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«OECD Innovation Strategy ORGANISATION FOR ECONOMIC CO-OPERATION AND DEVELOPMENT The OECD is a unique forum where the governments of 30 democracies ...»

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Within public participation we can distinguish between formal and informal procedures. Formal procedures are direct democratic public participation procedures enshrined in law, for example, petitions for referenda and referenda proper. In the early days of the Federal Republic of Germany, a parliamentary democracy since 1949, direct democratic public participation had relatively little scope or tradition. The situation was very different in smaller Switzerland, where direct democracy has been practiced for a century in the form of frequent referenda. In Germany formal procedures at Federal level were not envisaged at all, with the exception of the reorganization of the Länder. The reason for such caution in relation to the citizenry is simple: the begetters of the Basic Law (the German Constitution) were sceptical of their fellow citizens’ aptitude for direct democracy in light of experiences of mass hysteria under the Weimar Republic and the Nazis. At the Land level – Germany is a federal state with, currently, 16 relatively autonomous Länder with their own prime ministers – things were very different (see Tables 1 and 2). In many Länder, and increasingly over the decades, there have been both petitions for referenda and actual referenda, and at municipal level even more often so-called citizens’ initiatives and local referendums (Bürgerentscheid). Generally speaking, it’s fair to say that over the last 20 years formal direct democratic procedures have increased in frequency and importance. Petitions and referenda are closely related here. A petition is always the first step, the first hurdle that has to be cleared to bring about a referendum or citizens’ decision, in many cases counter to the established parliamentary majority.

Besides direct democratic procedures, however, there is a whole series of formal procedures of public participation, in particular at municipal level.

We shall say more about these in due course.

Besides the formal procedures just mentioned, there is a broad palette of informal procedures. This encompasses a wide variety of procedures mostly of deliberative – that is, consultative – public participation that are not enshrined in law, but, particularly at municipal level, play a much greater role. These informal procedures include, for example, the Planning Cells/Citizens’ Reports described elsewhere in this volume, Future Workshops, Citizens’ Panels, and many others. When Chancellor Willy Brand declared, when the first Social Democratic government came to power in 1969, “we want to dare more democracy,” he meant first and foremost this broad extension of informal democratic participation at all levels. At that time, to be sure, there was already an established form of


informal participation involving civic associations, primarily associations of bourgeois at municipal level. From the late 1960s onwards, however, this form of consultative, constructive, politically rather conservative, though certainly civil participation was superseded by a new generation that understood public participation rather as opposition to the prevailing system.

This extra parliamentary opposition took the form, at local level, of a plethora of citizens’ initiatives against state and commercial projects, in particular in the area of transport and urban planning, as well as against environmental pollution. By virtue of this broad movement, which has prevented many outsized planning projects in Germany, public participation remains associated with delay and prevention. The development of deliberative democratic procedures was a response to this, proposing and trying out new methods for solving problems constructively that now wanted “to dare more constructive democracy.” Before we proceed to examine a number of important individual procedures, let us take another look at the development of formal and informal public participation in Länder and municipalities.

2. Formal Public Participation at Federal State (Land) Level

As procedures of direct democracy, petitions for referenda and referenda proper are enshrined in law at federal-state (Land) level. Regulation is not uniform, however; there are major differences between the states. The conditions which must be met for petitions for referenda and referenda proper are laid down in detail in individual state constitutions. These regulations differ widely in terms of quorums, notice periods, and minimum participation, as Table 1 shows.

In 2008 a local referendum on keeping open Tempelhof airport in the centre of Berlin failed because a quorum was not achieved. Although the majority of those who participated in the referendum were in favour of keeping the airport open, only 22 percent of those entitled to vote took part, short of the required 25 percent. This example shows that achieving the quorum represents a major hurdle that is often not cleared, even on important, and in this case emotional, issues.


