Attendees at the 2018 Athens Democracy Forum had the opportunity to collaborate and craft concrete, creative, and actionable solutions to strengthen democracy through a shortened Citizens Jury-style process led by the Jefferson Center.
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Problems and Purpose
The Athens Democracy Forum is a yearly event bringing together journalists with business leaders, policy makers, and experts from around the world to discuss the state of democracy with a focus on solutions.
At the 2018 Forum, the challenges to democracy were clear against a backdrop of dropping trust in the media, partisan polarization, influence of money and special interests in politics, and much more. The Jefferson Center partnered with the Times at the Forum, where they invited all attendees to propose new ideas, insights, and solutions to the four major themes of the conference: the rule of law; identity, diversity and inclusion; the role of technology; and the responsibility of business.
Background History and Context
The New York Times has joined with the City of Athens and the United Nations to co-host the Athens Democracy Forum every year since 2012.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Jefferson Center led the Citizens Juries, and was assisted by facilitators from Involve, Missions Publiques, and the RSA.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Participants were Athens Democracy Forum attendees and topics were chosen by delegates during registration.
Methods and Tools Used
Following presentations by speakers, delegates were asked to participate in shortened, Citizens Jury-style workshops corresponding to these four themes. Although Citizens Juries typically last for multiple days, the process was condensed for the Forum, with the goal of giving attendees the chance to collaborate and craft concrete, creative, and actionable solutions to strengthen democracy.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
During registration, delegates had the chance to choose which workshop topic they wanted to explore further. After a brief introduction to how deliberation works, delegates, joined by columnists of The Times and members of the editorial board, were asked:
“What new ideas, insights, or solutions do you have for strengthening or advancing democracy based on what you have learned at the Athens Democracy Forum?”
They individually recorded their initial ideas on notecards, and then shared their thoughts, including challenges and corresponding solutions, in small groups. Delegates discussed the common themes that emerged among their groups, as well as any differences. Tables then collectively deliberated about, determined, and re-worked the solutions that they believed reflected the most promising ideas. Finally, groups shared two or three of these promising solutions with the entire room.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Their recommendations informed the “Talk with The Times” session the next day at the Forum, where senior Times journalists and editors assessed the findings and provided their own outlook on the state of democracy.
The incorporation of deliberation into the Athens Democracy Forum program is an important opportunity for democracy today: making a space for delegates to meaningfully discuss the themes highlights the Forum’s recognition of expertise not only among the usual experts, but the broader audience of Forum attendees. These deliberative workshops enabled attendees to encounter alternate points of view, identify shared values, and find common ground. Instead of only listening to presentations and panels, they had the unique chance to dig deeper, and meaningfully engage with what they had heard to create a unique set of solutions to strengthen democracy.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
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Athens Democracy Forum official website