Citizens' assemblies win democracy award

28. November 2023

On 28 November 2023, five German municipalities were honoured for their participation projects with the "Good Citizen Participation" award. The winners include the municipality of Bischweier, the Freiburg region and the town of Werder an der Havel. In these three cases, sortition played a decisive role.

Outstanding projects that can serve as examples of good citizen participation were honoured. More than 50 applications from cities, municipalities, districts and other public bodies were submitted to the competition organised by the Competence Centre for Citizen Participation and its cooperation partner, the Berlin Institute for Participation. The award was presented for the first time in 2023. A jury selected the five winners at the beginning of October.

Citizens' forum and referendum in Bischweier

The municipality of Bischweier received the award for a citizens' forum and a referendum on a planned Mercedes production plant. Project developer Panattoni is planning a production supply and pre-assembly site for Mercedes-Benz AG on the site of a former chipboard factory in Bischweier. The so-called International Consolidation Centre (ICC).

The site is directly adjacent to residential areas in Bischweier and Kuppenheim. Can the resulting challenges for traffic and the environment be organised in a compatible way? What impact will this have on the small community of Bischweier and the Mittelbaden region? How should this be organised?

As a first step, a randomly selected citizens' forum addressed these questions and drew up a citizens' report. Based on this, a referendum was held on 15 January 2023 on the question of whether the municipality should initiate a procedure for a project-related development plan for the site. 76.2 per cent of those who voted were in favour of the ICC.

Inter-municipal Climate Citizens' Assembly Freiburg region

The Freiburg region was honoured with the award for the first inter-municipal climate citizens' assembly in Germany. The city of Freiburg and 15 surrounding municipalities were involved. In the summer of 2022, 91 randomly selected citizens came together to discuss the topic of a "100 per cent renewable energy region".

The participating citizens were introduced to the topic of the energy transition in 25 presentations by experts. This was followed by moderated discussions in small groups about what they had heard. The topics discussed were "Solar on and on buildings", "Solar on open spaces", "Wind power", "Saving energy" and "Other renewable energies", such as hydropower, biomass and geothermal energy. Overarching cross-cutting topics such as specialists, communication and organisational forms of the energy transition, such as citizens' cooperatives, were also highlighted.

On 20 September 2022, the citizens' assembly presented 48 recommendations for the accelerated expansion of renewable energies in the Freiburg region. After the citizens' assembly, citizens' cafés were held to discuss the recommendations between citizens and local councillors.

Future budget in Werder an der Havel

Werder an der Havel is honoured for its future budget. The future budget is a special form of participatory budgeting in which children and young people decide which project proposals are implemented. Every two years, 200,000 euros are made available for this purpose.

17 children and young people from Werder are randomly selected from the population register to form a Future Council. It prepares the election at the city's schools together with the Competence Centre for Child and Youth Participation. The Future Council scrutinised the proposal texts for comprehensibility and developed criteria for a good decision. These criteria were included in the accompanying brochure, which supports the voting process at the schools.

In the second round of the future budget, around 2,500 voting booklets and ballot papers were distributed to schools in November 2022. The central election day took place on 16 November 2023 at eight schools in the town of Werder and its districts. A total of 1,574 ballot papers were completed and 8,726 votes were cast. All pupils from Year 4 onwards were eligible to vote. Those who live in Werder (Havel) but do not go to school here were able to vote by post.

The Future Council met once again to count the votes. The results of the vote were presented at the town council meeting on 15 December 2022. Twelve projects were selected for implementation. These included fitness equipment for a playground, the purchase of insect hotels, the creation of a youth meadow and the construction of a volleyball court.

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