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Citizen Deliberative Council

Citizen Deliberative Councils (CDCs) are temporary, face-to-face councils of a dozen or more citizens whose diversity reflects the diversity of their community, state or country. Usually council members are selected at random, often with additional criteria to ensure gender, racial, socioeconomic and other diversity.

These diverse ordinary citizens convene for two to ten days to consider some public concern — to learn about it (often by hearing and cross-examining diverse experts), to reflect on it together (usually with the help of a professional facilitator or moderator), and to craft a collective statement which they then announce to the public and/or relevant officials and agencies, often through a press conference.

After that they disband. In current democratic visions featuring CDCs, they have no permanent or official power except the power of legitimacy and widely-publicized common sense solutions to compelling public problems. But they could be given whatever powers the people want them to have.

The Distinctiveness of CDCs

Although 'citizen deliberation'* happens in many forms, a Citizen Deliberative Council is a special form of deliberation structured and convened to inform officials and the public about what The People as a whole really want. It is made up of ordinary citizens whose diversity embodies the diversity of the population from which they were drawn. It is, in essence, an ad hoc microcosm of a community, state or country, convened to reflect the views and concerns of that community, state or country, in an interactive setting. Participants may be selected randomly or scientifically – or by a combination of both methods. But they differ from participants in most other forms of citizen deliberation in that they are not chosen as representatives, stakeholders or experts. They are themselves, and they show up simply as peer citizens. In their role as a citizen council, however, they archetypally embody the citizenry and may consult with representatives, experts or other stakeholders, to improve their understanding of the issues they're exploring.

On the question of CDC's democratic legitimacy, see http://co-intelligence.org/CDCsLegitimacy.html.

There are many varieties of citizen deliberative councils, but they all share one purpose and seven characteristics.

Purpose:

  • To inform officials and the public of what We the People as a whole would really want if we were to carefully think about it and talk it over with each other.

Characteristics:

  1. It is an organized face-to-face assembly.
  2. It is made up of people selected so that their collective diversity fairly reflects the diversity of the larger community from which they were chosen. (In this context, 'community' means any coherent civic population, whether a block, a citizens' organization, a city, a province, a country, or any other such public grouping.) 
  3. It is convened temporarily, for a limited number of days – almost always for more than a single day – usually a few days to a week of actual meetings, sometimes distributed over several weeks. 
  4. Its members deliberate as peer citizens, setting aside any other role or status they may have. 
  5. It has an explicit mandate to address public issues or the concerns of its community.
  6. It uses forms of dialogue, usually facilitated, that enable its diverse members to really hear each other, to expand and deepen their understanding of the issues involved and to engage together in seeking creative ways their community might address those issues.
  7.  At its conclusion, it issues findings and/or recommendations to concerned officials and to the larger community from which its members came and to which they return when their reports are submitted. Usually there is an expectation of further community dialogue stimulated by the report, and this is sometimes intentionally included as part of the overall process.

Forms of CDC:

CitizenJuries – The basic and most widely practiced CDC, outlined above, with 12-24 participants. Pioneered in the US. <http://www.jefferson-center.org>

ConsensusConferences – Like citizens juries except (a) panelists participate more in selecting experts to testify before them, (b) testimony is taken in a public forum and (c) a panel's final product is a consensus statement. Pioneered in Denmark. <http://www.co-intelligence.org/P-DanishTechPanels.html>

PlanningCells – Numerous simultaneous 25-person citizens juries (cells), all addressing the same subject. Participants spend much of their time in 5-person subgroups. The cells' diverse final statements get integrated into one 'Citizens' Report.' Pioneered in Germany. <http://www.planet-thanet.fsnet.co.uk/groups/wdd/99_planning_cells.htm>

Citizen Assemblies – In 2004 the government of British Columbia, Canada, convened a panel of 160 citizens (one man and one woman randomly selected from each legislative district) to study and make recommendations on electoral reform. After 6 weekends of study and interactions with experts, they held 50 public hearings, read 1600 public submissions, and then in 3 months of deliberations developed recommendations for citizen approval in an election which, if it is approved by voters May 2005, will become law. <http://www.citizensassembly.bc.ca/public>. The most empowered form of CDC so far seen.

