Research and Development Notes

Citizen Deliberation and How to Use It: A Guide for Leaders and Practitioners

newDemocracy has produced a handbook on ‘Democracy Beyond Elections’ designed to show how nations can apply the principles of representation and deliberation in different contexts.

This handbook steps through the 'how to' of designing and operating a long-form deliberation and is freely available.

See more short research papers published by our European sister organisation, the Federation for Innovation in Democracy Europe.

What is it? Basic Concepts

Deliberation (Lyn Carson) - What is deliberation and how does it differ from usual political discussion?

What makes something a Citizens’ Assembly? (Kyle Redman) - We’re often asked: “What makes something a Citizens’ Assembly”? Here is one answer.

Comparing Participatory and Deliberative Democracy (Lyn Carson and Stephen Elstub) The two terms participatory and deliberative democracy are often used interchangeably, and this can be confusing for policy makers. But are they the same? Is deliberative democracy simply participatory democracy with a more confusing name?

Why do Politicians Love or Hate the Idea of Citizens' Juries (Lyn Carson and David Schecter) (Spanish) What are politicians’ common concerns and objections to random selection of citizens for citizens’ juries or citizens’ assemblies, and how can they be addressed?

Should politicians deliberate alongside citizens? (Lyn Carson) Designers of public deliberations have mixed views about involving politicians alongside those citizens who have been selected via a democratic lottery for a public deliberation such as a citizens’ assembly.

Citizens' Juries are not Public Meetings (Lyn Carson) Is “Citizens’ Jury” simply another term for a public, or town hall, meeting?

Benefits of the Jury Model (David Schecter) Why use the jury model of random selection and deliberation? Why would public officials want to incorporate the jury model into public decision making? What are the benefits of the jury model, compared to the usual forms of public engagement?

Group Diversity Trumps Individual Ability (Lyn Carson) When assembling a randomly-selected group of people, for example in a citizens’ jury (see, Sample Size for mini-publics), what attributes are most important for the group members if they are to handle complex matters?

Concerns About Citizens' Abilities (Lyn Carson) Are people smart enough, and willing enough, to do this important work? Won’t they be manipulated or corrupted?

More is Less (Lyn Carson) Is it true that having more responses during community engagement equates to a better level of representation and more effective inclusion of community voice in a decision?

Forms of Mini-Publics: An Introduction to Deliberative Innovations in Democratic Practice (Oliver Escobar & Stephen Elstub) This paper introduces a range of democratic innovations known as ‘mini-publics’ and outlines key features, how they work, and how they may improve opportunities for citizens to contribute to public deliberation and participatory governance.

How to do it? The stages of mini-public deliberation

Mini-public deliberation can be used in many ways, with many variations. Nevertheless, the basic stages of the process will be more or less the same. This section provides guidance about how to proceed with each stage.

Principles of Community Participation in collaboration with Deloitte. Deloitte and newDemocracy have come together to share eight principles learned from inviting community to participate in the policy-making process. This collaboration is the first in a series that focus on practical learnings from Deloitte and newDemocracy's combined experience in applied cases.

Framing the Remit (Lyn Carson) How to develop a question for public deliberation that satisfies the needs of both participants and organisers, without leading participants toward a pre-determined answer or introducing unnecessary confusion?

How much time do people need for a public deliberation? (Kyle Redman & Lyn Carson) How much time do participants need to properly learn, deliberate and find common ground?

Sample Size for Mini-Publics (Lyn Carson) When discussing random selection of a mini-public, an inevitable question arises “how many people do we need?”

How to Recruit Participants for Citizens' Assemblies (Kyle Redman & Lyn Carson) What is the best way to recruit participants for citizens’ assemblies?

Importance of Facilitation (Lyn Carson) How are the usual challenges associated with working with groups addressed in mini-publics?

Enhancing Citizen Jurors' Critical Thinking Capacity (Lyn Carson) How can we enhance the ability of randomly-selected citizens in mini-publics (such as citizens’ juries) to understand and evaluate expert evidence?

Choosing Expert Speakers (Lyn Carson & David Schecter) The note “Hearing from Experts” makes the point that mini-publics need the help of experts in order to become adequately informed. To be successful in their purpose, these experts must not only be knowledgeable, but also representative of different viewpoints, respected by the mini-public members, and able to communicate effectively about their expertise with non-experts (this includes having good listening skills). But who should select the experts, and how should they do it?

Hearing from Experts (Lyn Carson) How can participants in mini-publics critically and effectively, hear and learn from expert witnesses in a way that ensures they understand the challenges being considered?

Constructively Incorporating Stakeholders in Public Decision-making (Lyn Carson & Tyrone Reitman) Governments hear from a broad range of stakeholders, often in the form of polarised political advocacy efforts. How can we support policy decision-makers to evaluate the best ideas put forward by stakeholders on divisive issues in a manner that is seen as being political legitimate across partisan and ideological divides?

