Strengthening public policy through the random recruitment of public officials

Crawford School of Public Policy

Event details


Date & time

Tuesday 20 September 2016


Brindabella Theatre, Level 2, JG Crawford Building 132, Lennox Crossing, ANU


Dr Oliver Dowlen, University of London, UK.


Yanhong Ouyang

The practice of selecting public office holders by lottery was the mainstay of the ancient Athenian city state. It was also widely used in late medieval Europe, especially in Italy. It survives mainly in the form of the randomly-selected jury.

This presentation shows how we can achieve a better understanding of why this mechanism was used and just what it has the capacity to bring to the modern state.

Not only can this method of selection be used to generate greater citizen participation in modern politics, but the nature of the selection process itself can bring certain benefits to public life. Because it inhibits the ability of political actors to exercise the power of appointment it could be especially valuable in areas of government where greater impartiality, greater accountability or more transparency is needed.

The talk presents a brief history of random recruitment, theoretical principles that could guide its application and a discussion of a number of possible future applications. These include secret-service monitors, members of citizens parliamentary groups and citizen groups charged with overseeing the effectiveness of public transport.

Oliver Dowlen is a scholar specialising in the random selection of citizens for public office. After working as a teacher and practitioner in the arts, he took apart time MPhil in Politics in 1999 at the University of Hertfordshire and then a full-time DPhil at New College, Oxford, graduating in 2007. The subject for his MPhil was Marx’s Concept of Alienation. For his doctorate, however, he investigated the political value of selecting citizens for public office by lottery. His doctoral thesis was joint winner of the Sir Ernest Barker prize for best thesis in political theory for 2006-7; it has since been published (The Political Potential of Sortition, Imprint Academic 2008). In recent years he has been joint organiser of the CEVIPOF seminar series on the political use of sortition funded by Sciences Po, Paris. In October 2012 he took up an ISRF Early Career Fellowship at Queen Mary College, London to study the benefits of using randomly-selected citizens in transitions to democracy. In early 2015 he affiliated with Sciences Po in Paris as a Chercheur Associé. He has recently been awarded a grant from the Australian newDemocracy Foundation to complete a feasibility study into a scheme involving randomly-selected citizens at constituency level in the contexts of both the UK and Australia.

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