What are citizens' assemblies?
The special thing about citizens' assemblies is that the participants are randomly selected from the population. Academics sit next to craftswomen, pensioners next to young people, people born here next to immigrants. Their task is to jointly propose solutions to political problems. These recommendations are submitted to the respective parliament or municipal council for consultation. What climate protection measures should Germany take? How should care be organised in the future? What should the country's education policy look like? These and many other issues can be discussed in a citizens' assembly.
Diversity as a strength
The diverse composition of citizens' assemblies is their particular strength. Studies show that a group of very different citizens comes up with better solutions than a group of similar people. Different paths in life and education lead to different perspectives, which are all brought together in a citizens' assembly. Issues are thus considered from different angles. In this way, solutions emerge from the basis of diverse experiences and life circumstances.
The participants of a citizens' assembly are randomly selected from the population registers of the cities and municipalities. Those drawn by lot are contacted and invited to apply for participation in the upcoming citizens' assembly. In doing so, the applicants provide information that is not available from the population registers, e.g. on their educational qualifications or a migration background. Based on this information and the already available data on gender, age and place of residence, a group is formed that represents as good a reflection of the population as possible in terms of its composition. For example, half of each citizens' assembly is made up of women. All costs of the participants are covered and care for children and persons in need of care is offered as well as the accessibility of the venue is guaranteed.
Knowledge transfer and facilitation
In a citizens' assembly, experts provide the participants with the knowledge needed to formulate recommendations. The participants hear presentations and discussions and can ask questions about them. The experts are assembled in such a way that they are as diverse as possible and provide a balanced view of the pros and cons of political options.
In professionally moderated table groups with up to eight people, discussions take place about what has been heard. The table groups discuss in a protected space, so if people from politics or the media are observing, nothing may leak out. This allows an honest and open discussion to unfold. The moderator makes sure that all people at the table have an equal say. Recommendations are also developed in the table discussions, which are discussed and voted on by everyone at the end of the Citizens' Assembly.
Since Citizens' Assembly members are not elected and thus have no mandate from the population, their recommendations are formally non-binding. Nevertheless, the recommendations of such assemblies are often taken into account in political decisions by parliaments and local councils. It is also possible to link citizens' assemblies with the binding procedures of direct democracy and give all citizens the opportunity to vote on citizens' assembly recommendations in a referendum.