Student Government Lotteries
What is a Student Government Lottery?
Adam Cronkright, Co-Founder of Democracy in Practice
Elections don’t work well in schools
Student government (also called ‘student council’) is meant to introduce young people to democracy and develop tomorrow's leaders. Unfortunately, student elections often exclude all but the most popular, charismatic, and ambitious students from actively participating, as they have little chance of winning a competition for the most votes. This is unfair, and it widens the gap between students in terms of leadership and civic skill development. Elections also incorrectly teach young people that there are a few natural-born leaders, and that for the rest of us democracy is largely a spectator sport, where our only role is to occasionally vote for our favorite candidate.
We wouldn't use a popularity contest to decide which few students get to learn math or history, so why are we doing this with leadership and civics?
Student Government Lotteries offer schools a better approach
Student Government Lotteries alleviate this problem by giving an equal chance to each and every student who wants to participate. The Lotteries completely replace elections, meaning there are no candidates, campaigns, or competitions for votes in the school. Instead, willing students enter the Lottery and a small number are randomly selected to form the student government. This approach is fairer than traditional elections, generates higher levels of interest and participation, and results in student governments that are more diverse and representative. The lack of competition prevents ‘winners’ from feeling superior to their peers and ‘losers’ from feeling rejected. The process is simple, fun, and easy to structure in a way that guarantees proportional representation by gender and grade level.
But doesn’t replacing elections in this way rob students of the chance to learn about democracy?
No, what young people need most to become engaged and effective citizens are democratic skills: active listening, critical thinking, deliberating, public speaking, etc. Student Government Lotteries give all types of students the opportunity to develop these skills, instead of excluding those who are shyer and less popular in an attempt to mimic adult politics. And we shouldn’t restrict students to thinking that elections are the only way to do democracy. In the first democracy, ancient Athens, lotteries were used for almost 200 years to fill key legislative bodies and most public offices. It’s a safe bet that young people who experience innovative and engaging student politics are more likely to be engaged in politics as adults, and may even someday invent creative ways to improve democracy.
While the focus here is on Student Government Lotteries, note that Democracy In Practice typically couples Lotteries with two other innovations: rotation and horizontal teamwork. Rotation allows more students to participate and is incorporated by holding Student Government Lotteries multiple times a year. Replacing positions like President and Vice President, with more horizontal ways for students to work and learn together, creates a richer and more equitable educational experience. On their website, Democracy In Practice has step-by-step guides and how-to videos for incorporating these other innovations, but even if your school only replaces elections with lotteries and changes nothing else about its student government program, it will make leadership and civic education far more inclusive and engaging!
How do you implement it?
Introducing Student Government Lotteries to your school
Meet with school leadership, teachers, and students to present the idea of Student Government Lotteries and explain the need to replace elections. (Democracy In Practice provides short videos on their website that you can use in your presentation).Read more ›
It is a good idea to ask students who typically wins student elections, whether that outcome is fair, and whether the typical student-candidates are the only students who can and should develop leadership skills. Invite them to share questions and concerns, offer ideas, and voice support for the initiative. If you are wanting to implement other related innovations, like rotation and horizontal teamwork, discuss these changes with school leadership, teachers, and students as well.
Decide which groups should be represented in the student government
If possible, discuss with students and teachers which groups should be proportionally represented in the student government.Read more ›
Ask questions such as:
Is gender equality important?
Should each grade level have the same number of representatives?
Should there be a higher preportion of older students?
Should the student government have a representative from each classroom?
Note that student governments typically work best with around 8 total members and should not have more than 12.
Secure a space, date, and time for the Lottery that allows all students the chance to participate
Once the school is generally in agreement with changing from elections to Lotteries, work with teachers and administrators to settle on a date, time, and location for the Lottery to prevent scheduling conflicts with other parts of the school curriculum and ensure that the event runs smoothly.Read more ›
Try to get as many teachers and staff as possible to commit to being present and assisting with the Lottery. Note that conducting the Lottery with the entire school at the same time can be exciting but it can also be chaotic, whereas conducting the Lottery with different parts of the school at different times is more manageable but typically generates less buzz and enthusiasm.
Prepare the necessary materials and the space for the Lottery
This is the time to organise everything that is needed for the Student Government Lotteries.Read more ›
Collect paper and writing utensils and/or a computer to record the names and information of the students selected in the Lottery
Borrow a microphone/PA system if the space chosen for the Lottery is large and open
Select and/or design a lottery method that is fun and that utilizes resources already present in the school or the community. It could involve selecting different objects out of a box, raffle tickets, a computer software, or any other method involving randomness, but we recommend keeping it simple and understandable. If possible, engage students in designing the Lottery.
