World Citizen Parliament

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)

Economic inequality is steadily rising worldwide: Nearly everywhere the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Although the world's economy has grown considerably over the past few decades, half of the world's population subsists on less than $2 (US) per day. At the same time, meaningful representation among the world's population is steadily declining. This lack of representation results from — and engenders — increasing power and diminishing accountability of the world's corporate and governmental institutions.


The social world as it now exists: vast needs — and intriguing possibilities — for citizen engagement with global affairs. The United Nations is an assembly for the world's nation's. Business, likewise, has an incredible assortment of institutions and events such as the World Economics Forum, the Chamber of Commerce, etc.


"The tremendous growth in the commitment to, and practice of, democracy in domestic settings juxtaposed against globalization's large-scale transfer of political decision-making to international institutions has made the almost complete lack of democracy at the international level the most glaring anomaly of the global system today." — Andrew Strauss

Richard Falk and Andrew Strauss have explored the possibility of a "Global Parliament" for several years. It is their work which inspires this pattern and many of the ideas advanced in this pattern originated in their writings. Disclaimer: The concept of a "Global Peoples Parliament" comes from Richard Falk and Andrew Strauss. The version advocated here is not "official" (nor authoritative).

Civil society is obligated to create institutions that are strong enough to challenge other organization -- governments, businesses, criminal groups, extremists -- but not on their terms.

This pattern has only partial analogs in the "real world." This is due, generally, to the extremely broad scope of its coverage — it is supposed to address all of the world's inhabitants! The very fact of globalization provides the most solid support (and for the need) of the World Citizen Parliament pattern. Smaller versions that approximate some aspects of this pattern do, of course, exist, and we can learn a lot from these experiments as we attempt to cultivate and grow democratic forms that are more wide-ranging. The European Parliament may be the most prominent example of a large civic society institution whose representatives are democratically elected by people from various countries.

This pattern is related to INDEPENDENT REGIONS, the first pattern in A Pattern Language. Alexander was striving to identify the right level of autonomy based on "natural limits to the size of groups that can govern themselves in a human way." Metropolitan regions will not come to balance until each one is small and autonomous enough to be an independent sphere of culture. That pattern's solution states that, "Wherever possible, work toward the evolution of independent regions in the world; each with a population between 2 and 10 million; each with its own natural and geographic boundaries; each with its own economy; each one autonomous and self-governing; each with a seat in a world government, without the intervening power of larger states or countries."

Alexander's pattern and ours have similarities and differences. Both presuppose an increased voice of the citizen through additional opportunities for participation and new collective bodies that are independent from governments as they now exist. At first glance the two approaches might seem incompatible — Alexander's pattern does not call for an all-citizen's body nor does this pattern mention autonomous regions. The parliament concept, however, does not rule out autonomous, independent regions per se, only that individual people would have a forum for addressing issues was outside of their independent region — or what looks very much like a country but with new boundaries that better reflected cultural and natural boundaries (which does little or nothing about addressing the realities of various cultural or ethnic or religious groups "stranded" behind redrawn boundaries). Moreover, the state conceptualized in Alexander's pattern could actually be attained in a more "natural" evolutionary way through this pattern.

Developing a top-down approach is neither viable nor consonant with the principles of civil society. This leaves us with the option of developing principles and ideas that are we believe are at the core of what a federation should be and allows the parliament grow or evolve, built from the seeds that we envision today. This envisioned global federation would then become a type of ecosystem for collective bodies. [Ideally it would be principled and explicitly cooperative -- but how to ensure? At the same time we would need to ensure that it doesn't become just another arena for people to exploit for their own interests. Use the Commons ideas from Bollier, Ostrom and others, for one thing. The World Social Forum provides many important ideas about how this could be accomplished. What distinguishes this from how things exist already is an explicit declaration and decision to participate in the project, to share information with others and to communicate with other collectives in the federation.

Collective groups are generally composed of people in a geographically delimited area (some of whom have passed certain formal requirements for membership and attained the status of citizen), of people with similar professional interests (e.g. medical associations or labor unions), or social aims or philosophy (American Civil Liberties Union, American Rifle Association, etc. )

The draft statement that I proposed at the Online Deliberation Conference / Directions and Implications of Advanced Computing Symposium, Stanford University, on May 22, 2005, sums up the important aspects of this pattern.

In many places attempts are being made to trivialize citizenship and reconstitute citizens as (everyday) consumers and (sporadic) voters. Real power is in many ways being transferred to large corporations and other unelected organizations such as the World Trade Organization.

Realizing the growing and critical importance of citizens and civic society in addressing humankind's common problems, we the undersigned propose the initiation of a "Grand Challenge" whose ultimate objective is the development of a World Citizen Parliament. We realize that this is an extremely complex project that will require years of complex, nuanced, creative and thoughtful negotiation and collaboration. We are aware that this project will have to address an extremely broad range of social and cross-cultural factors. We, however, believe that beginning this discussion in an explicit and open way is preferable to many other varieties of globalization that lack this transparency.

Moreover, we realize that precisely defining an ideal system in advance is impossible. For that reason, we propose to begin a principled, long-term, incremental, participatory design process that integrates experimental, educational, community mobilization, research and policy work all within a common intellectual orientation: specifically to provide an inclusive intellectual umbrella for a diverse, distributed civil society effort. We realize — of course — that this is an audacious proposal. However, we agree with Richard Falk, that a parliament or forum like this is critical for the future of humankind and our planet. Civil society historically is the birthplace of socially ameliorative visions. This effort is intended to help build a more effective platform for these efforts, to help address humankind's shared problems — such as environmental degradation, human rights abuses, economic injustice and war — that other sectors — notably government and business — are seemingly powerless to stem.

Ultimately we would expect that the recommendations that are issued will play important roles in policy development of the future as well as in our ways of thinking. Each of the experiments that we undertake in the next few years will undoubtedly have drawbacks, some of which will be revealed only as people attempt to address real concerns. Information and communication technology will play an important role in many of these projects and people in these fields will need to work with social scientists, representatives from civil society organizations and many others if a World Citizen Parliament that sensitively, fairly, and wisely explores and addresses the concerns of the under-represented citizens of the world is ever created.


Launch a non-centralized, heterogeneous, loosely-linked network of people, online and offline resources, institutions, deliberative and other collaborative settings. Develop articles, scholarly papers, opinion papers, manifestos, research findings, and anything else that is relevant to this effort. Develop concepts, design principles, and experiments that lay the groundwork for a World Citizen Parliament. The new deliberative bodies that we develop over the next few years will necessarily be advisory only at the onset.

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