Citizens‘ Reference Panel

Ein „Citizens‘ Reference Panel“ ist ein Bürgerbeteiligungsverfahren in Kanada, bei dem 24 bis 54 zufällig ausgewählte Bürger*innen über einen Zeitraum von mehreren Wochen oder Monaten über ein strittiges öffentliches Thema beraten. Unter welchen Voraussetzungen ein solches „Citizens‘ Reference Panel“ zu besserer Politik führen kann, beschreibt Claudia Chwalisz in einem englischsprachigen Blogbeitrag.

The research demonstrates that, beyond the obvious democratic benefit, involving citizens in big policy decisions and giving them the time to become informed before they give their recommendations leads to more legitimate and effective policies. When given the opportunity to play an important role in shaping policies that affect their lives, people take it seriously and have proved time and again to be competent.
Using a long-form deliberative process is also a win for policymakers. It gives them agency to act on issues where government is “stuck” due to political pressures, gaining the legitimacy to make hard choices. A number of the examples also highlight the fact that such a process permits public authorities to be more radical than they might have dared otherwise. However, because participants always have to consider their recommendations within budgetary and feasibility constraints, they are nonetheless pragmatic.

There are six key characteristics of long-form deliberative processes, which are essential for their success.
Firstly, authority. They are always commissioned by someone with the decision-making power to act on the citizens’ recommendations. This makes participation meaningful and ensures that “ordinary” citizens and not just impassioned activists are willing to participate.
Secondly, random selection. People are chosen through a fair, transparent and rigorous two-stage lottery process. In the first stage, between 10,000 and 20,000 invitations from the person in authority are mailed out at random. Among those who respond saying they are interested and available on all the meeting dates (usually between 3% and 15%), a representative group of around 50 people is chosen to reflect society in terms of age, gender, geography and socioeconomic characteristics.
Thirdly, time and resources. The group usually meets from 4 to 6 times over the course of 2-4 months, sometimes complemented by additional online activities. There is usually a gap of 1-3 weeks between meetings to allow participants the time to speak with their friends, family members and colleagues and gather their input, as well as time to reflect on the topic at hand. The key is ensuring that the end result is a set of informed recommendations.
Fourthly, deliberation. There is an emphasis “long and careful consideration or discussion”. It’s about the force of the best arguments winning out, rather than the loudest voices, the greatest numbers, the most money or other forces shaping a policy outcome.
Fifthly, publicity. It is a public process, with media coverage before, during and after the process to hold the authority to account.
And finally, independent organisation. In all the cases (…), there is an independent entity (…) which organises, facilitates, and moderates the deliberations to ensure that everything is done fairly, rigorously and transparently at arm’s length from government.

The key to deciding whether a topic is appropriate for this process must be about weighing trade-offs and identifying priorities rather than answering a black-and-white question.