Citizens' Assemblies as a model for the future?

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The Konrad Adenauer Foundation published a study on randomly selected citizens' assemblies on 4 March 2021. The study shows the potentials and limits of this form of citizen participation and takes a look at other countries.

Sortition-based citizens' assemblies have now arrived in the political arena at the federal level. In June 2020, the Council of Elders of the German Bundestag had expressed the wish to implement a citizens' assembly procedure. Thus, at the beginning of 2021, the Citizens' Assembly "Germany's Role in the World" had begun its work. Its recommendations on foreign policy, developed in ten online events, were recently presented and will be put into a citizens' report and presented to the Bundestag. With these recommendations, the Bundestag parliamentary groups have another basis for further developing political ideas and programmes.

In the study "Citizens' Assemblies as a model for the Future?" by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the authors examine questions of the concrete design of the procedure, the implementation problems and their possible solutions. Answers to these questions can be found in the citizens' assembly procedures in other countries. The first article by Manuela Glaab approaches the topic from the perspective of democratic theory, but also looks at practice. The second contribution by Tobias Montag and Alexander Beribes examines comparatively the two citizens' assemblies at the national level in Ireland and France as well as two regional case studies in the Austrian province of Vorarlberg and in eastern Belgium. They conclude with selected theses containing suggestions for the implementation and further development of citizens' assemblies.

In the authors' opinion, the following points should be considered when implementing citizens' assemblies:

  • Citizens' assemblies and parliaments can enter into legitimacy competition with each other. This is prevented if the parliament is the clear client of the procedure.
  • The parliament should secure influence on the design of the procedure by setting up an organising office or steering group that is part of the parliamentary administration.
  • Within the framework set by the state, citizens' assemblies need room for manoeuvre.
  • Citizens' assemblies that are overloaded with hopes or claims to legitimacy are doomed to failure. Exaggerated expectations should be disarmed.
  • The effectiveness of citizens' assemblies is limited. Positive effects can be seen mainly in the very narrow circle of participants. Citizens' assemblies must therefore be integrated into a more prepared public campaign or a more general citizens' dialogue.

More information: Study "Citizens' Assemblies as a model for the Future?" (PDF)