The bigger picture

International context

Deliberative democracy as a worldwide phenomenon | Deliberative democracy: the result of a long scientific debate | Why now? | A myriad of techniques | Some important international examples for the G1000 | International observers at the G1000 | Het G1000 Rapport van de Internationale Observatoren december 2011

 

Deliberative democracy as a worldwide phenomenon

The G1000 is an initiative that wants to give public attention to and promote deliberative democracy in Belgium. But it also takes place within a broader international context, so it’s worth to look beyond the borders of the Belgian state. The G1000 is part of large, international stream of initiatives all aiming at increasing the participation of citizens in democratic processes. Throughout a large number of democracies around the world, including some countries that only democratized in the last two decades, experiments with citizen participation through organized deliberations are now being conducted. It is more than a Belgian or even a European phenomenon.

 

 

The website www.participedia.net contains an ever growing list and a map of these kinds of initiatives. Information on no less than 136 unique actions can be currently be consulted there (among which for example TheBritish Columbia Citizens’ Assembly from 2004, the Constitutional Council for Iceland from 2011 or the Citizens' Parliament in Australia from 2009). The map shows where all these initiatives were launched. Not only the number of initiatives is impressive, also their diversity (the website allows the user to click on each individual case to retrieve additional information). Very often these actions have been part of important policy decisions, even though these kinds of participatory events are less prominently visible compared to elections. At times deliberative democracy is present in the spotlights of the media, but even more frequently it happens far away from them.

One can observe the gradual emergence of a largely inconspicuous yet increasingly important worldwide movement towards deliberative democracy, consisting of some major and a large number of small initiatives. Deliberative events are being organized at the level of a country or region, but even more often they are restricted to the local policy level (city, town or neighborhood). In some cases it is less the geographical scope that is important but rather the topic chosen for deliberation. For example, a few years ago the initiative of the Flemish Institute for Society and Technology organized an intense participatory initiative with over 700 people to investigate the relationship between poverty and technology. The number of such initiatives is growing. We are witnessing an international trend that has not yet reached its apex. Moreover, the list of actions on www.participedia.net is not exhaustive and so gives a underestimated impression of what is going on.

 

Deliberative democracy: the result of a long scientific debate

It is no coincidence that this trend towards democratic innovation can be observed at some many different places and levels of government. This large stream of initiatives can be interpreted as an ever more successful attempt to find an answer to a major problem of representative democracy.

 

Which problem? Political philosophers have repeatedly pointed out that a democracy that is only based on citizen involvement through elections is too minimalistic. It is not supported sufficiently by the population. Such a democracy merely asks its citizens to cast a vote, but not that they reflect on what this vote actually means. In a minimalist democracy citizens are not asked or required to be well informed. They don’t have to keep up with what is happening in the public sphere so they understand what choice they make when they vote.

 

Moreover, citizens do not have the possibility to provide some form of explanation or justification with their vote. In a minimalist democracy, citizens can provide some sort of signal, but they are not required to engage in a systematic, structured and organized dialogue about that signal, neither with the policy makers nor with other citizens. The consequences may in some instances be nefarious: elected leaders give an interpretation of the ‘will of the people’ at own will; citizens may have the feeling that they’re not understood.

 

This criticism is not new; it was already expressed by Rousseau or John Stuart Mill, and many contemporary philosophers have continued to study it. A lot of writing and reflection has gone into this question over the last two centuries. It is only in the last few decades, however, that a bridge has been built between theory and praxis. This evolution has been greeted with enthusiasm by a growing number of renowned scholars in the field of political and social sciences (e.g. David Farrell, Robert Dahl, John Dryzek, Pippa Norris, John Fishkin and Robert E. Goodin)

 

Experiments with democracy are more prevalent than ever before. Although these experiments can be very diverse in terms of methodology, ambition or scope, they all have in common that they aim at some form of ‘deliberative democracy’. The international literature regarding this topic has grown immensly (a good review can be found, for example, in Robert E. Goodin, Innovating democracy: democratic theory and practice after the deliberative turn, Oxford University Press 2008) –increasingly there is talk about ‘deliberative turn’.

 

Deliberation is often, in some form or other, at the heart of recent experiments with democratic innovation. Discussions and deliberations must help people to become acquainted with the perspectives, interests, experiences and concerns of their fellow citizens. Even when such a dialogue does not succeed in actually ‘solving’ a specific policy problem, the process can result in the willingness of a larger set of citizens to gain a deeper insight in the complexity of a particular issue or policy problem. These may include people who in other circumstances may not have cared or would be inclined to remain silent.

