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When citizen deliberation enters real politics: how politicians and stakeholders envision the place of a deliberative mini-public in political decision-making

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Abstract

In the wake of the increasing use of deliberative citizen assemblies in the public sphere, this article studies how traditional policy actors receive a mini-public as ‘newcomer’ in political decision-making, despite its reliance on a fundamentally different vision of policy-making and that it substantially alters existing power distributions. Survey data collected before and after a typical mini-public case, the Citizen Climate Parliament, shows that most politicians and stakeholders welcome this ‘newcomer’ as long as it remains consultative. A typological discourse analysis of 28 semi-structured interviews with these politicians and stakeholders suggests that this attitude comes with four different views of mini-publics’ place in political decision-making: an elitist-, expert-, (re)connection- and reinvention view. Given that an important correlate of these views was the extent to which actors agreed with the recommendations of the mini-public, it shows that their views were driven both by actors’ interests in the outcome on a micro-level and by their general ideas about political decision-making on a macro-level. The findings illustrate that mini-publics may encounter opposition from both political actors and stakeholders once they aim to take a place in political decision-making that goes beyond occasional and consultative uses. At the same time, these results show that the use of mini-publics does not leave traditional representative institutions unaffected as it prompts them to think about the place that citizen deliberation should take in the political system.

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Notes

  1. For a comprehensive overview of the different rationales and legitimacies, and of why and how these should be complemented, cf. Parkinson (2006), Warren (2008) and Lang and Warren (2012).

  2. 23 associations, two companies and three members of local administrations participated.

  3. Cf. the minutes of the Council meeting of June 24th, 2016, retrieved from www.province.luxembourg.be/servlet/Repository/p-v-du-24-06-2016.pdf?ID=59878 (accessed on December 19th, 2018), pp. 11, 212, 214.

  4. In the absence of an official register, this selection cannot guarantee to be exhaustive. However, given the dense civil-society network in the province and that the list that was pre-established by the provincial authorities and the university (who are both used to work with them), there are reasonable grounds to consider that the vast majority of stakeholders has been selected.

  5. At the end of the selection process, the post-process survey was checked for yet unknown elements mentioned in the open-ended questions, but none were found.

  6. Although the diversification process went fairly well, one descriptive bias has to be noted. Among the contacted actors, women were not only less represented in the population but also agreed significantly less to be interviewed. Despite great solicitation efforts, only three out of the 28 interviewees were female.

  7. Interviews lasted between 30 and 100 min and took place at the interviewee’s home, workplace or, rarely, in a restaurant. 23 of the interviews were conducted face to face and five via telephone or Skype.

  8. The rationale of the analysis was inspired by Ayres and Knafl (2008). Its proceeding was inspired by Braun and Clarke (2006).

  9. QSR International, United Kingdom.

  10. Politicians: 0.50 (0.23), Associations: 0.54 (0.14), Companies: 0.50 (0.32).

  11. With the exception of Green politicians who appeared to be consistently more supportive of the CCP and of a binding character for its recommendations.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to express my gratitude for invaluable comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this article to Min Reuchamps, Vincent Jacquet, Jérémy Dodeigne, John Pitseys, Sergiu Gherghina, Dimitri Courant, Nathalie Schiffino, Jean-Benoît Pilet, Eszter Timár, Spencer McKay and to the participants of conferences at Goethe Universität Frankfurt, Université catholique de Louvain–Mons, Université libre de Bruxelles and Université Saint-Louis–Bruxelles. Furthermore, I would like to thank the organizers of the Citizen Climate Parliament (CCP), the SEED Research-Unit at Université de Liège, for having allowed me to observe the CCP and for having shared numerous internal documents with me. Special thanks go to all politicians, associations and companies who responded to my surveys and who accepted to be interviewed. Finally, I wish to express my gratitude to the two anonymous reviewers of Policy Sciences for their detailed and generous comments and suggestions. Throughout the writing process, I was funded by the Fonds pour la Recherche en Sciences Humaines (FRESH – F.R.S.-FNRS).

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Appendices

Appendix 1: Question wording for the surveys conducted before and after the CCP

  • Q1) Have you heard about the Citizen Climate Parliament?

    [No—Yes, a bit—Yes, a lot]

  • Q2) Have you read the final recommendations of the Citizen Climate Parliament?

    [No—Yes, partly—Yes, entirely]

  • Q3) In general, what is your overall impression of the Citizen Climate Parliament?

    [Very negative—Rather negative—Neither negative nor positive—Rather positive—Very positive]

  • Q3bis) Could you briefly explain why?

    [Open-ended question]

  • Q4) Would you agree that the recommendations issued by the CCP should be transposed into laws?

    [Fully disagree—Rather disagree—Neither agree nor disagree—Rather agree—Fully agree]

  • Q4bis) Could you briefly explain why?

    [Open-ended question]

  • Q5a–f) To what extent do you agree with the following propositions? (Six propositions with the exact formulation of the six CCP recommendations were proposed.)

    [Fully disagree—Rather disagree—Neither agree nor disagree—Rather agree—Fully agree]

*An affirmation to Q1 was a precondition for Q3 and Q4. An affirmation to Q2 was a precondition for Q5. Q2 and Q5 were only asked in the post-CCP survey.

