The Rational Parliament: our experiment continues…

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October 11, 2013 by Adam Smith

One month has passed since the first sitting of the Rational Parliament and I’ve done a lot of thinking about how we can improve our format. Our pilot sitting on 10 September showed that a lot of people are keen to argue the politics of a single topic with relevant researchers in the room. The people who came out on 10 September, the Members of the Rational Parliament (MRPs) were interested in both this novel way of debating and the topic we debated—genetically modified food. Take a look at our parliamentary photos if you haven’t already.

Rational Parliament - GM debateHowever, the project is still an experiment because our format continues to evolve. After the first sitting, MRPs sent me a few examples of where the format fell down and many suggestions for improvements and tweaks. It is these that I’ve been thinking about over the past few weeks. I’ve also been working with our parliamentary filmmaker to edit a video of the night—coming soon to a web browser near you!

So what will be different next time? We’re going to split the sitting into two halves. The first half will be pure debate clustered around the topics posted on the Policy Board as people arrive. We’ll bunch together similar topics, issues and questions to prevent the debate going around in circles. Then we’ll have a recess, when MRPs can have a chat with each other, use the bar or the loo, and propose motions they’d like the House to vote on by writing them on the Policy Board. After the recess, three or four MRPs will be invited to propose their motions to the House. Other MRPs can ask questions for clarification, and then the House will vote on each motion in turn.

Rational Parliament - GM debateThe climax of the sitting will be, as in the first sitting, a democratic moment. In that first sitting, MRPs were asked to vote for or against the main title motion. I’ve since realised that we don’t have the responsibility to decide yes or no about every contentious issue we debate. In fact, the Members of the Rational Parliament have a more nuanced job of reflecting the complexities of an issue. This is why our democratic moment will be a ‘spectrum vote’. We’ll ask MRPs where they physically stand on the topic we’re discussing (say, GM food). This means those who are in favour of GM should go and stand on one side of the chamber, and those who are against should stand on the other side—or somewhere in between, reflecting their position. For example, an MRP who is generally in favour of GM but has some caveats should stand somewhere between the middle and the ‘for’ side of the room.

There’ll be a few other tweaks made too, but these are the main ones. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or at this email address. The next sitting will be in late November, with a date and topic announced very soon—sign up here for info if you’re not already on the mailing list. Thanks for your continued support!

Your clerk,



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