbiased background information reviewed in advance by experts and congressional staff from both parties
- Hear competing policy options that are actually on the table and evaluate the strongest pro and con arguments
- Choose from a menu of policy options or go through an in-depth prioritization process that requires making trade-offs, such as creating a budget
Finally, the Citizen Cabinets’ recommendations are reported to their corresponding Members of Congress, the news media and the public in a fully transparent process that interest groups cannot distort.
All of the materials presented to the Citizen Cabinets—the briefing, competing arguments, and policy options—are vetted in advance by a bipartisan group of experts and available online for anyone to see. To provide more in-depth input from the public, in-person assemblies with discussion groups also will be conducted, to supplement the online consultation process.
In the start-up phase the Citizen Cabinets are being managed by the Program for Public Consultation, affiliated with the University of Maryland, in close consultation with Congressional staffers from both sides of the aisle, and with oversight of the bipartisan advisory board of VOP. Ultimately VOP seeks to establish a new Congressionally-chartered National Academy for Public Consultation that will develop and manage the Citizen Cabinets.
Enabling All Citizens to Get More Effectively Engaged
While members of the Citizen Cabinets are scientifically selected to be a representative sample of the public, VOP seeks to give all Americans the opportunity to use these same online interactive tools–getting briefed, weighing competing arguments and coming to conclusions on key policy options. We also make these tools available to schools, community groups and other organizations.
Citizens can more effectively engage on the issues and make recommendations to their representatives, as their input will be more informed and focused on the actual policy choices and tradeoffs Congress is facing.
Americans Support the Citizen Cabinet Model and Believe it Will Improve Government
In a recent poll an overwhelming majority of Americans supported the Citizen Cabinet idea, and said that with a Citizen Cabinet providing input, government would be more likely to:
- Show common sense;
- Move beyond polarization and gridlock;
- Find common ground and resolve political conflicts; and
- Serve the common good, rather than special interests.
Using New Technology to Fulfill the Founders’ Vision
The 21st-Century tools we have developed were not available to the Founders, but the Citizen Cabinet model embodies their vision for America. The first three words of the Constitution “We the People” reflect the Founders’ belief that government should be guided by “the sense of the people.” By this, they did not mean the people’s passions and misinformation; rather, as Alexander Hamilton said, “the cool and deliberate sense of the community…should govern.” This is just the kind of sensibility that the Citizen Cabinet process elicits, and is likely to foster a more civil and reasoned discourse on issues, as the Founders intended.
How Congress Will Benefit from Citizen Cabinets
The Citizen Cabinet:
- Gives Members of Congress a more accurate understanding of their constituents’ views, rather than relying on the unreliable impressions they get from letters and phone calls
- Provides public input that is directly focused on the actual policy choices Members of Congress are facing and help counter misinformation
- Helps Congress move through polarization and gridlock by giving voice to a public that is not as polarized as the forces that drive our current political climate
- Provides Members of Congress with reinforcement for making tough choices–allowing them to counter pressure from special interests and do what they believe is right with guidance from an informed public
- Help restore confidence in government by creating a highly visible forum in which government leaders are demonstrably listening to the people, setting a new model and positive tone for the relationship between the people and their government
As the Citizen Cabinets help Congress get things done and restore public confidence, Members of Congress and their staffs will find their government service more rewarding and do a better job representing the people.
Making it Happen
VOP is now operating Citizen Cabinet in several states and Congressional districts around the country, including: California, Florida, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia. VOP has already completed and released a series of policymaking simulations on topics like Social Security reform, the Iran nuclear negotiations, reforming the U.S. Postal Service and the federal budget. We are now developing simulations on additional topics, expanding the size of our national panel, and working to get Congress to formally establish a National Academy for Public Consultation to operate the Citizen Cabinets on an ongoing basis and to bring this successful model to a national scale. VOP is actively seeking contributions from individuals and foundations to support these efforts.
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I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Charles Jarvis, September 28, 1820