Note that different lottery methods take different amounts of organization and time. A computer program can easily randomly select 10 out of 1000 students in a split second, but this process is less visible and engaging. Meanwhile, having the entire school face off in many rounds of Rock, Paper, Scissors until only 10 students remain is fun, but it is also chaotic and time consuming. Try to design a lottery in a way that strikes the best balance given your space, time, and organizational constraints.
Take into account the different groups, if any, identified in step 2 that need to be proportionately represented. For example, achieving an even gender balance probably means conducting the Lottery with female students to select half the members of the student government and separately with male students to select the other half. Separate Lotteries could also be used in this way to select students from specific grade levels, classrooms, etc.
Organize roles and responsibilities: How many people will be needed to administer the Lottery? How many people will be needed to record Lottery ‘winners’? How many people will be needed to maintain order during the Lottery? And who will take on these responsibilities? Teachers? Students? Those administering the Lottery should not participate in the Lottery in order to ensure a fair process, so typically teachers administer the first Lottery and subsequent Lotteries can be administered by outgoing students who are finishing their term of office in the student government.
Conduct the Student Government Lottery
Different Lottery methods require different steps, but most are relatively straight forward. Whatever method you choose, there are important things to keep in mind when conducting the Student Government Lottery.Read more ›
Make sure that the teachers or students who will administer the Lottery, record the names and information of those selected, and maintain order understand their different roles and responsibilities
Before inviting students to voluntarily participate in the Lottery, be sure that they understand both the ways in which they could benefit from participating in student government, as well as the responsibilities and commitments that the Lottery is assigning. It needs to be clear that this is not a game, and that those selected will be expected to attend student government meetings and actively contribute to student government projects.
Once students have volunteered to enter the Lottery, be sure that they are properly counted. Any mistake when counting will require that the whole process be redone.
Explain the lottery process to all students and check if participants have any questions
If the lottery method involves students reaching into a box, bag, pot, etc., make sure that participants roll up their sleeves and clearly demonstrate that their hand is empty, before they reach in to draw
Make sure that the full lottery process is completed and that everyone remains present until the end. For example, if the lottery method used involves having students draw two different colored marbles out of a bag, even if it appears that all the winning marbles have been selected, each remaining student must still draw a marble to ensure that the Lottery was properly administered. If, for instance, the last student reaches into the bag and there is no marble left for him or her draw, or there are two marbles, the Lottery was flawed and must be redone.
It is typically a good idea to select extra students to replace any student government members who cannot, for whatever reason, finish their term of office. One backup for each student government member is typically a good ratio, and it is preferable that these backup students match those that they would replace in terms of gender, grade level, etc.
Record the important information about those selected (and any backups selected), including their name, grade level, classroom/homeroom, and contact details
Present the newly selected student government to the student body
It is a great idea to take pictures and video during the Lottery to share with students and staff, provided you have the proper authorization from the school to do so
Connect with parents
In some schools, student governments meet after class, in which case it is generally necessary to get written parental consent for selected students to participate in meetings which may be out of class time.Read more ›
Even when parental consent is not needed, it is a great idea to inform parents about the Student Government Lottery. Inform the parents that their daughters/sons have been selected to serve on student government, explain the benefits this experience offers, and clarify the responsibilities and commitments their daughters/sons will be assuming. Most parents are delighted that their daughters/sons have been awarded this unique opportunity, and parental support can help students get the most out of the experience of serving in student government.
Orient lottery ‘winners’ regarding their new role as members of the student government
Newly selected student government members will need orientation and capacity building if their term of office is to be successful and educational.Read more ›
This is especially true of a diverse, randomly-selected student government, which typically needs more initial help establishing group norms and routines than a pre-existing group of likeminded friends who campaigned together to win an election. Student government members will also need guidance in selecting different team roles and responsibilities, whether taking the more traditional approach of electing from amongst themselves a President, Vice President, Treasurer, etc., or the more innovative approach of rotating responsibilities in a horizontal team structure. This guidance can range in comprehensiveness from a couple of workshops at the start of the year, to weekly capacity building and advising throughout. The more support student governments are provided, the more they will achieve and the more students will gain from the experience, and lots of great techniques and ideas for serving as a student government advisor can be found on Democracy In Practice’s website.
Repeat the process when students’ terms of office come to an end
Conduct a new Student Government Lottery at the start of each school year to form a new student government, or further increase participation by conducting student Lotteries and changing student government membership multiple times each school year.Read more ›
3-month terms of office often allow enough time for students to get a full experience while preventing burnout and boredom and allowing fresh faces to enter student government, but different term lengths work for different schools and different educational objectives. Note that term lengths can be staggered so that only half of the student government is replaced in each Lottery, which facilitates peer learning and provides more continuity in the student government.
On their website, Democracy In Practice has step-by-step guides, how-to videos, and extended video interviews that school staff, teachers, and students can use to implement Student Government Lotteries and other student government innovations.
Check out the resources!
Democracy in Practice have free, in-depth toolkits on their site to guide this work.Read more ›
Check them out here for free!