How Should Citizens’ Jury Decisions be Made? The Role of Voting (Lyn Carson & David Schecter) How should deliberative mini-publics take decisions, and when is voting appropriate for that purpose?

How to write a report as a group (Kyle Redman & Lyn Carson) How do you take a group of randomly-selected everyday people who have found common ground on solutions to a problem and translate this into a coherent report that empowers the government to act confidently on their recommendations, but in such a way that the organisers are minimally involved, resulting in greater transparency and citizen ownership of the final product?

Financial Compensation for Citizens in Mini-Publics: Comparing Australia and Germany (Lyn Carson & Hans Liudger-Dienel) Should randomly selected citizens be paid for their democratic work and, if so, how much?

Where has this been done before? Democratic innovations in practice

Leaders who are interested in the potential of any democratic innovation will want to know if it has been tried, and if so, how successful it was. Fortunately, has been a great deal of successful experience with mini-public deliberation, in many countries. Within Australia, an excellent source is the “Our Work” section of the newDemocracy Foundation web site. The research notes in this section document learning from practice, in Australia and internationally.

The Brussels Deliberative Committee Model (Jonathan Moskovic, Fionna Saintraint, Kyle Redman) How has the Brussels Parliament developed an in-house model for blended citizen and MP deliberation, and what lessons have they learned in the process?

Integrating Citizen Deliberation into National Decisions: Ireland's Prime Minister's Office (Lyn Carson) How could a prime minister’s office build trust in order to make the most contentious national decisions, and does the recent experience in Ireland help to answer this?

Citizens’ Councils: What are they, and why are they so popular in Austria? (Rosa Zubizarreta, Andy Paice, Martha Cuffy) A Citizens’ Council is a participatory process used in Austria and Germany to obtain considered public input on public policy issues. The process was institutionalized in 2013 as a regularly recurring element of the workings of the Vorarlberg State government in Austria. This raises several questions: what is a Citizens’ Council, what’s different about it, and why is it so popular in German-speaking countries?

Embedding deliberative democracy in Poland (Lyn Carson, Marcin Gerwin) There have been many successful examples worldwide of mini-public deliberation on tough policy issues, but few examples of incorporating it as an ongoing part of "the way we do democracy." One of the rare exceptions can be found in the Polish city of Gdansk. What has been done there, and what can be learned from it?

French Presidential Election and Sortition (Gil Delannoi & Lyn Carson) Something rather unusual happened in France during the campaign for president in 2017. Although the world watched with interest as Emmanuel Macron and Martine Le Pen competed in the second round of presidential elections, some fascinating promises were made by candidates in the first round and were largely missed by observers.

Learnings from South Australia's Nuclear Fuel Cycle Jury (Lyn Carson) In 2016, newDemocracy had oversight of a massive public deliberation in South Australia on the extremely contentious issue of nuclear waste storage. It was our biggest project to date. What did we learn from this bold experiment?

Learnings from Democracy in Geelong (Lyn Carson) In April 2016, the Victorian State Government acted on the recommendation of an independent Commission of Inquiry and dismissed the Greater Geelong City Council and committed to consult the community about its local governance model before the next council election.

Learnings from the ACT Housing Choices Collaboration Hub (Kyle Redman) In 2018, newDemocracy had oversight of a territory-level public deliberation in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) on the issue of housing choices. This topic implicitly brings with it associations of zoning change, density and unwelcome change. What did we learn from this process?

Learnings from the Byron Shire Community Solutions Panel (Lyn Carson & Iain Walker) In 2018, newDemocracy oversaw a local council level deliberation on infrastructure spending priorities in Byron Shire. The conundrum before Council is how to balance protection of Byron Shire's character with demands for more (and higher quality) infrastructure, within an increasingly constrained budget (a common situation for local governments in Australia, though few have the massive tourist influx that Byron has).

Learnings from Madrid: Institutionalising deliberative democracy through its Observatorio de la Ciudad (Lyn Carson & Arantxa Mendiharat) In 2018, the City of Madrid established a ‘world first’ democratic reform with the potential to solve a major problem with the implementation of direct democracy. The city’s elected representatives and bureaucrats had little experience of deliberative methods (See, Mini-publics), but sought to successfully implement a form of deliberative democracy that was far more robust than their previous efforts with direct democracy and interest-group consultation. A few months later, the reform was retracted. What happened, and what can be learned from it?

Learnings from the implementation of the Victorian Local Government Act 2020 (Lyn Carson) In 2020, the Victorian Parliament passed a new Local Government Act (the Act). It was an ambitious and unprecedented piece of legislation in that it included a requirement for the use of “deliberative engagement practices” in the development of four local council plans.

