The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe has published an explanatory memorandum that calls on the local and regional authorities of Council of Europe member States to implement deliberative methods. The memorandum heavily references newDemocracy’s work throughout.
In recent years, governments have increasingly used numerous forms of non-electoral participation by their citizens in order to strengthen public trust in the political process and to complement representative democracy. Citizen participation other than in elections is now viewed as a reliable indicator of a healthy democracy. The 2009 Additional Protocol to the European Charter of Local Self-Government has in fact formalised this as a right “to participate in the affairs of a local authority” which should be secured for citizens.
In a deliberative democracy process, a group of citizens, randomly selected through “civic lotteries”, will familiarise themselves extensively with a policy issue, exchange about it together and, as a result, formulate proposals to the authorities. Although deliberative methods are time and resource-intensive and require a strong commitment from all players in a political community, they have become one of the most innovative ways of deepening citizens’ involvement in political decision-making.
Deliberative methods have proved to work very well for specific types of problems that are difficult to resolve in a partisan electoral environment, such as polarised and long-term policy issues. Because the setting of deliberation creates a space where mutual understanding and respectful equal discussion can take place, polarised issues become less contentious. By enabling citizens to be in a strong position to prepare the decision-making process, deliberative methods show that public participation is taken seriously. In addition, because the information received by citizens in such a process is made public, these processes increase transparency in policy decisions. For all these reasons, deliberative processes can also increase trust in democracy at the local and regional level.