Center for Blue Democracy GUIDE FOR CIVIL SERVANTS


Citizens’ Assemblies can be initiated not only from the bottom up, but also by a mayor or a city council. Organising a citizens’ assembly helps establish what citizens think about the particular topic, what they would like to see implemented in their city and to which solutions they agree. One of the main advantages of receiving recommendations from a citizens’ assembly is the ability to work in accordance with citizens’ expectations and with public support for implementation of chosen solutions.

A citizens’ assembly is a different form of citizens’ participation than open public meetings. First, the citizens who participate in the citizens’ assembly receive a large amount of knowledge as it begins with an educational program. There is also much time for deliberation and discussion of pros and cons of individual solutions, so that the recommendations of the citizens’ assembly can be well thought out. A citizens’ assembly is created in such a way that its final recommendations can be trusted.

What should be emphasised is that the composition of the citizens’ assembly can be considered as representative of the local community as it is a group that was selected by lot taking into account several demographic criteria. The participants are selected from all citizens (or as wide group as possible), and only people who received a written invitation can apply to participate in the citizens’ assembly. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the same people will participate in the assemblies continually, as is frequently the case for public consultations.

Meetings of the citizens’ assembly are chaired by facilitators that ensure a good atmosphere for discussions, while treating recommendations with an 80 percent support as binding encourages citizens’ involvement and develops a sense of responsibility.

The main role of the city hall is to prepare a process of appointing coordinators, provide a precise thematic scope (agree upon issues to be settled), provide support for random selection and promote the citizens’ assembly among the residents.

Where should you start? Ideally, to start, the city hall should organise a workshop on citizens’ assemblies for the mayor, councillors, and key people in the local government administration. The workshop provides an opportunity for officials to learn more on how a deliberative democracy works in practice and also provides time to ask questions to clarify all details so there is confidence in how the citizens’ assembly works. It is vital for the city hall to fully understand the process and be well prepared for the citizens’ assembly.

When the mayor or city council decides that a citizens’ assembly is to be organised in your city, the next step is to determine which issues it will address. At this point it is a good idea to organise a workshop meeting with representatives of non-governmental organisations and external experts whose task is to agree on the issues together. The underlying idea is to gather wide public support for the selected issues.

During the next step, a team of coordinators is appointed. Coordinators can be appointed by the city hall via a competition for non-governmental organisations or a request for bids. It is good practice to propose a budget in advance, so that the bidders do not compete regarding prices. It is much better when the competition focuses on finding an NGO or a company that will organise the citizens’ assembly in the best manner rather than at the lowest price.

Does the city hall directly participate in the citizens’ assembly? — Yes, there is a whole range of options here. At the beginning, the city hall may propose themes for the educational program and experts to present them. Usually, the agenda includes time for the civil servants to present previous activities and existing plans for the future. The city hall may also present recommendations for solutions and comment on proposals from others. At the next stage, the city hall presents cost estimations for proposals made, so that the participants of the citizens’ assembly know the level of required expenditures, and provides comments and suggestions on draft recommendations.

Although the organisation of the citizens’ assembly is paid for by the city hall, final decisions on its course and agenda is the responsibility of the coordinators, whose independence is one of the basic standards of a citizen’s assembly. The city hall may therefore recommend experts for the educational program, however, a final decision is made by the coordinators. It is similar to having your car checked: although you are responsible to pay for the check up, you do not make the decision as to whether the vehicle is in good operating condition or not. The independence of the coordinators increases the citizens’ trust in the entire process and is also aimed at fair treatment of all stakeholders.

After the final results are decided upon, the recommendations are to be implemented, which is of course the responsibility of the city hall. It should be decided whether implementation of recommendations is to be coordinated by a civil servant or an external institution, or if perhaps a special unit will be established for this purpose. It is worthwhile to ensure that the entire process is conducted with transparency — a plan for implementation of all recommendations should be published on-line, together with the information about who is responsible for what, as well as information about the implementation stage for each recommendation. At this stage it is good practice to establish a special monitoring group appointed by the mayor or the city council that will supervise implementation of the recommendations.