Berlin tests citizen participation according to Austrian model

A post by Timo Rieg.

The Berlin district of Tempelhol-Schöneberg (population 301,000) has been experimenting with a new kind of citizen deliberation, where the members are chosen by lot. The method known as “Bürgerrat nach dem Vorarlberger Modell” was developed in the Austrian state of Vorarlberg and has been practised there for 13 years. It has been part of the constitution of Vorarlberg since 2013.

For such a process of deliberation the administration chooses 12 to 15 residents by lot and allows them to debate the issue for two days. The discussions are moderated by one or two facilitators. What makes the method of “Dynamic Facilitation” unique is that the participants can only speak directly to the facilitator and not with each other. This is to ensure that everyone can speak for as long as they want and to alleviate conflict. The facilitators write every idea or keyword on a flipchart so that no thought is lost.

This is being trialed in seven sub-districts of Tempelhof-Schöneberg from August 2019 to February 2020. The results of every citizens’ assembly are presented in an open civic meeting (a so-called “Bürgercafé”), to which those interested are invited by the mayor to contribute. Because it is an experiment, the process is being observed by researchers from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam.

The idea started with a group of five retirees who were unhappy with the political developments such as the rise of the far-right (AfD) and populist leaders (Donald Trump). They were worried about democracy and saw it as a problem of disconnection between politicans and ordinary people. So they looked for a process that would give people a voice and make the politicans pay attention to them. They discovered sortition and the David Van Reybrouck’s book Against Elections, which proposes the allotment of citizens as representatives (and what has been known in Germany since the 1970s under the name “Planungszelle”).
http://www.aleatorische-demokratie.de/planungszelle/
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The first meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland takes place this weekend

Gareth Jones writes in Third Force News:

A new era for democracy in Scotland is set to begin this weekend

The first meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland is being held this weekend (26 and 27 October), with 100 people taking part in a unique project that will help shape Scotland’s constitutional future.

The assembly, convened by David Martin and Kate Wimpress, has recruited people from across Scotland who are representative of the wider public as a whole to consider three key questions for the nation.

These are: What kind of country are we seeking to build?; How can we best overcome the challenges the challenges that Scotland and the world faces, including those arising from Brexit?; and What further work should be carried out to give people the detail they need to make informed choices about the future of the country?

The members were recruited through a process of random selection to broadly reflect the adult population of Scotland in terms of geography, age, gender, ethnic group, educational qualifications, limiting long term conditions/disability and political attitudes towards Scottish independence, the UK’s membership of the EU and Scottish Parliament voting preferences.
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Sortition in German press, Citizens’ Council website

Just a couple of notable discussions of sortition in the German press from the last couple of months.

The first from the Frankfurter Allgemeine in August is entitled: “Can sortition save democracy?” After mentioning that in Germany, like in many other countries, satisfaction with actually existing democracy has been hovering around 50%, it delves somewhat IN DEPTH into the differences between elections and lot. Not surprisingly, it quotes Aristotle that “sortition” is democratic, while elections are aristocratic. And it discusses historical examples beyond Athens, in particular, the familiar mentions of Florence and Venice. It then discusses both the Irish Citizens Assembly, and the Buergerrat Demokratie citizens’ assembly in Germany–mentioning that the President of the Bundestag supports it and will take its recommendations seriously. It then discusses the Buergerrat Demokratie at length.

The second from the Sueddeutsche Zeitung in September, entitled “An experiment to save democracy,” reports on the new Citizens Council, which amounts to a second chamber of Parliament, in East Belgium. It calls it a “world premier,” and allows readers to vote yes/no to the idea of whether citizens should be able to make laws. So far, the yeahs have it. It emphasizes that David van Reybrouk’s book, as well as the G1000, played important roles in bringing the idea of “aleatory democracy” to that part of Belgium.

Speaking of which, this is the website for the new Citizens’ Council in East Belgium.

Sortition has nearly gone mainstream, and the so-called “Neo-Athenian Revolution” is alive and well.

Let Juries Choose Public Officials

In my view, and as I have argued in published form since the late 1990s, two basic and complementary reforms are needed in order to bring modern societies into accord with democracy. One is to transfer the power to decide laws to juries (a.k.a. minipublics), and the other is to transfer the power to choose a wide range of public officials to juries (a.k.a. minipublics). My latest article in Dissident Voice (October 23, 2019) focuses on the latter part of that reform, choosing public officials by jury.

We have been taught since childhood that popular election is essential for democracy. In reality, although it is much better than, for example, a military junta, it is a very problematic way to choose public officials and is 100% not necessary for democracy.

The US political system would be far better and far more democratic if all the public officials now chosen by popular election were instead chosen by juries randomly sampled from the people.

Another very important set of public officials that could be chosen by juries are the independent and supposedly independent public officials now chosen by politicians. Continue reading

More on the French Citizen Convention on the Climate

A short video published by CESE (Economic, Social and Environmental Council) – the body which organizes the French Citizen Convention on the Climate – provides some details on the process of sampling used for selecting the 150 citizens that serve in the convention.

The process has been sub-contracted to “Harris Interactive” – a market research company. According to the video, the company produces its sample by calling randomly generated phone numbers and inviting those who answer the phone to participate. The responses of those contacted are equally split between those who definitely accept, those who tentatively accept (pending being able to attend on the days of the convention), and those who reject the offer to participate.

As published earlier, the final sample is made by selecting from those who accept the invitation while matching the makeup of the French population in terms of gender, age groups, education attainment and place of residence.

Also on the matter of the Citizen Convention on the Climate: Loic Blondiaux, political science professor in the Sorbonne and member of the governance committee of the Convention was interviewed by FranceInter radio. He sees the Convention as a historic event. He believes that because the Convention is being organized by a body that is independent from the government it really is a democratic process despite the fact that it was initiated by the government.

Comments by members of the Cambridgeshire Citizens’ Assembly

Benjamin Hatton of CambridgeshireLive interviewed members of the Cambridgeshire Citizens’ Assembly:

What did the assembly members think of the process?

As a condition for entry, the media was requested not to identify or speak with any assembly members, except those chosen for interview.

Lisa Eland, 45, from Haddenham, near Ely said: “It was quite interesting. I didn’t quite know what to expect.

“There was a lot of material to be covered, so you really had to focus on so many aspects that you didn’t necessarily contemplate discussing. But it gave everybody the opportunity to listen to other people’s experiences, opinions – you get very caught up in your own little bubble, how things affect you, so it was quite eye-opening listening to other people.”
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Agora Brussels wins a seat in Brussels Regional Parliament

Gabriel Popham reports in openDemocracy:

Agora Brussels [website, Facebook page] started less than two years ago as a grassroots citizens’ movement to reboot democracy in the Belgian capital. Earlier this year Agora ran for the regional elections and managed to gain one seat at the Brussels Regional Parliament.

Agora is a unique political party, in that it doesn’t have any political programme to speak of: its only agenda is to organise a permanent citizens’ assembly, promote its institutionalisation for the region of Brussels, and defend its decisions in Parliament.

Pepijn Kennis, MP for Agora, admits that Agora’s strategy of running in elections might seem counterintuitive at first. “As a movement, we’re very much inspired by the book Against Elections by David Van Reybrouck,” he tells me from his office in the Regional Parliament. Agora shares Van Reybrouck’s view that elections nowadays tend to prioritise short-term thinking at the expense of genuine democracy.
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