"Citizens' assemblies a meaningful concept"
On 15 March 2022, the council of the joint municipality of Meinersen near Hanover decided to hold a citizens' jury on the topic of "Redesigning citizen services in the joint municipality of Meinersen". Martin Coordes from Müden an der Aller made a significant contribution to this decision. Since his participation in the Citizens' Assembly on Democracy in 2019, he has been committed to randomly selected citizens' assemblies at all levels. We asked him a few questions about this.
Question: Mr Coordes, on 15 March the council of the joint municipality of Meinersen decided to hold a citizens' jury on the topic of "Redesigning citizen services in the joint municipality of Meinersen". How did this come about?
Martin Coordes: In the local elections in September 2021, the non-party candidate Karin Single was elected mayor. She had also visited smaller towns in the run-up to the election, including Ettenbüttel, my home town. At the event at her construction trailer, I was able to raise the issue of citizens' assemblies. A lengthy discussion on the subject ensued, also at the request of the citizens present. Ms Single showed strong interest in this new form of dialogue between politics and citizens. Mrs. Single used the time until the run-off election for a one-hour conversation to get even more information from me.
After she won the run-off election, another conversation followed on how to proceed and the wish to provide more information. This information was used in the talks with the parliamentary groups to inform them in advance for the motion for a resolution in the joint municipal committee and joint municipal council in March. The motion was approved without any dissenting votes.
Question: You have campaigned for citizens' juries in the joint municipality of Meinersen. How did you convince the mayor, the council and the administration?
Coordes: Through personal talks and reports on experiences, the politicians' basic knowledge and understanding was increased. In the course of the talks, a basis of trust developed and the questions resulting from the politicians' fears, for example, of losing power and being overtaxed by the citizens' jury participants could be answered by examples and experiences. Previously feared risks and threats turned into opportunities.
Question: You were randomly selected as a member of the Citizens' Assembly on Democracy in 2019. What motivated you to get involved in citizens' assemblies afterwards? How did you go about it?
Coordes: I think citizens' assemblies are a meaningful concept for creating resonance between citizens and politicians again. The understanding for each other increases, citizens regain personal responsibility and politicians feel their work is seen again. Respectful interaction with each other returns.
I have offered talks in the constituency of Gifhorn/Peine, in the city of Gifhorn and in the municipality of Meinersen. If there was no response, I asked in a friendly way after four weeks, then again after eight weeks.
I held talks, provided information, asked for support and offered further talks. Staff members in anterooms and secretariats were also very helpful. They were very interested in the topic of citizens' assemblies and, after receiving information about it, often opened doors and made appointments possible.
Question: What advice would you give to people who want to get involved in citizens' juries in their city or municipality?
Coordes: One should seek personal dialogue, not make demands, but report on experiences in citizens' assemblies, for example about moods, the empathy of the participants with each other, appreciative interaction or the importance of moderation. It is also important to allow questions and, if possible, to answer with your own experiences. It is also useful to establish contacts with participants of citizens' assemblies and politicians with citizens' assembly experience. You can also refer to videos, reports and evaluations. It is important to be patient, not to put pressure on people and not to overburden them, but to keep offering information and asking for it.