Appendix 2: Response rates to the pre- and post-process surveys

Actors

N of identified actors

Respondents before CCP

%

Respondents after CCP

%

Respondents before and after

%

Associative

30

14

46.67

17

56.67

10

33.33

Economic

50

20

40.00

26

52.00

19

38.00

Political

78

36

46.15

38

48.72

24

30.77

Total

158

70

44.30

81

51.27

53

33.54

Appendix 3: Profiles of the 28 actors selected for semi-structured interviews

Political actors

12

 Party affiliation

  Christian-Democratsa

5

  Greens

2

  Liberals

3

  Socialists

2

 Mandate

  Mayors

2

  Provincial Councilors

5

  Provincial Councilors and Mayors

3

  Federal MP and Mayor

1

  Regional MP

1

Associative actors

8

 Size

  Small

4

  Medium

2

  Large

2

Economic actors

8

 Size

  Small

3

  Medium

2

  Large

3

Socio-demographics

28

 Gender

  Men

25

  Women

3

 Age

  18–35

3

  36–59

22

  60–…

3

  1. aDominant party in the province

Appendix 4: Interview guide for the semi-structured interviews

Introduction

  • [Brief introduction of the research and its methodology]

  • Could you introduce yourself (and the organization you work for)?


Knowledge of the CCP

  • What do you know about the CCP?

  • How did you learn about it?

  • Did you follow the proceedings closely?


Opinion on the CCP

  • When you first learned about the CCP, what was your spontaneous opinion?

  • What do you think about it today (and why)?

  • What about the process?

  • What about the results?

  • Do you think its results should be mandatory for the Provincial Council (and why)?

  • What do you think more generally about consulting sortitioned citizens, like the CCP, on a public policy?

  • What place should this have in political decision-making?


Conclusion

  • Are there things we did not speak about that you consider to be important for what we have talked about so far?

Appendix 5: Coding scheme of arguments: grouped by theme and attributed to the respective view

Theme

Arguments

Frequencya

View

Elitist

Expert

(Re)

con.

Reinv.

Capacity

In favor

23

     

 Mini-publics can better specialize on a topic

1

  

  

 Ordinary citizens are closer to everyday life

7

  

  

 Ordinary citizens have a longer-term perspective

5

  

 Ordinary citizens are more sincere

6

  

  

 Ordinary citizens are as capable as politicians

2

    

 Election is no guarantee of competence

6

  

 

 Politicians only think about their own interests

1

  

 

 Politicians are bound by the particracy

8

  

 

 Politicians are bound by thinking of re-election

7

  

 

 Politicians are influenced by corporate interests

4

    

Against

22

     

 Politicians are better surrounded by experts

3

   

 Politicians are better at making strong decisions

3

  

 

 Mini-Publics lack continuity

1

  

 

 Random selection could select fools

6

  

 

 Ordinary citizens lack expertise

1

 

 Ordinary citizens lack complex understanding

8

  

 

 Ordinary citizens do not know how politics work

12

  

 

 Ordinary citizens are subjective

2

   

 Ordinary citizens are too emotive

3

  

 

 Ordinary citizens are easily influenced

1

  

 

 Ordinary citizens can lack motivation

4

   

Representativeness

In favor

17

     

 Random selection assures representativeness

10

  

 Random selection assures diversity

8

  

 Random selection mobilizes non-participators

5

  

 

Against

18

     

 Voting assures representativeness

7

 

 Voting assures consent

8

 

 Random selection cannot hold people responsible

10

 

 Voluntary participation attracts the usual suspects

2

   

 Experts from the field should have been selected

1

 

   

Process

In favor

7

     

 The methodology was well conceived

3

  

  

 It is good that experts have been heard

1

  

 There was a perceivable group dynamic

4

  

  

Against

14

     

 70 acceptances out of 2,500 sortitioned is very little

2

  

 Strong personalities could express their view more often

1

  

  

 More and better experts should have been heard

2

 

 

 Too little was communicated to the population

3

 

  

 Participant selection should have been voluntarily

4

    

 Budget and number of projects should be fixed

3

    

Topic

In favor

1

     

 It motivated the Provincial Council which is not active enough in the field

1

  

  

Against

11

     

 Climate is too complex for ordinary citizens

4

   

 Climate is too vast for the provincial level

8

  

 

 Climate should be tackled transversely

1

    

 Decisions in this topic are self-evident

2

    

Results

In favor

7

     

 Propositions were real advancements

2

  

  

 Propositions were realistic

1

  

  

 Propositions were moderated

1

  

 

 Propositions provided grounds for further work

3

 

 

Against

8

     

 Propositions were redundant to existing measures

3

 

  

 Propositions were not feasible (e.g., financially)

2

   

 Propositions remain vague

2

   

 Propositions lack expert preparation

1

 

   

 Propositions do not go far enough

2

    

Use

In favor

8

     

 It restores a positive attitude toward politics

2

   

 

 It makes decisions more acceptable for citizens

3

   

 

 It has an educative value

3

  

 

 It creates a societal uptake

3

  

 

 It can counter extremist opinions

1

   

 

 It can overcome NIMBY opinions

1

   

Against

4

     

 Politicians would stop being needed

3

 

 

 The project is only used as media-coverage

1

   
  1. aNumber of interviews where the argument was mentioned at least once
  2. ● Arguments used jointly and hence grouped into one argument structure (view)

Appendix 6: Boxplot of actors’ aggregated opinions on the CCP recommendations by their general view

figure a

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Niessen, C. When citizen deliberation enters real politics: how politicians and stakeholders envision the place of a deliberative mini-public in political decision-making. Policy Sci 52, 481–503 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11077-018-09346-8

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