 

As Goodin (2008, p. 4) states:

 

“We probably will have to settle things by voting rather than merely talking (…). Nevertheless, talking together does make an important contribution, in getting all the relevant alternatives and considerations onto the table. Even just the anticipation of having to defend our position to others can help push us to internalize their perspectives and reflect systematically on such information as we have, thus leading us to make better decisions from a democratic point of view.”

 

Contemporary literature on democracy argues persuasively that the deliberative process that underpins a decision is at least as important as the final outcome.

 

Why now?

The call for more deliberative democracy has not only been heard in Belgium. In many countries one can observe similar developments: citizens become more outspoken, the media-landscape changes rapidly (think of citizens’ journalism and social media), governments are increasingly interested in the input of citizens outside of the elections, political parties have lost much of their traditional support base (they have fewer members, and fewer people stay loyal to one party), and the traditional organizations of civil society (unions, buyers’ cooperatives or health insurance cooperatives) do not function anymore as a transmission belt between the masses and those in power.

 

Moreover, important lessons have been learned from recent democratic revolutions around the globe. The optimism that was present at the start of the 1990s about the wave of democratization in Central and Eastern Europe and South-America was soon replaced by an uncanny feeling of uncertainty. Were elections sufficient? Clearly not. African cases, for example, have shown that elections do not constitute a barrier against conflicts. However important they may be, the classic tools of representative democracy cannot guarantee the formation of an integrated democratic society. In post-conflict cases, where there is often a lack of democratic attitudes among citizens and politicians, elections may even lead to more conflict, not less.

 

In recent years there is growing awareness that even in the ‘older’ democracies something more than elections is needed to restrain conflict. Participative techniques for deliberative democracy can be of great use.

 

A myriad of techniques

There is not just one unique form of deliberative democracy. There is a multitude of methods and techniques that can be used on a small or large scale. For a review, see: The Deliberative Democracy Handbook: Strategies for Effective Civic Engagement in the Twenty-First Century van John Gastil en Peter Levine (Jossey-Bass, 2005).

 

The G1000 mainly uses the method known as the construction of a ‘mini-public’. Instead of relying on existing institutions or civil society organisations, a new group of citizen is assembled. The group has to remain small enough to allow for deliberation but has to be large enough to comprise a large and diverse set of opinions on the matter at hand.

 

Is important to stress that in the case of the G1000 participants were randomly selected citizens. In many other cases citizens are involved on the basis of self-selection (they declare to want to participate in the deliberative event) or because they have some expertise, or because they are stakeholders. Through random selection the G1000 wanted to reach out to broader sections of the population, but that does not mean that deliberative democracy always has to rely on random participation. Instances of self-selection of participants have proved useful, for example, in the successful Participatory Budgeting processes that started in 1989 in Porto Alegre in Brazil (and that have spread to many other Latin-American cities) or in the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy that has been credited for a spectacular reduction in crime in that city in the 1990s.

 

Below are some well known techniques that are based on the idea of a ‘mini-public’ and that try to attract participants from as diverse backgrounds as possible:

 

  • Citizens’ Jury : Has been used for the first time in the US in 1974. A citizen jury consists of a group of 18 to 24 randomly selected citizens. They have to formulate a policy advice after a relatively brief period (4 to 7 days) of testimonies of experts on the matter.

 

  • Consensus Conference : Has been developed by the Danish Board of Technology in 1987. It consists of a group of about 15 people that gather for two weekends to decide on the agenda for a public forum that in turn lasts another four days.

 

  • Deliberative Poll : A method introduced in 1988 by James S. Fishkin. A randomly selected group of 250 to 500 citizens listen to a number of experts. Following this they deliberate in groups of 15 and subsequently re-engage in a debate with the experts. Before and after this process surveys are used to measure and map the change in attitudes among the participants.

 

The ‘21st Century Town Meeting’: Developed by AmericaSpeaks. Usually this method makes use of a large meeting of about 500 to 5000 participants. Deliberation and discussion happens in groups of 10 to 12 people. The information from the groups is collected by a network of computers and is communicated back to all the participants.

 

Some important international examples for the G1000

The G1000 has chosen for a combination of a number of internationally known methods. We have drawn inspiration from other large-scale deliberative events that have equally used a combination of several methods. We briefly describe a number of important examples below (The information provided here is retrieved from Participedia.net or from the website of the initiatives).