–  –  –

3. Formal procedures at the municipal level There is no uniform regulation of direct democratic procedures at municipal level, either. Each federal state has its own regulations. The number of procedures employed is everywhere much greater than at national level, however. Alongside citizens’ initiatives and referendums, which is what referenda are generally known as at municipal level, there is a whole series of different possibilities for directly influencing political decision-making. Local residents have to be consulted, for example, on changes in development schemes and so-called planning approval procedures for roads. These participation rights as a rule concern only those who are directly affected – for example, those who live in a particular street – but not as bearers of sovereign rights and as responsible for the larger whole, namely the state. They regulate how the rights of those affected are exercised, for example, rights to raise objections to planning projects. Within the framework of these procedures citizens can essentially either be ‘against it’ or remain silent. To be sure, over the last few decades an increasing number of more constructive public participation procedures have been developed in the context of municipal


planning, for example, “Planning for Real.” But this already puts us in the realm of informal procedures. Citizens’ initiatives and referendums are subject to lower quorums, as Table 2 shows. The hurdles that have to be cleared for their deployment are correspondingly lower.

4. Informal public participation procedures We now come to the wide range of informal public participation procedures, which are usually employed to solve local problems, but are by no means restricted to that. Table 3 presents not only a list of different procedures all of which have been developed since the 1970s, but also a list of areas of employment, that is, political problem situations. Here we shall distinguish between five different problem situations. At first glance, it would seem that priority is given to solving conflictual political problems, where a number of alternative solutions are already on the table. This type of problem, which we can also divide into conflict resolution and decisionmaking, differs fundamentally from problem situations in which solutions have yet to be developed. Both are familiar from municipal politics and naturally there is considerable overlap. Nevertheless, it makes sense to distinguish between these two (three) problem situations as ideal-typical.

Besides the two ideal-typical problem situations we can distinguish two others, and so also functions, namely information problems or information management, and complaint-related problems or complaint management.

Many procedures are not so much for solving problems as for informing the public or gathering and dealing with individual or collective complaints.

Table 3 shows, without further explanation for the time being, the characteristic strengths of individual informal procedures for resolving the listed types of problems.

–  –  –

4.1 Future workshops The method of Future Workshops, developed by Robert Jungk and Norbert Müllert in the 1970s, gives the participants the opportunity to work out concrete solutions whose implementation they will also be involved in following the Future Workshop. Robert Jungk wanted Future Workshops to give participants the courage to shape their (own) futures and to enable them to overcome the attitude that “there was nothing they could do.” Future Workshops are therefore particularly appropriate for activating and involving people who previously were not politically active or took little interest in politics. The areas of application are diffuse because the development of solutions for problems takes place in widely different contexts. After a preparatory stage the procedure involves three phases: a “critique phase” followed by a “fantasy phase” and, finally, an “implementation phase.” The individual phases last a whole day, if possible (Jungk 1981).

Features of the procedure:

• critique phase: the problem situation is examined critically;

• fantasy phase: desirable options (solutions) are outlined;

• implementation phase: possible solutions are tested for their feasibility;

• eliciting and encouragement of different approaches and viewpoints.


Future Workshops for attractive models for rural living for young people

and families in Saxony Anhalt:


4.2 Planning Cells/Citizens’ Reports The public participation procedure of Planning Cells developed by Peter Dienel in the early 1970s (which he supplemented some years later with mandatory citizens’ reports presenting recommendations) was also a contribution to enhancing democracy. The idea was not to oppose the state, but on the contrary to call on government bodies to facilitate more democracy by convening Planning Cells. Since they are initiated from above Planning Cells are to some extent the opposite of citizens’ initiatives.


A Planning Cell is a group of around 25 people, selected at random, who are invited to act as consultants, having been granted leave from their place of work, to work out solutions to a given problem. They are assisted by neutral moderators and the process usually lasts four days at most. As a rule, Planning Cells are initiated and commissioned by state bodies. Experts and lobbyists have the opportunity to present their positions, but, like juries, discussions involve only the participating citizens. Often between four and twelve Planning Cells work on a topic in parallel in order to boost the representativeness of the recommendations. The results of the Planning Cell are summarized in a citizens’ report, which the citizens present to the commissioning body at a public event. Planning Cells and citizens’ reports are predominantly goal-oriented. Because of the random selection process their recommendations are widely accepted by the public. (See the other contribution to this volume by Hans-Liudger Dienel on the development of this procedure.)

Features of this procedure:

• random selection of citizens;

• reimbursement and work release of participants;

• provision of contentious information by experts; (good)

• small working groups of changing composition;

• publication of results in a citizens’ report.


Citizens’ report on key points for an open, ecological and civil Europe:


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