See also Citizen Deliberative Council
A citizen consensus council is a microcosm of a larger population where citizens dialogue to deep agreement about issues of common concern. It is usually a group of 12-24 diverse citizens selected at random from (or to be demographically representative of) their organization, community, country, etc. A citizen consensus council deliberates about issues concerning the population from which it was selected, and is professionally facilitated to a consensus about how to address those issues. Its final statement is released both to appropriate authorities and to the larger population it represents, usually through the media. After that, the council usually disbands, just as a jury does when its work is done.
Dynamics of citizen consensus councils
The defining characteristics of a citizen consensus council are:
1) It is a group of citizens whose diversity reflects that of a larger population.
2) It is facilitated to a consensus.
It is the dynamics between ''diversity''''' and '''''consensus'' that generate the level of "people's wisdom" that is so powerfully present in this approach.'' Wisdom depends on the breadth and depth of people's perspectives. Diversity brings the breadth: together, diverse people have a wide range of perspectives. The depth comes from people having to go deeper in order to find the common ground underlying their differences, which is necessary to come to agreement. Also, through dialogue towards consensus, each person's perspective broadens, steadily including more of what the others see. Often dramatic leaps of creativity happen when people start seeing more broadly; connections and possibilities start to sizzle; and suddenly the group is coming up with alternatives that satisfy all their needs and perspectives -- and more. This is true consensus process (from Latin, ''consentire, to sense or feel together) and it generates true wisdom. Furthermore, since it is so broadly satisfying, and was created by a diverse group embodying the diverse values and life experience of the larger community, the larger population is more likely to respond positively to the group's proposals than to proposals created by experts or politicians.
The nature of a council's "representativeness"'' - It is important to know that ''a citizen consensus council is not representative in the usual political sense. Participants are not speaking for anyone but themselves. If they do happen to be leaders of groups, they need to set those roles aside and act as individuals while participating in the council. However, they can and should bring every aspect of themselves to the table, including whatever perspectives they happen to share with the groups they lead or are part of. Their role as participants in a citizen consensus council - which they can best serve simply by being themselves - is to collectively embody the diverse perspectives and capacities of the larger population from which they were collectively drawn. As they learn that the interests of the groups they're each associated with will be taken care of by the process of dialogue and consensus, they can ease up on their assertiveness and position-holding, freeing the consensus council to discover deeper, newer ways to engage with the issues they face.
The nature of a council's catalytic role'' - Another major factor which is easy to overlook when first encountering this approach is that ''the relationship between a citizen consensus council and its larger population is as important as the operation of the council, itself. At the very least, the council must report to that population when it is done with its work. Beyond that, there can be a popular expectation developed around the council's deliberations which adds to the impact of what the council says. That expectation can come about through PR hoopla and/or from it having a certain institutionalized status within the community (e.g., it is part of the town charter). And, since a primary purpose of such a council is to raise the quality of dialogue in the larger population, a council's impact can be enhanced by efforts to organize or evoke such popular dialogue explicitly around its findings. Finally, the power of the council is dependent on its ability to clearly reflect the diverse views and latent wisdom of the larger population, and so its proceedings should be clearly free of any outside bias or special interest influence.
Issues in the formation and operation of citizen consensus councils
Many forms of citizen consensus council have come into being. Variables include:
- the nature of the larger population from which the council is selected
- the number of participants
- how participants are selected
- the council's mandate (e.g., expectations; is it open-ended or is there a topic; who, if anyone, is it advising; etc.)
- meeting time and frequency
- whether it is a standing council with an ongoing membership or, more usually, a one-time group that disbands after one successful exploration together
- the style and quality of facilitation used
- information access (especially the role of expert witnesses or briefing materials -- and what efforts are made to ensure an unassailable balance of perspectives)
- media participation (especially whether the process is filmed)
- whether it is an established part of an institutionalized, periodic process
Since this form (citizen consensus council) is new and (to my knowledge) its variations have never been collected up and articulated AS variations of a single type of process, there is great need and opportunity for research into these variables. I suspect that different designs will be appropriate for different purposes. However, there may be general principles we could learn that would apply to all uses and forms (such as those listed at the beginning of this article). Our understanding of random selection versus scientific demographic selection (for example) could be greatly enhanced with some research -- perhaps even discovering patterns of replicability comparable to those involved in scientific experiments. (See "A 'scientific' democratic process?" http://co-intelligence.org/CIPol_scientificDemoc.html )