 

IJsland: Constitutional Council

The Constitutional Council was a body of 25 appointed Icelandic citizens, which was charged with creating a constitutional draft between 6 April and 29 July 2011. Initially the constitution was meant to be revised by a nationally elected assembly, but following a controversial Supreme Court decision to void the assembly elections, the Icelandic parliament (Althingi) appointed the elects to form a council.

The parliament had called for a constitutional revision in response to the national economic meltdown, which had caused the country’s stock exchange, currency and banks to crash in October 2008. Taking its cue from nation-wide protests and non-confrontational efforts by civil organisations, the governing parties decided that the citizenship should be involved in creating a new constitution. The council was ordered to do this by drawing on the results of a consultative citizens’ forum, as well as by advertising “extensively for proposals from the public, interest groups or other parties.” The council attempted to meet this condition by making innovative use of the internet, subscribing to popular social media like Youtube, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr and arguably making Iceland the first country to use crowdsourcing as a means for constitutional revision. This may have produced some notable ideas, such as the public ownership of Iceland’s natural resources, an article on information rights, and an attempt to enshrine the Parliament’s role in the supervision of financial management.

 

Ierland: We the citizens

‘We the Citizens’ is an independent national initiative with a clear and simple idea. We want to explore whether our Republic could benefit by citizens coming together in new ways of public decision-making. We believe this could help to renew trust in politics at this time of social and economic crisis in Ireland. So what are we about? In May and June of 2011, 'We the Citizens' invited fellow citizens to come together to share views on how to make our country better. ‘We the Citizens’ asked the people of Ireland to participate in one of our seven citizens’ events around the country. The purpose of the events was to provide a space for people to engage with each other on the future of our country. The 'We the Citizens' team are currently compiling the results of the Assembly and the extensive national survey work that took place before and after the Assembly.

 

Australia: Australia's first Citizens' Parliament

Australia's first Citizens' Parliament (also referred to as Australian Citizens' Parliament and ACP) was a large-scale three-day deliberation that took place in Canberra between randomly-selected citizens of Australia in February 2009. Organized by the new Democracy Foundation, the citizens were asked to address the question of how the Australian government could be strengthened to better serve the people. Their results, 13 proposals, were presented to the Australian Parliament. This event was meticulously recorded and provides an important vault of resources for future research.

Canada: Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform

The Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform was a body created by the government of British Columbia, Canada. The Assembly was charged with investigating and recommending changes to improve the electoral system of the province. The body was composed of 160 citizens selected ar random from throughout the province. These members met approximately every other weekend for one year to deliberate about alternative voting arrangements. In October 2004, the Assembly recommended replacing the province's existing First Past the Post (FPTP) system with a Single Transferable Vote (STV) system: this recommendation was put to the electorate-at-large in a referendum held concurrently with the 2005 provincial election. The referendum required approval by 60% of votes and simple majorities in 60% of the 79 districts in order to pass: final results indicate that the referendum failed with only 57.7% of votes in favor, although it did have majority support in 77 of the 79 electoral districts. Because this referendum was somewhat inconclusive, the government called another referendum on the same question, with the same approval thresholds that was held on May 12, 2009. In that referendum, the STV was defeated with 62 percent of voters opposing the change.

Meeting of Minds. European Citizens’ Deliberation on Brain Science

A two-year pilot project led by a European panel of 126 citizens. A partner consortium of technology assessment bodies, science museums, academic institutions and public foundations from nine European countries launched this initiative in 2004 with the support of the European Commission.

The initiative gives European citizens a unique opportunity to learn more about the impact of brain research on their daily lives and society as a whole, to discuss their questions and ideas with leading European researchers, experts and policy-makers, put them in touch with fellow citizens from other European countries and make a personal contribution to a report detailing what the people of Europe believe to be possible and desirable in the area of brain science and what they recommend policy-makers and researchers to be aware of for future developments in this field.

Through this approach, the Meeting of Minds initiative wishes to meet EU calls for greater public involvement in the debate on future research, technological decision-making and governance.

 

International observers at the G1000

To connect the G1000 with this international context and experiences of deliberative democracy an international team of observers was invited. The members of this group have a large experience and knowledge on this topic. They have all written important texts on deliberative democracy or they have been involved in some of the large-scale initiatives mentioned earlier. They monitored the whole process on the 11th of November and they have written a report that contains their comments and observations. They will also continue to be consulted in the future developments of the G1000 project.
Here are the bios of the observers:

Prof. dr. David Farrell (Ierland)

Professor Farrell is a specialist in the study of parties, elections, electoral systems and members of parliament. He is founding co-editor of Party Politics and a co-editor of the Oxford University Press series on 'Comparative Politics'. Prior to his move to Dublin, Professor Farrell was professor and head of Social Sciences at the University of Manchester.

