Nine Ideas from MASS LBP

Since 2007, MASS has been working to strengthen the relationship between citizens and their governments. In the course of our work, we occasionally coin new terms for concepts that help to explain our thinking about the future of responsible government.

We decided to pull these ideas together as a collection, and write a brief description for each. It’s our way of sharing what we have learned and what we are working towards.

Want to put these ideas into action? Drop us a line. We’re always on the look-out for great public sector partners…


MASS Idea #1: Civic Lotteries

Civic lotteries are a tool used by governments to convene broadly representative groups of citizen volunteers to tackle public policy challenges. The idea is based on an ancient practice called ‘sortition’ which is still used in many countries to randomly select citizens to serve on civil, criminal and coroner’s juries.

Civic lotteries are based on this same practice. But rather than compelling people to serve, as governments do with jury duty, civic lotteries encourage randomly selected recipients to volunteer their time by opting in to the lottery.

In this respect, civic lotteries employ two randomizing filters: firstly, when randomly selected households receive an invitation to volunteer; and second, when participants are randomly selected from the pool of volunteers to broadly match a community’s demographic profile.

MASS has pioneered the use of civic lotteries to address policy challenges, cumulatively sending more than 350,000 invitations to 1 in 38 households across Canada. In doing so, we’ve created opportunities for more than 1,300 randomly selected Canadians to participate in the work of government and serve their communities.

Tweet this idea: MASS Idea #1: Civic lotteries are a tool used by governments and @masslbp to convene representative groups of citizen volunteers to tackle public policy challenges. They're based on sortition, an ancient practice used to randomly select citizens to serve on juries. #MASSideas

Want to learn more about civic lotteries? Download and read through our Civic Lottery Guide.

Service Ballot

MASS Idea #2: Service Ballots

Service ballots, also known as “second ballots”, are a mechanism to give voters a simple and effective way to volunteer their time to serve on a public board, agency or commission, and to provide their advice to government on a specific issue. Offering voters a service ballot can dramatically increase the number of candidates available to fill these roles and improve the diversity of public governance. Service ballots also send a powerful signal that help to establish a strong participatory culture, underscoring the idea that citizens have an essential role to play between elections in the work of government.

MASS is currently developing a proposal to implement service ballots in future elections.

Tweet this idea:
MASS Idea #2: Service ballots give voters a way to join a pool of volunteers to assist a public board, agency or commission, and to provide advice to government. Service ballots can help to establish a strong participatory culture. @masslbp #MASSideas

Reference Panel Icon

MASS Idea #3: Reference Panels

Reference Panels are long-form deliberative processes that typically involve 36 randomly selected residents who meet over three or more days to examine an issue, reach consensus and draft detailed recommendations for public authorities.

Reference Panels are commissioned by government and public agencies with an explicit mandate to provide advice on divisive and complex issues that typically involve trade-offs or compromises. In several respects, Reference Panels resemble coroner's juries — they are non-adversarial, evidence-informed processes that seek to understand the circumstances surrounding an issue by hearing from experts and engaging in dialogue to reach a consensus on a series of recommendations that can be directed to government, industry or society-at-large.

Reference Panels can also complement more traditional forms of public consultation. For instance, survey research can help to inform the panel's deliberations, and the panel itself can host public meetings during its term to ensure that all members of the public have an opportunity to participate and share their perspectives.

MASS developed the Reference Panel model to build and extend the example set by Canada’s two Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. Since 2007, more than 1,300 Canadians have served on a Reference Panel, helping decision-makers to find common ground, understand public sentiments and build legitimacy for difficult policy choices.

Tweet this idea: MASS Idea #3: Reference Panels are long-form deliberative processes that involve 36 randomly selected residents who examine issues, reach consensus & draft recommendations for public authorities. Since 2007, @masslbp has hosted over 30 Reference Panels across Canada. #MASSideas

Want to learn more about Reference Panels? Watch this video about the Toronto Planning Review Panel, or this one on the Metrolinx Residents’ Reference Panel.

