The discussion on regulations that directly affect citizens, such as social scoring, algorithmic decision-making, and data protection, should not be confined to governments and tech industry actors. Instead modern participatory methods should be deployed to leverage the expertise of those affected by the decisions made.
The fact that some of these regulatory choices will be highly technical should not be used as an excuse not to engage the public in these choices. Citizens will be very directly affected by the regulation of major platforms and will be highly suspicious of government intervention in almost all circumstances.
The use of citizens’ assembly approaches can mitigate this suspicion. A citizens’ assembly is composed of a randomly selected panel of citizens who deliberate on an issue of public importance. Throughout the process — which normally involves multiple face-to-face meetings — citizens have time to learn about the issue at stake, consult experts, hear the different points of view on the issue, and take part in facilitated discussions. At the end of the process, which normally involves multiple meetings, citizens come up with decisions or a set of recommendations for the government. 22 Considering the complexity of issues at stake, and the major problem of making legitimate choices in this arena, governments should resist the temptation to limit their engagement practices to simplistic consultations restricted to online environments. Given the far-reaching consequences of decisions taken, any participatory process should be carefully designed to promote inclusiveness and informed judgment.
22: This has been the case for the Irish Citizens’ Assembly, in which 99 randomly selected citizens represent the broadest possible cross-section of the country’s population. The recent liberalization of Irish abortion laws largely covered by the international press was a recommendation made by the Citizens’ Assembly and a vital step for the reforms undertaken. ↩