What is a Citizen Council
The Citizen Council is a multistep participation process. It is a relatively simple and inexpensive way to strengthen self-organization and a sense of responsibility among the population, while obtaining useful input from community members. Randomly selected citizens work out solutions to social challenges together in one and a half days. These are then presented and discussed in public.
Part 1 – The Citizen Council Story
Part 2 – The Citizen Council Process
Part 3 – Success Factors
Who is invited to a Citizen Council?
Citizens of a town or region are randomly selected from the register of residents. They are to work together for one and a half days on a joint declaration. To ensure that the make-up of the council reflects the area from which it is drawn, criteria such as age, gender and place of residence are taken into account in the selection process. Due to random selection, the participants are people with everyday knowledge who have no special knowledge nor previous qualifications. In particular, this means that they do not represent an interest group, but only their own opinions.
How does a Citizen Council work?
The participants of the Citizen Council, usually twelve to fifteen people, are invited to discuss certain topics and questions, to point out challenges from their perspective and to develop ideas for solutions. The Citizen Council’s work is not directed nor controlled in any way; it is moderated using a solution-oriented method called „Dynamic Facilitation“ designed to support co-creation.
Public presentation in the Citizen Café
At the end of a Citizen Council, a joint statement supported by all participants is drawn up. A few days later the Council presents their statement to the interested public through a „Citizen Café“ where contact persons from administration, local government, politics and relevant institutions are also present. After the initial presentation, a World Cafe process allows everyone in the audience to reflect and respond to the statement.
What happens with the results?
During or shortly after the Citizen Café, a „Responder Group“ is formed. This strategy group includes representatives from politics and administration in addition to one or two members from the Council. This group examines how the proposals can be concretely implemented and what measures need to be taken. Subsequently, the participants of the Citizen Council receive written feedback on how their results are being used.
The following overview illustrates the process mostly used. Depending on the topic elements can be added like stakeholder workshops, online participation, expert panels,… On a national level you have the option to organize multiple Citizen Councils to improve the quality of representation.
In Vorarlberg Citizen Councils are usually initiated by:
– The State Government
– The State Parliament
– A Citizen or group of citizens with 1000 signatures (bottom-up option) who want to raise and further a specific cause.
Based on an article in the state constitution the government is obligated to organize a Citizen Council to the desired topic.
1991 ground level ozone figures exceeded safety measures in the austrian state of Vorarlberg. The Environmental Information Service was founded and for many years the office information campaigns to inform the population about the environmental situation and what individuals can do to ease it. Finally they concluded that information campaigns generally fail to involve the public enougharen’t open to be told how to live.
How can you convince people to behave in a sustainable and climate- and environmentally friendly way? In search for solutions and approaches Manfred Hellrigl and his team discovered approaches that triggered self-organization processes in society. Since mid-1990s the service changed it name to Office for Future Related Issues (OFRI) and lately to Office for Voluntary Engagement and Participation and have been pioneering self-organization, participation, social capital and more. Their expertise has been informing and inspiring regions around the globe.
The Citizen Council you can consider the agile and inexpensive form of public participation or of Citizen Assemblies. After successfully organizing large scale participation processes Vorarlberg searched for less expensive and effective forms of participation mainly because the state consists of many small towns. Hellrigl met Jim Rough, founder of the Wisdom Council Process and Dynamic Facilitation method, his team at OFRI adapted the process for its context and renamed it Citizen Council (in german „Bürgerrat“).
1 – Citizen Council – The Story
This short video series introduces the evolution of the Citizen Council and the context it evolved in. Manfred Hellrigl PhD, former director and his team of the Office for Future Related Issues in Vorarlberg, Austria’s most western state, pioneered the field of participation and social capital. The Citizen Council (german Bürgerrat) is based on the Wisdom Council and Creative Insight Council designed by Jim Rough in the US.
2 – Citizen Council – The Process
In this video you can view the Citizen Council process designed and improved over more than a decade in and for the state of Vorarlberg and its communities.
3 – Citizen Council – Success Factors
In this video practioners and researchers from Austria and Germany share their insights why the Citizen Council made its mark in the field of participation.