Wagemark Logo

MASS Idea #4: Wagemark

MASS launched Wagemark in 2013 as an income standard that is used by organizations to certify that the ratio between their highest and lowest earners is both competitive and sustainable. It builds on a growing body of research looking at the economic and social costs of income inequality by helping organizations commit to operating within a wage range that supports greater competitiveness, workplace morale and social equity.Wagemark was inspired by the work of British health researcher Richard Wilkinson and the famed management theorist Peter Drucker. In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal in 1977 entitled “Is Executive Pay Excessive?”, Drucker decried the corrosive effect of lavish corporate salaries.

His elegant solution was to make company wage policies more rational and transparent. “The most radical, but also the most necessary innovation,” he wrote, “would be a published corporate policy that fixes the maximum compensation of all corporate a multiple of the after-tax and pre-fringe income of the lowest paid regular full-time employee.”

Inspired by Drucker’s radical and necessary innovation, Wagemark certifies that the ratio between the total earnings of an organization's highest-paid employee and the average of the lowest paid full-time employee is no greater than 8 to 1. This innovation comes at a time when CEO pay has jumped to more than 361 times that of an average worker.  

Tweet this idea: MASS Idea #4: Wagemark is an income standard established by @masslbp that certifies that the ratio between the total earnings of an organization's highest-paid employee and the average of the lowest paid full-time employee is no greater than 8 to 1. #MASSideas

Want to learn more about Wagemark? Visit the website.


MASS Idea #5: Barn-raising

The advent of public opinion research in the 1930s was, at the time, an important step forward for democracy. Rather than interpreting the results of a general election to understand where people stood on different issues, researchers could survey small samples of the population and keep a closer watch on public sentiments.

By tapping into public opinion, governments were able to be more responsive and attuned to their citizen’s needs. An early book by George Gallup and Saul Rae touting the power of public opinion research was called The Pulse of Democracy, a title that captures the sense of promise behind this technique.

The polling industry has left an indelible mark on how we think about politics and the public but it does us all a disservice when we start to believe that citizenship requires little more than holding opinions and indicating preferences. In this way, polling as a dominant democratic idea reinforces the idea of a public that appears highly individualistic. It makes citizens into passive respondents with likes and dislikes, with little more to offer than their attention and approval.

At MASS, we believe we need a new metaphor is needed to help break the us/them dynamic of survey-makers and survey-takers. This is why we talk about barn-raising. At a barn-raising, everyone actively contributes to a collective task, but they don't all do the same thing: Some people oversee construction; some haul supplies; others saw wood and hammer nails; some sweep up or provide food and drink.

At a barn-raising, people contribute in their own way to create public value. Modern societies don’t need to build barns together, but they do have collective problems best addressed by enlisting the various skills and talents of people in the community. We think people are capable of so much more than what is currently imagined or supported by government.

Tweet this idea: MASS Idea #5: Barn-raising is a metaphor @masslbp uses to remember that people can do more than vote and take surveys. At barn-raisings, everyone works towards a collective goal while doing different tasks that each contribute to public value. #MASSideas


MASS Idea #6: Civic Challenges

In response to the Syrian Civil War and subsequent refugee crisis, Canada’s federal government increased support to a special program that has long distinguished Canada's approach to refugee settlement.

In addition to government-sponsored refugees, Canada’s “Groups of Five” private-sponsorship program invites Canadians to take on the personal responsibility of helping safeguard and settle a refugee family. For Canadians shocked by the death scale of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, the “Groups of Five” private sponsorship program provided a way to make a real difference.

Between September 2015 and February 2016, approximately 75,000 Canadians organized themselves, registered as “Groups of Five” and formally applied to sponsor a Syrian refugee family. Together, these volunteers pledged as much as $300,000,000 to settle approximately 15,000 Syrians in Canada.

The private settlement program is a powerful example of a "Civic Challenge" in action. By tapping into the deep reservoir of civic abilities, governments can address major social issues without straining budgets, all while giving people an enormous sense of purpose.

