Citizen Assembly for Food Policy in Switzerland

In June Switzerland is going to convene a Citizen Assembly for Food Policy (Assemblée citoyenne pour une politique alimentaire). [Texts quoted below are my translations from the original French. -YG]

With the Strategy for Sustainable Development, the Federal Council has declared its commitment to a fundamental change toward a more sustainable food system in Switzerland. In order to set out strategies for this change, national dialogs have already taken place in 2021. The Citizen Assembly for Food Policy is a continuation of these dialogs with the direct involvement of the Swiss population.

Some details about the process:

The Citizen Assembly for Food Policy convenes 100 allotted Swiss residents who will discuss in an open-forum process what a sustainable food policy in Switzerland in 2030 could look like.

The group thus selected should represent Switzerland in the best way possible in regards to different characteristics, such as gender, age, political opinions, level of education and the distribution of the population between cities and rural areas. At the closing of the citizen assembly, the participant will vote on the recommendations that they have developed together which will then be sent to the political system and to the administration and be made available to the public.

The following summary of the process is provided [emphasis added]:

  1. Allotment of the participants.
  2. The citizen assembly is constituted of a group of people most representative of the Swiss diversity.
  3. The citizens deliberate together over 11 meetings, with experts regularly involved in the discussions.
  4. The citizens develop recommendations for future food policy together.
  5. The citizens votes in order to create a final list of measures.
  6. The list of measures is sent to the political system and to the administration.

For me this is the outline of a technocratic way of appointing people and brainwashing them.

The allotment process is described as follows:

The market and social research company study DemoSCOPE was tasked to find the 100 Swiss residents which will participate in the citizen assembly and which will be the best representative of the population of residents of Switzerland. The process of selection is based on a random procedure, so that every resident has in principle a chance of being recruited.

A scientific council will also be part of the process:

The Citizen Assembly for Food Policy will be accompanied from the outset by a scientific council which will study the deliberation process.

The scientific council takes part in the design of the process and provides answers to questions which are posed to it, observes the choice of expert inputs and engages in research after following the process, the contents and the results of the citizen assembly.

The council is composed of prof. Johanna Jacobi (EPF Zurich), prof. André Bächtiger (Université de Stuttgart), prof. Nenad Stojanović (Université de Genève) and Dr. Francesco Veri (Université de Zurich).

For the moment I can’t find any justification about the selection method.

I asked Bertelsmann Stiftung for comment and I received the following reply:

Thank you for your observations and comments on using sortition for citizens´ participation. The aim of the publication “Citizens´ Participation Using Sortition” was to show how random selection can be implemented in practice. A general statement on diversity and the total number of participants cannot be made in principle. The question should be answered and justified on a project-specific basis. The number and composition will differ whether it is a question of the participation of citizens in a village project, or about the improvement of cross-border cooperation between Grand Est and Baden-Württemberg, or about a new law. From my point of view, it is important that the number and composition/criteria is justified and made transparent and thus also reasonable.

Your evaluation grid looks helpful. Good luck with this instrument.

Anna

Anna Renkamp
Senior Project Manager
Programm Zukunft der Demokratie

I presume the selection is done by stratified sampling, using the categories mentioned in the text above.

The minimum for such a selection is, as far as I understood:

  • Gender: female – male
  • Political opinion: left – center – right
  • Age: young – middle age – old
  • Level of education: low – average – high
  • Residence: urban – suburban – countryside

This makes 2 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 = 162 categories. Maybe I have to eliminate the “suburban” category to make the composition as “representative as possible” ;-). Maybe I don’t understand the “best possible” representation (I may speculate that the only conference room available that organizers have available can hold no more than 100 people, experts, facilitators etc. included).

2 Responses

  1. Seems very much inspired by the French CCC. A major difference is the lack of a-priori commitment to adopt the recommendations made the assembly (a promise that Macron made but did not keep).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I compare this with the concept of Deliberative Polling® from James Fishkin of the Stanford University then my conclusion is that this “system” has no legitimacy at all. It is what I feared, a technocratic sortition system, “improved” with “selection” runned by academics without any transparency. This system has no link at all with the idea and fundamentals of sortition. Dimitri Courant (2017), « Thinking Sortition. Modes of Selection, Deliberative Frameworks and Democratic Principles », Les Cahiers de l’IEPHI, 68, Université de Lausanne.

    https://www.academia.edu/37132101/Thinking_Sortition._Modes_of_selection_deliberative_frameworks_and_democratic_principles

    Like

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