The Citizen Council Process („Bürgerrat“) in Austria 2015: „How do we deal best with the influx of refugees“
Austria 2015: The state of Vorarlberg was among the three most preferred destinations in Europe for refugees, next to Germany and Sweden. To deal with this situation adequately, the government of Vorarlberg organized a Citizen Council to address the question „How do we deal with the rise of refugees well?“
The Office for Future Related Issues received two national prizes for best practices in public participation. oegut.at / ots.at
Civic Council Project 2016 – German Ministry for the Environment – BMUB
The german Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMUB) developed The Integrated Environmental Plan 2030 (IUP). The key challenge was to design policies that promote an ecologically viable and substainable future. For this process they involved the public by organizing 6 Civic Councils (Bürgerräte) and 6 public evening events called Civic Enviromental Forums in which the Civic Councils presented their findings which were further elaborated with a larger group of people. The results are summoned in the report called The Integrated Environmental Plan 2030. This film covers the overall process including the Online Council and the Online Environmental Forums.
Jim Rough, creator of Dynamic Facilitation, Tom Atlee, Co-Intelligence Institue, Ned Crosby, creator of Citizen Juries, explain how Dyanmic Facilitation and the Wisdom Council Process work. Dynamic Facilitation is considered the „magic sauce“ or the agile facilitation method because of its efficiency to draw out the emotions and the creativity of its participants.
Dynamic Facilitation – A Short Introducttion To The Process And Its History
“This is the next level of facilitation… The seminar teaches you to use your whole brain.” Barry Lubart
„A mind-expanding experience of an alternative approach to group discussion and problem-solving.”
„Part of why I love Dynamic Facilitation (DF) so much is that it works with people AS THEY ARE. It doesn’t require that they buy into a set of rules about how they’re going to talk together. They can be royal [jerks] and the facilitator makes sure (a) that they don’t get shut down because of that, (b) that the people they target — and the group as a whole — continue to feel safe and (c) that whatever gift they bring gets heard and made available to the group mind. This alone makes DF incredibly useful in a pluralistic democracy. Add to that its power to metabolize conflict into useful insights and to engender co-creativity among diverse people, and it’s a real treasure.“ Tom Atlee
Citizen Council or Citizen Assembly?
Around 2003 the Vorarlberg former governor Herbert Sausgruber approached Manfred Hellrigl, then director of the Office for Future Related Issues, to think about how to make Vorarlberg more child-friendly. Based on their previous experience with a process called Worthwhile Living, the team around Hellrigl knew that a top-down approach wouldn’t be appropriate. If anything going to work, to make the state more child-friendly, it to start from the bottom up – from the population. new approachesmet Prof. Peter Dienel who invented the Planungszelle“ or the Planning Cell“ – an approach similar to Ned Crosby’s Citizens’ Jury in the US.
„I can still remember Returning from Berlin I was really enthusiastic andsuggested it to the governor.reminded him of randomly selected juries. He himself prior to being in office was a judgehe approach spoke to him immediately and he agreed. That’s why we organized planning cells involving more than 150 people and completed a report to better meet the needs of the children in our state link. That worked really well and produced great results. The big problem for us was that it was far too expensive – not necessarily for this specific topic regarding a child-supportive region We were always thinking about how we could such processes. Vorarlberg has 96 municipalities, almost all of them small and medium-sized. That’s why the challenge was to find a compact process that was relatively foolproof and which delivered lasting results at low cost.“
This short video describes a few differences between Citizen Councils (CC) and Citizen Assemblies (CA) and offers some advice when choosing between the two.
While you could consider the Citizen Council as the agile and inexpensive form of public participation both CC and CA have their place in different contexts. We also know that there are cross pollinations. Some Citizen Assemblies are considering to use Dynamic Facilitation for enhancing the quality and creativity of the table conversatons. On a national level some institutions wanting to use the Citizen Council model are multiplying the amount of councils (e.g. 6-8 councils for one topic) to meet the standard of representation.
1-2 Citizen Cafés
Dynamic Facilation as moderation methodology
Deliberative moderation methods
Tools & Resources
The documents listed here are intended to help those organizing a Citizen Council process. These are templates without any claim to completeness. Some of these documents were used for the statewide Citizen Council on the future of agriculture in Vorarlberg in fall 2019 (at that time, the Office for Voluntary Engagement and Participation was still called the Office for Future Issues).
