May 12, 2013 7 Comments
As I announced last week, I’m going to be the Vice-Chairperson on the new Healthwatch Leeds Board. Our new chair, Linn Phipps, and myself will be the only appointed board members, ten more people will sit on our Board, and they will be appointed by sortition.
Continuing the conversation about how to ensure proper representation of the views of people in Leeds on the new Healthwatch Leeds Board, I thought I would blog about why I think sortition is the best method, and why we won’t be a membership organisation.
Sortition: what is it?
Lots of people aren’t aware of what sortition means. It’s more usually called “drawing lots”, and it’s familiar to lots of us as the way we might make a decision in a small group “drawing the short straw”. In effect, we’re all used to sortition, as all the people who “play the lottery” are actually participating in sortition!
Sortition first emerged in Athens, the birthplace of democracy, although we wouldn’t want to copy their model entirely, as they excluded all women and many men from their political process.
[The image above shows three men in ancient Greek dress who are holding placards that read "Power to the People!"]
Is sortition the fairest way to select for the Healthwatch Board?
The reason why I think sortition is a fair way to select people to represent views is accurately summarised by Oliver Dowlen in his article that is referenced in the Wikipedia definition of sortition:
Compared to a voting system – even one that is open to all citizens – a citizen-wide lottery scheme for public office lowers the threshold to office. This is because ordinary citizens do not have to compete against more powerful or influential adversaries in order to take office, and because the selection procedure does not favour those who have pre-existing advantages or connections – as invariably happens with election by preference. From an organisational point of view a citizen-wide lottery system gives all citizens an equal stake in the office in question and so defines the size of the active (or potentially active) citizen body
What this means is that by selecting our Board membership by sortition, everyone who puts themselves forward as a volunteer and potential Board member has an equal chance of selection. We don’t think that previous management experience, the number of non-executive directorships held, or our political affiliations are the most important qualities for our Board. What is necessary is that we are all engaged citizens who believe they have something to contribute about health and social care services.
Criticisms of sortition
One of the criticisms of sortition is that there may be some qualities that are necessary pre-conditions for people charged with making decisions, and sortition doesn’t favour anyones experiences over anyone elses. We disagree with this. We will be a fully inclusive organisation, and we will provide all the training and support to our Board to enable their participation: we believe that their lived experiences of using services, or caring for people who use services is far more important to or organisation than any previous Board level experience.
Is Healthwatch Leeds going to be a membership organisation?
Healthwatch Leeds believes that in order to represent the views of all the people of Leeds, we have to ensure there as few barriers to participation as possible. We think that by introducing membership, we would be putting an unnecessary barrier in the way of people who want to participate.
We regard all the people in Leeds to be “members” of Healthwatch Leeds, simply because we all use the services of Leeds: we will represent all of them, not just people who sign up as “members”.
All of our consultation events and engagement efforts must include all the people of Leeds, and we’re going to think hard about how to include everyone in this process. We think that the best way of ensuring that is to continue to ask people to get in touch and let the whole team know how best to go about meeting their needs.
What do you think about this? Are we demonstrating our values through this approach, or do you have a better idea?
Volunteering with @HWLeeds
A very exciting opportunity to volunteer with @HWLeeds is coming up in June: I’ll be blogging more about this nearer the time.
BBC History: Athenian Democracy http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/greeks/greekdemocracy_01.shtml
Dowlen, O. (2009), Sorting Out Sortition: A Perspective on the Random Selection of Political Officers. Political Studies, 57: 298–315. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9248.2008.00746.x [Available online, Accessed 12/05/2013.] See: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.14679248.2008.00746.x/abstract;jsessionid=51BF09AE268C11E0E88D1C88E7951DBD.d03t01
Healthwatch Leeds: Our new Chair http://www.healthwatchleeds.co.uk/news/article/our-new-chair-linn-phipps
Healthwatch Leeds: Our new Vice-Chair http://www.healthwatchleeds.co.uk/news/article/healthwatch-leeds-appoints-claire-jones-vice-chair
Healthwatch Leeds: Our Values http://www.healthwatchleeds.co.uk/content/about
Volunteer with Healthwatch Leeds http://www.healthwatchleeds.co.uk/news/article/volunteering-opportunity
Wikipedia: Sortition http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sortition