"Exactly you are important"

05. October 2022
Charlotte Bernstorff

Randomly selecting a colourful group from the population register - that sounds simple at first. However, there are different ways to apply the sortition procedure. With "outreach participation" you can reach people who do not directly respond to an invitation to a citizens' assembly. It is precisely their voices that are often underrepresented in politics. Kathrin Rick from the German city of Coesfeld has knocked on more than 60 doors to recruit people for the LOSLAND Future Council.

Question: You have been involved in the "Future Council in Coesfeld" project from the very beginning and were keen to get involved. How did you get involved in the first place?

Kathrin Rick: I listened to a lecture by Claudine Nierth from Mehr Demokratie, who talked about randomly selected citizens' assemblies, among other things. My first thought was: What is that? That sounds exciting. And then I did a little more research and thought that it is exactly what we need for a democracy as I imagine it: to be allowed to have a say, to be allowed to say everything and thus to be heard.

Then I got a newsletter about the LOSLAND project and thought: We need that in Coesfeld too! I immediately wrote an email to the mayor. She replied: Dear Kathrin, we are already in talks with LOSLAND.

Question: After the majority decision in the city council you became part of the steering group to support the mayor organisationally. Later on, with a lot of perseverance, you visited people at their front doors on four days. What kind of feeling stuck with you?

Rick: A lot of feelings. Pride and frustration and joy; that I am an ambassador for something really great, that it is actually a gift. If someone wanted to listen to me and didn't directly say they didn't have time, it was great to tell people that it was a chance to have been randomly selected and to be allowed to participate.

Question: And did openness come your way?

Rick: A great deal of openness. Even with those who didn't like the date of the Future Council. I mainly got refusals, but I also heard again and again: "Thank you for coming by. It is an appreciation that you thought of me."

Question: What were the most frequent reasons for rejection?

Rick: Lack of time! And many older people said that they are going on holiday after the school holidays.

Question: You were able to win over a handful of people. What convinced them to participate?

Rick: Some said, "Oh, I totally forgot about that, great that you reminded me! I think it's really great." One said he wanted to register, but then missed it. "Now you're here, that's a sign! I'll sign right away. Can my wife come too?" Of course, you can't do that with tsortition. Then I could refer to the public Future Forum and say that his wife could join in there.

I also rang the doorbells of some women who said, "I'm not the right person for that, I can't have any say in it." Someone next to them said, "She's so quiet, she won't say anything." I encouraged them and said: "Exactly you are important, we also want to hear those who are not always in the front row.

Question: What other reasons were there for not coming?

Rick: I was with some people who don't speak German. Once the man translated. He was very friendly and encouraged them to join in. "I'll look after the children, no problem." With the other woman, the son translated and she said, "I'm not the right person there, I've lived in Coesfeld for so long and I don't know any German."

She wanted to have contact with Germans and learn German, but couldn't take lessons because of her shifts. She wanted me to come in and have a coffee. There was a longing to talk to each other. This longing caused her to say that she would like to come if she could manage to exchange her shifts freely. And I was able to tell her that a translator would be there for her.

Question: What would you like to give other people or communities who want to do outreach participation?

Rick: You are the person who goes into contact. That's why it makes sense to take care of yourself and not to think: I have a job to do here. The moment I put this thought aside - when I allowed myself to go into the conversation - I felt better. So even if people can't be there to say: why don't you tell me what comes to your mind about this topic? If I reached the family but not the young person who was randomly selected, then - if I was in the mood - I told the parents what the Future Council was. I allowed myself to do that, even if it was actually wasted time.

You can really get frustrated if you ring the bell and the person is not there or has no time or interest. When you have eight of those in a row, it does something to you. It did me a lot of good to say: that's okay and now I'm allowing myself to really talk to someone. That brought me back into the bond with the Future Council.

Question: So see the path as the goal. After all, it's about reaching out to people with whom you don't directly "knock down open doors".

Rick: It's a tightrope walk: you have to have a certain persistence to find out why the person is not participating and whether it is perhaps something we can help with, for example child care. Or is it lack of interest or shyness. How far do I go with the research? I don't want to push anyone. When is a door also closed and when can I allow myself to let go with ease?

Question: Do you have any practical tips? What should you have with you?

Rick: In any case, you should print out the invitation to the citizens' assembly again. Most people no longer have it. And an invitation to the Future Forum is useful for all those who have not been randomly selected. I also had an explanatory note with key points about the citizens' assembly. One should provide for one's physical well-being and take water with one. At some point I was a bit lost and didn't know who I was ringing at the moment. That's why it's a good idea to write down the name of the person you're ringing for on a piece of paper.

The first time was completely weird, I thought up a certain route beforehand and wanted to visit 20 people - I managed 15. That wasn't very effective. The next time I had the Excel spreadsheet with the addresses of the hosts with me and used Maps to check again and again where someone else lived in the vicinity. If some of the pots have already been filled, but there are still too few young people, for example, then you look for the addresses of the young people who have been randomly selected. If you haven't filled the pots yet, you can simply check which addresses are in the neighbourhood.

Question: What is your conclusion about outreach participation?

Rick: I think the sortition procedure is generally great because it helps to put together a diverse group. Of course, outreach is time-consuming and you should always start in good time and allow enough time. But it is worth it!

Those who respond directly to an invitation are often the braver ones. Some people need the personal contact and an explanation. It has always been important to make it clear that the citizens' assembly is not about entering into a discussion and imposing an opinion, but about gathering what ideas and thoughts are there in the group. Many people tend to shy away from the word discussion and think, oh no, that's not mine. It's about listening and coming together and not talking against each other. I find it incredibly important to convey this attitude and it encourages those who are otherwise rather reserved.

Kathrin Rick has lived in Coesfeld since 2010 and is a trained goldsmith. At the age of 51, she made a career change and studied social pedagogy. She now works at the vocational training centre in Ahaus and is committed to helping people find a way back into working life.

With the LOSLAND (English: Land of lots) project, Mehr Demokratie and the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS Potsdam) accompany municipalities all over Germany in shaping their grandchild-friendly future.

For this purpose, they selected ten municipalities and cities with motivated mayors who want to go new ways together with their inhabitants. The aim is to contribute to a more active and cooperative political culture. Together with politicians, administrators and local citizens, LOSLAND develops and plans customised participation processes and supports the municipalities in their implementation. Randomly selected citizens' assemblies offer a central approach for the design of the processes.

The interview was conducted by Charlotte Bernstorff from LOSLAND.

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