Deliberative Café: a small citizens' assembly

10. March 2023

Organising a citizens' assembly is easy if you have the right procedure. Designing everything from scratch, on the other hand, is very difficult. If someone is embarking on the adventure of "deliberative democracy" for the first time, they can use a ready-made model of a citizens' assembly.

The Deliberative Café is one such ready-made model that can be used to successfully run a simple citizens' assembly. Its aim is to deal with a relatively narrow topic - discussion of which should be possible in one session, or at most in two full-day meetings. The Deliberative Café Handbook, edited by Polish citizens' assembly expert Marcin Gerwin, is a practical guide for people interested in organising such a process. It is aimed at both implementers and municipal staff who want to learn more about the details of this procedure.

Citizens' assembly format for local level

The Deliberative Café is a citizens' assembly format for the local level. The basic version consists of three sessions - a learning phase and two deliberative phases - during which recommendations are developed on a specific topic. The Deliberative Café consists of 36 people. These are randomly selected, taking into account demographic criteria, to be a good representation of the population of a municipality.

The aim of the Deliberative Café is to develop proposed solutions to problems from the residents' point of view in order to improve decision-making by the administration and the city council. The aim is to develop proposals for solutions that can, but do not have to, be taken into account by the municipal administration. The Deliberative Café is thus a form of public consultation. Ideally, within three months of receipt, the municipality will state whether or not individual recommendations will be implemented.

Suitable for specific issues

The Deliberative Café has a set size, a set of rules, a schedule and an agenda. It is suitable for specific issues that can be addressed during a one-day learning phase. It is particularly useful for municipalities that want to try a deliberative process for the first time, or that have a specific issue on which they are seeking citizen input.

The manual covers topics such as: Selecting the topic for the Deliberative Cafe, Inviting experts and stakeholders, Sending invitations, Conducting a random selection, Designing the learning phase, Developing recommendations, Voting procedures and much more.

Read more: Deliberative Café