Bundestag invites tenders for citizens' assemblies
The German Bundestag wants to convene three randomly randomly selected citizens' assemblies on federal policy issues by the end of 2025. On 23 December 2022, the parliamentary administration published the call for tenders for the implementation of the mini publics.
Generally, municipalities, federal states, the Federal Government and the European Union do not organise the practical implementation of participation procedures themselves. Instead, they commission professional participation companies that already have experience, for example, in organising citizens' assemblies. In consultation with the respective client, these companies then take care of such tasks as randomly selecting and supervising the participants, organising and facilitating the citizens' assembly meetings, selecting the experts who will speak there and documenting the results.
Financial resources for three citizens' assemblies
A call for tender is an invitation to potential contractors to bid for the performance of a service. The purpose of tenders is to make the award procedure transparent and public so that the most favourable cost-benefit ratio possible is achieved. For the upcoming citizens' assemblies, the Bundestag has approved up to 3 million euros for 2023 and up to another 3 million euros for 2024. The call for tenders specifies the conditions under which the participating companies must conduct the citizens' assemblies. The tender was formulated by the "Citizens' Assemblies Development Team", which was formed in the Bundestag administration in the summer of 2022.
The coalition of SPD, Greens and FDP wants to improve political decision-making at the federal level with citizens' assemblies. "We will set up and organise citizens' assemblies on specific issues through the Bundestag. In doing so, we will pay attention to equal participation. Referral of the results to the Bundestag will be ensured," reads the coalition agreement of the three parties presented on 24 November 2021.
Citizens' assemblies from civil society and ministries
Although there have already been seven federal citizens' assemblies since 2019, these did not take place on behalf of the Bundestag. Rather, the sponsors were civil society organisations or individual federal ministries. Therefore, the upcoming citizens' assemblies are the first ones with a direct link to the elected MPs.
In the Bundestag's call for proposals, the implementation of citizens' assemblies is justified as follows: "Despite the dwindling binding forces of traditional institutions of social engagement, a pronounced will to actively participate in shaping society can be felt at many levels. At the same time, many people feel that their voice is no longer heard in the political discourse. Both developments increase the need for new participation formats that strengthen the proximity of parliamentary-representative politics to citizens. One of these formats is citizens' assemblies."
Opinions from the people
With the citizens' assemblies, the Bundestag obtains a differentiated opinion from the population in a new form, based on everyday experience, which can flow directly into the process of parliamentary decision-making. The citizens' assemblies are thus a new advisory instrument for the Bundestag within the framework of representative democracy. The citizens' assemblies are intended to help identify where society as a whole stands on issues of high social relevance.
"The subject of a citizens' assembly can be decisions on direction, value-based conflicts, prioritisation or distribution issues," the call for proposals continues. The deliberations of the citizens' assemblies should result in differentiated recommendations that could be taken up in the parliamentary process and should hope for broad social acceptance.
For each federal citizens' assembly, 160 citizens will be randomly selected to represent the country's social diversity. All residents over the age of 16 are eligible to participate.
Each citizens' assembly is to operate in a mixed format with face-to-face meetings and digital sessions. After the Bundestag has decided on a assembly topic, the commissioned participation company is to draw up a concept for its implementation in consultation with the Bundestag. This includes a detailed concept on the objectives, process, procedure and methodology of the citizens' assembly. Proposals for formats for involving members of the Bundestag are also to be developed.
About 20,000 people randomly selected from the population registers of the municipalities are to be invited to each citizens' assembly. From the resulting applications, an assembly will be compiled that represents a reflection of the population according to age, gender, education, regional origin (federal state) and frequent origin (size of municipality). Additional recruitment criteria may be used for individual citizens' assemblies. The random selection of the assembly participants can also take place within the framework of a public event in the Bundestag. As a rule, the venue of the citizens' assembly events should be Berlin.
As is customary for citizens' assemblies, participants' travel and accommodation costs are covered, as are meals and costs for the care of children and relatives in need of care. The venues and accommodation are barrier-free, i.e. accessible to people with disabilities without assistance. In addition, all assembly members receive an expense allowance.
Guidelines for expert selection
For digital meetings, participants receive the necessary technical equipment and a video conferencing system on a loan basis. Appropriate training and test runs are provided in advance. Between meetings, the assembly members have access to an internal online platform for exchange and information.
There are also specifications in the call for proposals for the selection of experts who will provide the assembly participants with information. Of particular importance to the Bundestag are
- technical and thematic competence as well as special ability to present information in a generally understandable way
- a gender balance as far as possible
- within the framework of the constitutional order, the representation of the broadest possible spectrum of opinions, which necessarily includes diverse, also controversial views on the subject of deliberation.
In addition to experts from science, administration and practice, representatives of interest groups and those affected can also be invited, depending on the topic. The experts should be present during the assembly meetings, including the deliberations in the small groups, to directly answer questions and for fact checks, feedback on proposals and similar formats. Assembly participants should also be able to contact the experts between sessions.
Space for evaluation teams and media representatives
In order to monitor the quality of citizens' assemblies, ten places will be reserved for evaluation teams at the sessions. Media representatives will also be able to attend assembly meetings. The same applies to other interested observers upon request.
To inform the public, important parts of the assembly' meetings, such as plenary discussions and expert presentations, will be recorded and published. Short reports on each meeting are published on the website of the respective citizens' assembly. There you can also find all important meeting documents as well as information in easy language and in English. For all press and public relations work, there are many ideas and detailed guidelines in the call for proposals.
Each citizens' assembly ends with a handover event in the Bundestag, to which all participants are invited. There, the assembly report is handed over to the Bundestag. The report was formulated by the citizens' assembly members in cooperation with the participation company that was obliged to do so by the invitation to tender. It contains the recommendations of the citizens' assembly on the respective topic as well as all other important information on the assembly.
After the first of the three planned citizens' assemblies, the Bundestag can commission the participation company to organise and conduct further citizens' assemblies. This should then also include outreach invitations to randomly selected people or "other innovative procedures".
First citizens' assembly in autumn 2023
The first citizens' assembly commissioned by the Bundestag will probably take place in autumn 2023. The topic has not yet been determined.