Learnings from the French Citizens’ Convention on the End of Life (Marjan H. Ehsassi & Helene Landemore) On September 13, 2022, President Macron announced the launch of a national debate to explore the possibility of legalizing end-of-life support.

Learnings from the Association of Australia Medical Research Institutes' Deliberative Panel (Kyle Redman) In May 2023, the Association of Australia Medical Research Institutes hosted a deliberative panel made up of 30 randomly selected people drawn from medical research institute staff and researchers from across the country.

Comparing a "Citizens' Jury" with a "Youth Jury" (Lyn Carson et. al.) Critical reflections based on collective observations of a single deliberative forum, hereafter referred to as a youth jury, which was convened by a government-funded organisation and facilitated by MosaicLab, an Australian consultancy, in June 2018.

Random Seating in Parliaments (Alessandro Saia & Lyn Carson) Is it possible to create a seating arrangement that would reduce the destructive or negative behaviours which cause voters to disengage and that are of limited productive value in helping parliaments make trusted decisions for the community?

The Swiss Model (Updated) (Lyn Carson & Jurg Steiner) When we think about Swiss democracy, we usually think about Switzerland’s frequent use of referenda. This is an important feature to learn from, but it is part of a larger pattern of power-sharing. This R&D note describes three features of the Swiss government that make power-sharing possible.

What’s next? Challenges and new ideas

A potential role for electoral commissions in deliberative engagement (Kimbra White & Lyn Carson) How can many deliberative panels be recruited in a cost-effective manner, and are there any other benefits from doing so?

Appointments to Boards and Committees (Lyn Carson & Ron Lubensky) What role does random selection have in choosing members of committees and boards of public and private not-for-profit organisations?

Beyond Mini-Publics Alone (David Schecter & Brian Sullivan) In recent years, Australia has seen many successful examples of incorporating mini-publics (See, Mini-publics) into public decision-making. Compared to the usual public engagement practices, these projects have been substantially more informed, more representative, more deliberative, and more influential. They have also provided outstanding opportunities for ordinary people to participate in a meaningful way. But what about participation for the remainder of the public – the people who were not selected for the mini-public?

Budgeting by Jury (David Schecter) Attempting to engage in dialogue with the public about budgeting can easily become overwhelming, unproductive, and adversarial. How can it be done better?

Can we better represent people who do not vote? (Nicolas Pirsoul) Voting remains the main mechanism for everyday people to have a say in politics. But, many people choose not to vote, even in countries with compulsory legislation such as Australia and Belgium.

Citizen-led Constitutional Change (Terrill Bouricius & David Schecter) As societies change, constitutions and charters need to be changed as well.  Who should craft these changes? In particular, what is the right role for everyday people, given the global trend toward increasing public distrust of politics and politicians?

Designing an online public deliberation in collaboration with The Democratic Society (Kyle Redman) The measures implemented for social distancing to slow the spread of Covid-19 Coronavirus are driving new thinking around public deliberation. We must resolve long standing challenges to taking deliberation ‘online’ while retaining the qualities that make such deliberation useful.

Incorporating deliberative methods to strengthen the Community Independents movement (Lyn Carson) How can deliberative methods strengthen the Community Independents movement? (e.g., Voices of…)

Informed Referendum (Ron Levy) Is a referendum vote too lacking in adequate deliberation – too ill-considered, under-informed and easily manipulated – to serve as a sound and trusted alternative?

Mini-public deliberation in Philanthropy: A new way to engage the public (Patsy Kraeger & David Schecter) When philanthropic organisations want to include members of the public in their decision processes, how should they do it?

Towards Global Cooperation: The Case for a Deliberative Global Citizens' Assembly (Michael Vlerick) What would a global citizens' assembly look like? And, what benefits would it bring?

Report on barriers to adoption of best practice policy making (Matt Crocker) What barriers exist to the adoption of best practice policymaking process among the legislative and executive branches of Government, and how can these be overcome?

Should our electoral commissions become democracy commissions? (Lyn Carson) There are multiple potential solutions for ‘fixing’ the faulty system of representative government but who should be responsible for doing so? Who should have oversight of any changes to be made? There is no one with clear responsibility for addressing these flaws apparent in our democracy. Could our electoral commissions take on the task?

Why random selection is a better method for choosing independent High Court Judges (Pierre-Étienne Vandamme & Donald Bello Hutt) How should high court judges be selected?

Would the High Court allow a ban on political donations? (Wendy Hu) Would a ban on political donations by the NSW Parliament be held constitutionally invalid for infringing the implied freedom of political communication?

7 Reasons Schools Should Switch from Elections to Lotteries (Adam Cronkright & Simon Pek) Schools that are serious about developing tomorrow’s leaders and engaged citizens need to take a closer look at their student politics. Some form of student government exists at schools and universities around the world, and these bodies have the potential to provide students with incredibly rich leadership and civic experiences.