There is also a new form of CDC which, unlike the models above, does not start off with issues and experts: The Wisdom Council is an experimental council using a proven form of open-ended, creative group process (DynamicFacilitation) to explore whatever citizens feel is important. It is currently being piloted in several U.S. communities. <http://www.co-intelligence.org/P-wisdomcouncil.html>. Since DynamicFacilitation does not have the weighty formality of most deliberative processes, founder Jim Rough believes Wisdom Council should be categorized as a Citizen 'Reflective' Council (see http://co-intelligence.org/P-CRC.html ).

Finally, back in 1991 there was a one-time nationwide experiment in Canada that offers a provocative glimpse of what might be possible with a national WisdomCouncil, the Macleans Panel. Maclean's, Canada's leading newsweekly, scientifically selected a dozen seriously different ordinary Canadians and then used world class facilitation to help them come to an agreement on the future of Canada. Maclean's and Canadian TV then gave extensive coverage to both the process and the results, including the stories of the people involved. <http://www.co-intelligence.org/S-Canadaadvrsariesdream.html>

Several additional forms of CDC have been proposed (especially by John Gastil and Ned Crosby) which are variations of the existing models above.

Hundreds of CDCs have been formally convened all over the world for over thirty years — although only in Denmark (and recently in Canada) have they held any official role in governance. They have involved tens of thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of people in both 'developed' and 'developing' nations.

Uses of CDCs

It is now well demonstrated that with this method ordinary citizens have a remarkable capacity to grapple with complex problems and come up with useful recommendations that serve the common good, thus realizing the elusive dream of democracy. Some of the uses to which this capacity can be put – and which the CDC model allows us to actually institutionalize in our democratic process – are these:

  • Studying issues on behalf of the public and public officials.
  • Reviewing proposed ballot initiatives and referenda.
  • Ensuring sober public evaluation of controversial legislation.
  • Reviewing candidates for elected public office.
  • Reviewing government budgets.
  • Reviewing government or corporate performance.
  • Accessing the latent insight of We the People about the state of our communities and countries, the directions we're heading and our possibilities for a better future.

(For more on these potential functions of CDCs, see http://co-intelligence.org/CDCUsesAndPotency.html)

The definition of 'citizen deliberation' used here is 'consideration of diverse perspectives on public affairs by diverse citizens conversing together in search of greater shared understanding of the common good.' This is significant because some methods normally included in the CDC category, like WisdomCouncil, are not deliberative in the sense of 'carefully weighing options' but are rather more creative ('ChoiceCreating') in their approach.

References

Articles

  • Atlee, Tom. 'Using Citizen Deliberative Councils to Make Democracy More Potent and Awake' (November 2003) http://co-intelligence.org/CDCUsesAndPotency.html
  • Atlee, Tom. 'Citizen Deliberative Councils' http://co-intelligence.org/P-CDCs.html
  • Atlee, Tom. 'Can Citizen Deliberative Councils Legitimately Claim to Generate a 'People's Voice' on Important Public Concerns?' [ July 2, 2002] http://co-intelligence.org/CDCsLegitimacy.html

Books

  • Atlee, Tom. The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World that Works for All. (Writers Collective, 2003). Covers all types of CDCs, including a detailed report on the MacleansPanel in Canada. <http://www.taoofdemocracy.com>
  • Crosby, Ned. Healthy Democracy: Empowering a Clear and Informed Voice of the People. (Beaver's Pond Press, 2003). Focuses on CitizensJuries and their potential applications.
  • Gastil, John. By Popular Demand: Revitalizing Representative Democracy through Deliberative Elections (University of California, 2000). Covers a wide range of deliberative practices, focusing on citizen panels and their potential applications.
  • Joss, Simon, and John Durant (eds). Public Participation in Science: The Role of Consensus Conferences in Europe. (Science Museum, UK, 1995). Focuses on ConsensusConferences.
  • Renn, Ortwin, Thomas Webler, and Peter Wiedemann. Fairness and Competence in Citizen Participation: Evaluating Models for Environmental Discourse. (Kluwer Academic, 1995). Focuses on CitizensJuries and PlanningCells, as well as many other forms of citizen participation.
  • Rough, Jim. Society's Breakthrough! Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in all the People. (1stBooks, 2002). Focuses on WisdomCouncil. <http://www.societysbreakthrough.com>

Created on the NCDD wiki by members of the dialogue & deliberation community.

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