There are several possible ways of engaging citizens in policy making processes. One of them is Citizens’ Assemblies, a form of democratic decision making where a randomly selected group of citizens deliberate upon, and make recommendations on important issues. Eventhough Citizens’ Assemblies are not a widely adopted concept yet, they became increasingly popular in the past few years and have been implemented for example in Poland, UK or Scotland.
So, what does it take to successfully design and run a Citizens’ Assembly?
The concept od Citizens’ Assemblies has been carried out only in a few democratic systems worldwide. To introduce the practice and pass on best practises, a Training Camp was held recently in Prague by the Center for Blue Democracy from Poland. It aimed at members of organizations, groups and individuals interested in becoming coordinators of Citizens’ Assemblies and by that advocating systemic change. For a world where Citizens’ Assemblies are well designed, held to high quality standards, and executed with confidence, capacity building is key.
There are practical and theoretical aspects of an assembly process, which are both equally important. First, coordinators of Citizens’ Assemblies must ensure that the process follows the best standards and guiding principles. According to Zuzanna Nowak from the Center for Blue Democracy, there are 22 basic quality standards for Citizens’ Assemblies, which, for example, include: having clear purpose, ensuring accessibility, transparency and independent coordination, guaranteeing freedom of expression and commitment to further impact. Those basic standards are rooted in 7 guiding principles that highlight the main building blocks of the Citizens’ Assembly process:
- Democracy is for everyone.
- The process is conducted in a fair and credible way.
- In a democracy, people are the sovereign.
- The aim of democracy is to contribute to a good quality of life.
- The purpose of a citizens’ assembly is to achieve high quality, well thought-out decisions.
- Each person is worthy by the virtue of their own inner dignity.
- Joy is the measuring stick of success.
These standards and principles help coordinators to design and implement a successful assembly which is above all credible and transparent.
Before getting into the assembly flow, a coordinator needs to decide on the assembly’s size, deliver invitations and ensure a transparent random selection process. At the city level, the number of participants would be at least 50 people. But since the response rate is around 5 to 10%, the number of people invited should naturally be higher. Those, who get an invitation, can register online or by phone and wait if they get selected or not. The random selection uses techniques that guarantee that the process is fair to everyone and that the final group of people is the perfect sample of the local inhabitants.
Regarding the assembly process itself, the deliberation is always preceded by a learning phase. During the learning phase, assembly members get educated by experts on the given topic as well as learn useful skills for better decision making. Consequently, better and well thought-out recommendations can be made during the deliberative phase, which should always be focused on the quality of outcomes and excellence aside from the fun, of course.
We, as a Participation Factory, are always eager to meet fellow practitioners and get inspired by their way of thinking and experience. We do share a lot of values, standards, and principles with our friends from the Center for Blue Democracy. We are both providing opportunities for citizens to get informed, to meaningfully interact with their local governments and each other, and express what they wish for a better future.
In the context of Czech Republic, Citizens’ Assemblies are not a widely known format of democratic decision making and they have not been implemented yet. Nevertheless, we believe that with active engagement and systematic cooperation of local pro-democracy organizations Citizens’ Assemblies can become a standard in our democratic system. After all, supporting the sovereignty of people by giving them a chance to carry out well thought-out decisions based on mutual consensus is the key for a more healthy democracy.
If you want to learn more about Citizens’ Assemblies or other participatory processes, do not hesitate to contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org