Note: Most of the documents for download are in german. We suggest you translate them using Deepl or similar online translation services.
Process flow of a Citizen Council
Here you can find a plan of how a citizens‘ council can be structured.
Documents for participants of a Citizen Council
Here you will find three information sheets, which all participants in the Citizen Council received beforehand. These contain information on the Citizen Council in general, on the overall process as well as an information sheet with information on the topic – in this case on agriculture in Vorarlberg. In general, when creating an information sheet with data and facts, care should be taken to prepare the information in a way that is as low-threshold and easy to understand as possible, so that it is also tangible for non-experts, for example with comparisons (e.g. areas in soccer fields, sum comparisons, etc.).
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
Responder Group before the Citizen Council meets
Here you can find a sample process design for a meeting of the Responder Group, which took place before the Citizen Council met. Here you can also find the minutes of the Responder Group as an example.
Process Design Citizen Council
Here is a sample process design for a one and a half day Citizen Council.
Invitation Letter Citizen Cafe
Here you will find an example of an invitation to the Citizen Café.
Process Design Citizen Cafe
Here you will find a sample process for a Citizens‘ Café.
Responder Group after the Citizen Council
Here you can find a sample procedure for a meeting of the resonance group, which took place after the citizens‘ council. Here you can also find the minutes of the resonance group as an example.
Feedback to the participants of the Citizen Council
Here is an example of policy feedback to Citizen Council participants.
The entire Citizen Council process is recorded in a final report in order to make the process with its individual steps transparent and comprehensible. This report will be sent to all persons involved in the process, as well as made publicly available on the website. Here you will find a proposal for what elements the report should contain. This basic framework is based on the final report for the Citizens Council on the Future of Agriculture. You can view the entire report HERE (link to Statewide BR Agriculture).
Here you can find publications related to Citizen Councils (sometimes called Wisdom Councils) as well as some English reports of Citizen Councils that have taken place in Vorarlberg.
Publications related to Citizen Councils
Citizen Council Reports
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ)
1. When can a Citizen Council be convened?
Since 2013, participatory democracy has been enshrined in Article 1, paragraph 4 of the Vorarlberg State Constitution. Not only the Vorarlberg state parliament or the Vorarlberg state government, but also any municipality or region can convene a Citizen Council. In addition, there is a directive that offers a bottom-up option: a Citizen Council has to be convened by the state government at the request of any individual or group who has gathered 1000 or more signatures from eligible citizens accompanied by names and addresses.
2. How are participants selected?
In Vorarlberg. participants are randomly selected by the Office for Voluntary Engagement and Participation from the central register of residents, in compliance with data protection regulations. To ensure that the make-up of the larger population is reflected accurately in each Citizen Council, gender and three different age brackets are taken into account in the random selection process. Depending on the topic, other selection criteria may also be taken into account. Participation in a Citizen Council is voluntary.
3. How exactly does a Citizen Council work?
A Citizen Council process usually lasts one and a half days. Often it begins early Friday afternoon and ends late Saturday afternoon. If the topic of the Council has been pre-determined, participants will receive a short briefing on Friday. Then the process is explained, and off they go, supported by Dynamic Facilitation (see FAQ 4.) On Saturday there is another Dynamic Facilitation session. In the afternoon, they summarize results and draft a joint statement. Finally, participants prepare a presentation for the upcoming Citizen Café (see FAQ 5.).
4. What is Dynamic Facilitation?
Dynamic Facilitation is a process for facilitating emergent conversation – ideally for a group between 8-20 people. Participants sit in a semi-circle facing four flipcharts. The facilitator’s role is to listen carefully to the essence of each participant’s contribution, reflect back their understanding to the speaker’s satisfaction, and record their ideas on one or more of the four charts: questions/challenges, solutions/ideas, concerns/objections and information/perceptions. There is no predetermined structure to the conversation, and emotions have their space. Everyone is encouraged to speak, and the facilitator ensures that each person can complete their thought process and be well heard. Any requests, concerns and ideas are brought up directly and promptly, and any disagreements are reframed as important concerns that also need to be heard. In this way, diverse views can be fruitfully shared. At its best, the group achieves a creative breakthrough which dissolves group tension and produces unexpected, creative solutions that are supported by all participants.
