How do we as a society find ways out of the democracy crisis, the climate crisis, the financial crisis? How can we shape our future, how can we achieve a fair distribution of resources, intergenerational justice...? We need new forms of idea generation, cooperation in the political field and collaboration.
For this purpose, sortition-based citizens' assemblies are particularly suitable, in which "ordinary people" are selected at random and work together on a topic.
They develop concrete proposals on pre-determined issues or they set topics for further debate. Everyone has the chance to become part of such an assembly. This brings together people from different information bubbles. The group is manageably large (often there are no more than 150 people), but composed in such a way that it represents society.
The meetings are professionally organised and accompanied by a trained moderation team with neutral content. The participants do not need to have any special previous knowledge. A professional discussion leader and comprehensibly prepared information by experts ensure that even complex issues can be dealt with. As many interest groups as possible (in relation to the topic under discussion) are heard, e.g. environmental or business associations, churches, scientists or consumer protection organisations.
The public, the classical and especially the social media are involved, but the deliberations of the randomly selected group take place in a protected space. The proposals are received by the client, for example the parliament, the government or a ministry, and ideally lead to a decision-making process. They can also be the substantive basis of popular petitions or referendums.
It is precisely in times of crisis that people and societies seem to open up to new ways of doing things. In Ireland, it was the difficult situation after the financial crisis that paved the way for Citizens' Assemblies. On a regional level, this instrument exists e.g. in Eastern Belgium and Vorarlberg. In Germany, the first nationwide lot-based Citizens' Assembly ran in 2019 to find ways out of the democracy crisis.
The climate crisis in particular is crying out for new forms of participation
The UK has responded to the climate crisis with citizen participation: A citizens' assembly on climate change was convened on the initiative of six committees of the British parliament. Also at the regional level, a number of citizens' assemblies on the climate issue have been and are ongoing in the UK. The same is true at the municipal level in countries such as France and Poland.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron launched a national climate assembly in June 2019. Over the course of seven weekends, 150 randomly selected participants worked on measures to curb the climate crisis. The impetus for this came from the people. What all these processes have in common is that they rely on direct conversation with and between citizens as a way out of a crisis.
Our guide "Alloted Citizens' Assemblies - how and why they work" highlights procedures and practice of randomly selected citizens' assemblies.