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”).
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