5. What is the Citizen Café?
The Citizen Café is a public event where any interested person can participate. Relevant representatives including elected officials, administrators, interest groups members, and experts are also encouraged to take part. In the Bürgercafé, the outcomes of the Citizen Council are presented by the Council participants themselves. Afterward, the larger public engages in two rounds of small-group conversation, to review and expand upon the Council results.
6. What happens in the Responder Group?
Within the Responder Group, the outcomes of the Council are again presented by a few Council participants. Then relevant representatives including elected officials, administrators, interest groups members and experts review the results with regard to their feasibility. After a careful review, they decide on the measures that will be implemented.
7. What happens after a Citizen Council process?
The results of the three process steps (Citizen Council, Civic Café, Responder Group) are summarized in a report which is sent to all participants in the overall process. The participants of the Citizen Council also receive specific feedback with regard to their recommendations, and ideally are informed about any further steps and measures that result from these recommendations.
8. How many Citizen Councils have taken place?
In the state of Vorarlberg so far, over 40 Citizen Councils have taken place.
9. What factors are important for the successful implementation of a Citizen Council process?
- The make-up of a Citizen Council should reflect the affected population as well as possible.
- The topic of a Citizen Council should be highly relevant and timely, and not be trivial. In other words, a good topic is one that significantly affects and/or concerns a particular population.
- Citizen Councils only make sense if and when they take place early enough in a decision-making process for their recommendations to be taken seriously.
- Whenever a Citizen Council is being organized in response to a particular issue, it is helpful to have a skilled harvesting team in place, who will be taking note of the specific policy and strategy recommendations that arise.
- To avoid raising false expectations, the range in which recommendations can be made by any particular Citizen Council process needs to be clearly communicated.
- It is crucial that a Citizen Council’s moderators be well-trained in Dynamic Facilitation.
- Transparent media reporting before, during and after the entire Citizen Council process has a profound influence on the Citizen Council’s ultimate impact and perceived legitimacy.
10. Where else are Citizens‘ Councils held?
So far, citizens‘ councils have been held in Germany, Italy (South Tyrol), Austria, Switzerland and in the USA in the original US version called a Wisdom Council. (See FAQ 11.)
11. What are the origins of the Citizen Council?
A model that features a randomly-selected small group working with Dynamic Facilitation was originally prototyped by Jim Rough (USA) in the mid-1990s and called the „Wisdom Council“. Manfred Hellrigl and the Office for Voluntary Engagement and Participation have been adapting this format for use within Vorarlberg since 2006. Efforts are being continually made to upgrade the Citizen Council process on an ongoing basis, based on the learning we gain from our experiences with it.
12. Who can moderate a Citizen Council?
The heart of the Citizen Council is Dynamic Facilitation. It is therefore important that moderators trained in Dynamic Facilitation lead the process.
13. Who can provide support for the implementation of a Citizen Council?
The contact party for holding a Citizen Council in Vorarlberg is the Office for Voluntary Engagement and Participation / Büro für Freiwilliges Engagement und Beteiligung (FEB):
Office for Voluntary Engagement and Participation
T +43 5574 511 20605
The contact party for holding a Citizen Council in state of Baden-Württemberg:
State Ministry of Baden-Württemberg
14. When is a Citizen Council not suitable?
- For making (final) decisions. (The Council arrives together at a collective statement that offers cohesive input and guidance to the decision-makers; yet they themselves are not the deciders.)
- When there is a need to involve as many people as possible (unless it is complemented with other public engagement processes specifically designed for this purpose.)
- When the only need is to inform citizens about projects and policies that are already established.
- When there is no need for creative input, as the results have been already been decided upon in advance.
- When there is no agreement on the part of political decision-makers (local council, state government, etc.) as to whether a Citizen Council should take place, or if there is a lack of political will to take the outcomes seriously. The prerequisite for a successful Council is a unified decision among the sponsors, to host a Council and to respect its input.
15. How much does it cost to hold a Citizen Council?
Support for organizing Councils within Vorarlberg is provided by the Office for Voluntary Engagement and Participation. Council sponsors are responsible for the following costs: Research, sending out the invitations; moderation fees; venue costs; catering; any necessary participant reimbursements. For a Citizen Council at the community level, these costs amount to approximately Euro 6,500 (U.S. $7,000.)