Dr. Julien Talpin (Frankrijk)

Julien Talpin is a research fellow in political science at Ceraps/University of Lille 2 (France). His research deals with deliberative democracy, political socialisation and the transformations of representative government. He has studied a variety of democratic innovations from citizen juries, neighbourhood councils and participatory budgeting. Using both ethnographic and socio-historical methods, he has mainly focused on the individual impact of participation and deliberation. He has recently published ‘When democratic innovations let the people decide: An evaluation of co-governance experiments’ (edited by B. Geissel, K. Newton) ; Democratic Innovations, (Routledge, 2011) ; and (with S. Wojcik), 'Deliberating environmental policy issues: Comparing the learning potential of online and face-to-face discussions on climate change', Policy and Internet, 2010, 2 (4).

Prof. Dr. Jean Tillie (Nederland)

Jean Tillie studied Political Science and wrote his PhD dissertation on determinants and measurement of party preference and voting behaviour, at the Universiteit van Amsterdam. Jean Tillie is Professor Electoral Policies by special appointment at the University of Amsterdam. He is also the programme leader of the AISSR programme group ‘Challenges to Democratic Representation’. Jean Tillie studies the quality of multicultural democracy. His research focuses on radicalism and extremism, extreme right voting behavior, anti-immigrant feelings and the political integration of immigrants. He is also coordinating the EURISLAM project (an international comparative study on the social-cultural integration of Muslims).

Ms. Ida Andersen (Denemarken, Danish Board of Technology)

The Danish Board of Technology is an independent council supervised by the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Development. The purpose of The Danish Board of Technology is to diffuse information on technology: IT, genetic engineering, energy, environmental issues, biotechnology, health and transportation. The Danish Board of Technology has developed numerous methods for the purpose of involving citizens, including the so-called Citizens’ Hearing and the Consensus Conference. By means of these methods, among others, the Danish Board of Technology seeks the counsel of common citizens with regard to societal issues, thus gaining knowledge of the public’s priorities, ideas and suggested solutions.

Dr. Clodagh Harris (Ierland)

Dr Clodagh Harris is a lecturer in the Department of Government, University College Cork. Her research interests include; deliberative democracy, active democratic citizenship, political participation and the scholarship of teaching and learning in political science. She has published in leading international journals such as Representation, European Political Science, PS Political Science and Politics and the Journal of Political Science Education . In 2004 she was seconded to TASC an independent think tank in Dublin to manage its Democracy Commission project (funded by the JRCT) and edit its final report `Engaging citizens the case for democratic renewal in Ireland ' (2005). During her time with the Commission she organised its public consultations across the island of Ireland on issues of political participation particularly amongst the under 25s and those living in socially disadvantaged areas. Forum theatre and community art were used to engage with the target groups. Dr Harris is also one of the key authors of 'Power to the People: Assessing Democracy in Ireland' , New Island: Dublin (2007), the first comprehensive audit of the state of democracy in modern Ireland. Dr. Harris has also been commissioned by the National Forum on Europe and by the European Movement to facilitate the Irish strands of the European Citizens Consultations.

Richard Stilmann II (USA)

Richard J. Stillman II is a Professor of Public Administration at the School of Public Affairs, University of Colorado Denver. He taught on the faculties of George Mason University and California State University-Bakersfield and is the author or editor of several books. Stillman is an elected fellow in the National Academy of Public Administration and his textbook, Public Administration: Concepts and Cases, 8th edition is used at over 400 universities and colleges. Professor Stillman is the Editor of Public Administration Review, The Premier Journal of Public Administration.

Cécile Le Clercq (European Commission)

Ms. Le Clercq represents the ‘Citizens' Policy’ Unit at the European Commission’s Communication DG. The unit’s Europe for Citizens programme’s main priorities include encouraging citizens to become actively involved in the process of European integration, empowering them to develop a sense of European identity, and enhancing mutual understanding between Europeans. In more concrete terms, the programme’s priority areas are: promoting participation and democracy at the EU level; the future of the Union and its basic values; intercultural dialogue; employment, social cohesion and sustainable development; and boosting awareness of the societal impact of EU policies.

 

The G1000 Report by International Observers

G1000 Report of the International Observers December 2011