We believe Civic Challenges should be an everyday part of our democratic life, and that every government should, once or twice in its mandate, issue an equally compelling call to action. At MASS, we are developing a Civic Challenge framework that governments can use to tap into this approach to collective action.

Tweet this idea: MASS Idea #6: Civic Challenges are collective efforts that address major social issues without straining budgets. Civic Challenges provide people with a sense of purpose. @masslbp is developing a Civic Challenge framework for governments to use. #MASSIdeas


MASS Idea #7: Social Alumni

When does a student become an member of the alumni? While the obvious answer might be “after graduation,” the much more interesting answer is "when the college or university creates an alumni program." After all, the idea of "alumni" is itself a made-up distinction. Yet over the past thirty years, universities and colleges have invested more and more in sustaining a connection with their graduates.

At MASS, we think the idea of ‘alumni’ can have much broader implications. To us, it's striking that a commuter might take the same bus for thirty years and yet their connection to the transit agency never evolves. The same can be said of the often static relationship between patients and health care organizations, or with libraries and their patrons.

The public sector provides essential services to millions of people each day but does little to cultivate a relationship with its users that’s capable of evolving. "Social alumni" programs can recognize that service users are part of a largely unconstituted community and seek to develop the potential of its members, while building lasting relationships of personal and public value.

Tweet this idea: MASS Idea #7: Social Alumni are people who access services over a long period of time. @masslbp thinks public services should strengthen their connections to their alumni through programs that build relationships of personal and public value. #MASSideas


MASS Idea #8: D1D2

D1D2 refers to the twin  — but incomplete — democratic projects that began with historic shifts towards responsible, popularly elected government. For more than 250 years, democratic reformers have worked to secure the universal franchise, steadily removing barriers based on race, creed, property, age and sex. Today, almost all adults over the age of 18 have the right to vote in mature democratic societies. We call this project “D1.”

D2 refers to the neglected second side of this democratic equation — the proportion of citizens who have the opportunity to serve as elected representatives. As societies grow, the ratio between voters and politicians often increases. At the time of Canada’s Confederation in 1867 there was approximately one Member of Parliament for every 30,000 voters; today, that ratio is closer to 1:150,000.

No one would argue that quintupling the number of MPs sitting in the House of Commons is a good idea. Yet D2 prompts important questions: If every adult should have the right to vote, what proportion of adults should also have the opportunity to serve as a public representative? How can we create significantly more room within our representative architecture without adversely impacting the cost and efficiency of government?

At MASS, we focus our energy on “D2” projects. We believe initiatives like Reference Panels and Service Ballots can help to increase the number of citizens who have the opportunity to represent and serve their communities.

Tweet this idea: MASS Idea #8: D1 & D2 are names @masslbp gives to 2 democratic projects: D1 is the long shift to universal franchise in democratic societies. D2 is the proportion of citizens who have the opportunity to serve in different capacities as public representatives. We focus our energy on D2 projects. #MASSideas


MASS Idea #9: Democratic Fitness

Many people reasonably believe that more people should understand politics and follow current affairs. If you agree, then you want to give a boost to what is often called “civic literacy.” In 2007, we coined the term “democratic fitness’ to complement this idea and remind ourselves that democracy isn’t only about knowledge — it’s also a practice that is grounded in a sense of moral courage, personal agency and the experience of shared efficacy.

Like a muscle, “democratic fitness” is something that’s strengthened through repeated effort. As individuals, and as a society, we need to flex it by working with one another and through institutions to advance our well-being and society.

At MASS, we believe good democratic processes are essential to developing both civic literacy and democratic fitness. Developing these twin qualities should be an explicit public policy goal for government and its agencies.

Tweet this idea: MASS Idea #9: Democratic fitness reminds us that democracy isn’t only about knowledge, it is grounded in moral courage, personal agency & shared efficacy. At @masslbp, we believe good democratic processes are essential to developing civic literacy & democratic fitness. #MASSideas

Interested in more MASS Ideas? We’ll be publishing our thinking on Public Learning, the Democratic Dividend and Civic Concierges soon.