The main story is that regular folks became extremely motivated, worked hard, and became proficient about the topic of the proceedings. Thus, citizens have the capacity to shed their apathy, overcome their ignorance, and reason conscientiously about an unfamiliar and complex political issue.
It is important, however, to mention some caveats about the quality of citizen decision-making. First, competence is not easily achieved. It took a lot to improve citizen engagement and decisions: it took a multi-million-dollar almost year-long deliberative project to get participants to that point.
Second, competence is not easily sustained. One of the three citizen assemblies unfolded in a particular manner. … when the stimulus and the cognitive activation disappear, competence also fades.
Third, competence is not universal. Some assembly members were less competent than others. Even an extensive deliberative process does not wash out the disadvantages associated with a lack of resources and political sophistication. The initially better informed citizens exhibited more structured reasoning and consistency than the less informed. When dealing with complexity, some people are less well equipped, and we cannot completely compensate for these inequalities.
On the one hand, during extraordinary circumstances, collectives of ordinary people are indeed capable of giving guidance on the design of part of the democratic house in which they live. They can develop a profound understanding of a complex topic, they can evaluate options based on relevant principles, they can come to a decision that reflects their specific priorities, and they can avoid falling prey to biases and pressures.
On the other hand, all the effects we observed occurred in a particular context where motivated citizens were promised a powerful political role and were supported by a resource-rich and balanced infrastructure that promoted proficiency and diligence. Moreover, the positive effects hardly spilled over to the public at large. When individuals who had not benefited from the unique environment of citizen assemblies turned their attention to the same issue, the usual limitations surfaced. Most crucially, many voters lacked the contextual background information that could allow them to recognize the option that conformed to their interests.