Attempts to improve representative democracy usually involve the use of referendums or popular initiative. However, both are quite blunt tools as complex issues are reduced to a simple “yes or no” and often result in ambiguous results as is demonstrated by recent referendums in the Netherlands and the UK.
Though referendums and initiatives could be good at times, too often reality is not black-and-white, good or wrong. And more importantly referendums still leaves much power in hands of elected politicians. The recent brexit referendum is a good example of this. Though a (small) majority of voters choose to quit the EU, it is unclear what they want instead.
We propose in addition to an elected Senate to have panels of randomly selected citizens. Senators will be divided into several committees, preferentially by lot and with membership for only one year. There will be committees for different topics such as education, public health and national security.
Every Senate committee will be accompanied with a Citizens Panel. All proposed laws will be discussed by the appropriate committee and Citizens Panel. Both committee and panel members could propose amendments. Also should both Senate committees and Citizens panels have joint sessions.
In those joint sessions senators and citizens can discuss policies with each other. This way elected politician have to listen to the opinion of ordinary voters on issues. Simultaneously due to the direct involvement of citizens in public decision-making, public trust in the system should be improved.
Membership in a citizens panel is limited to one year and to one panel at a time. Of course, those panels will receive support from qualified civil servants and have access to all relevant documents. If necessary they can hear experts.
In regard to the selection procedure we propose the following. First randomly selected citizens will receive an invitation to join the panel. Invited persons are free to accept or decline. From those who accept the invitation the definite panel members are randomly selected. Members of citizens panels will receive a full salary as compensation for their involvement.
An important question is how many people should be in such citizens panel. At this moment we think that about fifty members per panel would ideal. This is large enough to get some representative sample of the population but small enough to allow a proper discussion.