Ad hoc, randomly selected, well-informed citizen deliberative councils like Citizens Juries, Citizen Assemblies, and Consensus Conferences have been used hundreds of times around the world to provide policy guidance to public officials and the citizenry. The U.S. lags far behind in their use.
These similar approaches all enable a microcosm of a country or community to generate informed public judgment about specific issues.
They are not legislatures. They are temporary councils, more like juries, but they deliberate on public issues rather than private guilt, and they are far more actively engaged in becoming informed than any jury can be. They get professional help in hearing each other and creatively deliberating.
As with juries, random selection (a) creates greater diversity than one finds in a legislature, (b) makes it much harder for corrupting influences to skew the results, and (c) levels the conversation with an assumption that all participants are peers. Also like a jury, a citizen deliberative council disbands as soon as it completes its work.
These councils can be used for any number of purposes -- to recommend solutions, to evaluate proposed legislation or ballot initiatives, to evaluate the performance of public officials or interview politicians seeking election, and more. They are useful wherever a dependable, informed, reflective non-partisan (or "transpartisan") "voice of the whole" is desired. Their recommendations can be advisory, or a mandate, or they can be put to a vote by the electorate.
A related process, a citizens' Wisdom Council, could serve as an annual "state of the union address" by a group of randomly selected citizens officially convened for the purpose. They would not be assigned an issue to deliberate, but would have a creative conversation for several days and come to consensus conclusions they would then share with the country. Whatever they came up with would certainly stimulate much discussion!
The point I would like to raise in this proposal for discussion is that randomly selected councils of citizens can, under the right conditions, generate far wiser recommendations than vast dialogue and deliberation programs involving thousands or millions of people. Random selection -- sortition -- was the foundation of Athenian Democracy. Well designed microcosms can be more demographically representative of a whole community than a self-selected group or an elected legislature -- although all three forms have their democratic roles. Perhaps most important in these times of tight budgets, government resources -- organizational, informational and facilitation -- can be more focused, resulting in higher quality outcomes at less cost.
This approach can also complement broader community or national dialogues. The special outcomes of citizen deliberative councils can be fed into the more broadly participative dialogues and deliberations proposed here by others. The outcomes of citizen deliberative councils add a totally new voice -- the voice of the whole -- to the usually partisan public discourse we think of as democracy.
For more information on this approach and links to the various related practices, see http://www.co-intelligence.org/CDCUsesAndPotency.html.