Who is behind this website?
Hi, I’m Timo Rieg, a German journalist and biologist (with a Diplom in both subjects, which is the equivalent of a Master’s). I’ve been interested in participatory methods for the last 35 years, starting with my nomination as class representative, board membership of youth committees on all levels at schools, the church, the fire service and university, and finally, like any other citizen, participation in general elections.
My first book “Artgerechte Jugendhaltung” (in English: “Species-Specific Youth Welfare”, a somewhat satirical title, published 1992) asked whether the original idea of democracy is achievable through general elections and whether delegation is appropriate. Only later did I fully research the theory and models of democracy, before eventually discovering Peter Dienel’s model of citizen participation with members chosen by lottery (Planungszelle, or “citizens’ jury”).
The principle of citizens’ juries is appealing and close to the original form of democracy practised in ancient Greece. The roll of the participants, unlike conventional politicians, doesn’t include campaigning, networking or other tasks aimed at self-promotion. Representatives can only be chosen by lot.
I’ve observed citizens’ juries as well as participating in and organizing them. At present, citizens’ juries are generally initiated in order to advise politicians and administrators, rather than to make decisions. As yet there have been no instances of citizens’ juries in Germany with a decisive roll, in the manner of the jury system in US courts.
My professional focus is on citizens’ juries solely made up of young people, either to express an opinion on a general issue, or to allow them to manage issues affecting their own lives. I initiated the first youth citizens’ jury in August 2009 in the German industrial city of Bochum, which was perhaps the world’s first exampel of an jury made up exclusively of 14 to 17-year-olds. This experiment – and a second in December 2010 – has shown, that young people are equally able to work with this method, which was confirmed by an independent evaluation by the Nexus Insitute in Berlin. The teenagers set about their task with surprising discipline, fully embracing their role as representatives of their age group. (This experiment is described in detail in “Die Qualität von Bürgerbeteiligungsvefahren…”, as listed in the references.)
In my view citizens’ juries should become an integral part of the process of political decission-making. Not every issue can be solved through citizens’ juries (other methods of deliberation have been developed for more open-ended questions, e.g. Zukunftswerkstatt or “Future Workshop” and Six Thinking Hats), but it remains the best means of resolving contentious issues and polarising debates. Citizens’ juries are democratic both representationally (as a mini-public) and structurally (everyone is given equal opportunity to speak).
My book “Demokratie für Deutschland” sketches out the use of sortion. Better known, however, is David Van Reybrouck’s excellent book Gegen Wahlen (“Against Elections”), published three years after mine in German, to which I often refer.
A smaller scale version is, of course, possible, for example, to offer advice to public broadcasters. At the moment we have a number of exciting experiments and projects with citizens assemblies in Germany. This website describes them.