Citizens' jury by citizens' petition

01. June 2024
Mehr Demokratie

Constance is the first German city in which a citizens' jury can be requested by the population. On 16 May 2024, the city council adopted corresponding guidelines for testing mini-publics.

An application to set up a citizens' jury requires 800 signatures from residents of the city on Lake Constance. However, the city council must decide to set up a mini-public. As elsewhere, this is also possible on the basis of a proposal from the administration or at the request of one or more political groups in the city council.

Modelled on Vorarlberg

The city is thus modelling itself on a regulation in the Austrian state of Vorarlberg, where at least 1,000 residents can apply for a citizens' jury on a topic of their choice. The Polish city of Gdansk has a similar regulation. Here, 1,000 signatures are required for a non-binding application and 5,000 signatures are required to oblige the mayor to convene a citizens' jury. In the German state of Baden-Württemberg, the Greens and CDU want to make it possible to convene a state-wide citizens' panel with randomly selected citizens by means of a popular petition. Both parties have agreed this in their 2021 coalition agreement.

In Constance, a citizens' jury would consist of 12 to 30 randomly selected residents of the city. Participants will receive an expense allowance of 30 euros. Reimbursement of childcare costs is also possible.

Neutral moderation

A citizens' jury should only meet once on each topic and not in public. The participants receive the necessary knowledge for their deliberations from experts familiar with the respective topic. These are appointed by an advisory board. Moderation by a neutral agency is intended to ensure that all members of the citizens' jury are heard. The agency is determined by the City of Constance through a formal tendering process based on the requirements defined by the advisory board.

The participants agree on joint proposals or an opinion. The process and results of each citizens' jury are summarised in documentation. Decisions are made by consent.

Consent procedure

Unlike consensus, the aim of consent decision-making is not to completely resolve all objections to a possible decision. For this purpose, a distinction is made in consent between "reservations" and "serious objections". While "concerns" do not block the decision-making process, "serious objections" are recognised and taken into account in the decision-making process. In consent, a decision is deemed to have been made when there are no more (justified) serious objections.

The consent procedure is intended to make voting more effective and to reach better quality decisions than by consensus. Advantages: All affected members of the citizens' jury are heard. Objections to the decision do not block the decision-making process.

Presentation of results in a citizens' café

The results of a citizens' jury in Constance are first presented to the public in a citizens' café. This will be followed by a "resonance group" consisting of representatives of the citizens' jury and the administration. The results will be discussed there. Representatives of the city council groups are also invited to attend. This arrangement also has its origins in Vorarlberg.

After the consultations in the response group, the administration prepares a draft for the city council, in which it is communicated whether and how the proposals from the citizens' jury can be implemented. The city council then incorporates the results of the mini-public into its decision-making process.

Preparation and follow-up by the advisory board

An advisory board should be set up to prepare for and follow up a citizens' jury. This should be made up of two employees from the administration, two representatives from the last two citizens' juries and one member of the Konstanzer Bürger:innenkonzil (Constance Civic Council) association. The association has been campaigning for mini-publics in Constance since 2020. If the current citizens' jury was created by the population, two representatives from the ranks of the initiators of the signature collection are also part of the advisory board. Like the citizens' jury, the advisory board works by consent.

Citizens' juries are "an effective means of strengthening democracy", says Christine Finke (Junges Forum - Young Forum). At the city council meeting, she spoke in favour of the outreach sortition procedure. This involves the randomly selected residents being visited in person in order to achieve a greater diversity of people on the citizens' jury.

Outreach sortition procedure rejected

Simon Pschorr (Linke Liste - Left List) fears that without this procedure, only people who are already politically engaged would take part in a citizens' jury. He wants to ensure that workers, middle-class people and people with a migration background are also represented on the mini-public.

As the City of Constance's representative for citizen participation, Martin Schröpel argued that the outreach sortition procedure is "incredibly time-consuming". Initially, there would be a two-year trial phase. Improvements could be made on the basis of experience. Simon Pschorr's motion on the outreach sortition procedure was rejected by the majority of the city council.

Concept development decided in 2021

The city council had already decided to develop a concept for the involvement of citizens' juries in municipal planning and development processes in 2021. The concept was drawn up together with the "Konstanzer Bürger:innenkonzil" association.

The development of the concept was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other work assignments. After a public kick-off event at the Konzil on 6 July 2022, the joint development of the concept began. The concept was developed on the basis of the "Guidelines for Citizen Participation" adopted by the city council, which describe the framework for citizen participation in Constance.

Guidelines limited in time

The concept has now been summarised in test guidelines, which are limited in time and thus allow for a follow-up review and control.

Objectives of the concept:

  • To introduce citizens' juries as a method in municipal planning processes.
  • To gather further experience in order to institutionalise democratic participation procedures by means of citizens' juries or to bring them into a regulated connection with municipal decision-making structures.
  • To lay the foundations for further possible development on the subject of "involving random citizens in planning processes" after the trial phase.

Previous trials

The trial regulations are limited to two years for the duration of the trial from the date of the city council's decision. After the two years, the administration will submit a new proposal on the further possible inclusion and role of citizens' juries in municipal decision-making processes and their formal inclusion in the guidelines for citizen participation of the City of Constance.

The new citizens' jury rules are not the first step the City of Constance has taken in the area of democracy by sortition. As part of the citizens' budget, the city of Constance has already been involving citizens' juries in decision-making since 2019. In 2023, the city set up a citizens' jury for the municipality's climate mobility plan.

Learn more: Test guidelines "Citizens' Juries in Constance"