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Organizing Citizen Deliberative Council

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Citizen Deliberative Councils (CDCs) are temporary, face-to-face councils of a dozen or more citizens whose diversity reflects the diversity of their community, state or country. Usually council members are selected at random, often with additional criteria to ensure gender, racial, socioeconomic and other diversity.
These diverse ordinary citizens convene for two to ten days to consider some public concern -- to learn about it (often by hearing and cross-examining diverse experts), to reflect on it together (usually with the help of a professional facilitator or moderator), and to craft a collective statement which they then announce to the public and/or relevant officials and agencies, often through a press conference.
After that they disband. In current democratic visions featuring CDCs, they have no permanent or official power except the power of legitimacy and widely-publicized common sense solutions to compelling public problems. But they could be given whatever powers the people want them to have.


The Distinctiveness of CDCs

Although "citizen deliberation"* happens in many forms, a [Citizen Deliberative Council][Citizen_Deliberative_Council] is a special form of deliberation structured and convened to inform officials and the public about what The People as a whole really want. It is made up of ordinary citizens whose diversity embodies the diversity of the population from which they were drawn. It is, in essence, an ad hoc microcosm of a community, state or country, convened to reflect the views and concerns of that community, state or country, in an interactive setting. Participants may be selected randomly or scientifically - or by a combination of both methods. But they differ from participants in most other forms of citizen deliberation in that they are not chosen as representatives, stakeholders or experts. They are themselves, and they show up simply as peer citizens. In their role as a citizen council, however, they archetypally embody the citizenry and may consult with representatives, experts or other stakeholders, to improve their understanding of the issues they're exploring.

:On the question of CDC's democratic legitimacy, see

There are many varieties of citizen deliberative councils, but they all share one purpose and seven characteristics.


To inform officials and the public of what We the People as a whole would really want if we were to carefully think about it and talk it over with each other.

  1. It is an organized face-to-face assembly.
  2. It is made up of people selected so that their collective diversity fairly reflects the diversity of the larger community from which they were chosen. (In this context, "community" means any coherent civic population, whether a block, a citizens' organization, a city, a province, a country, or any other such public grouping.)
  3. It is convened temporarily, for a limited number of days - almost always for more than a single day - usually a few days to a week of actual meetings, sometimes distributed over several weeks.
  4. Its members deliberate as peer citizens, setting aside any other role or status they may have.
  5. It has an explicit mandate to address public issues or the concerns of its community.
  6. It uses forms of dialogue, usually facilitated, that enable its diverse members to really hear each other, to expand and deepen their understanding of the issues involved and to engage together in seeking creative ways their community might address those issues.
  7. At its conclusion, it issues findings and/or recommendations to concerned officials and to the larger community from which its members came and to which they return when their reports are submitted. Usually there is an expectation of further community dialogue stimulated by the report, and this is sometimes intentionally included as part of the overall process.

Forms of CDC:

CitizenJuries - The basic and most widely practiced CDC, outlined above, with 12-24 participants. Pioneered in the US.

ConsensusConferences - Like citizens juries except (a) panelists participate more in selecting experts to testify before them, (b) testimony is taken in a public forum and (c) a panel's final product is a consensus statement. Pioneered in Denmark.

PlanningCells - Numerous simultaneous 25-person citizens juries (cells), all addressing the same subject. Participants spend much of their time in 5-person subgroups. The cells' diverse final statements get integrated into one "Citizens' Report." Pioneered in Germany.

There is also a new form of CDC which, unlike the models above, does not start off with issues and experts: The WisdomCouncil'' is an experimental council using a proven form of open-ended, creative group process (DynamicFacilitation) to explore whatever citizens feel is important. It is currently being piloted in several U.S. communities. . Since [Dynamic Facilitation][Dynamic_Facilitation] does not have the weighty formality of most deliberative processes, founder [Jim Rough][Jim_Rough] believes [Wisdom Council][Wisdom_Council] should be categorized as a Citizen ''Reflective Council (see ).

Finally, back in 1991 there was a one-time nationwide experiment in Canada that offers a provocative glimpse of what might be possible with a national [Wisdom Council][Wisdom_Council], the MacleansPanel.'' ''Maclean's,'' Canada's leading newsweekly, scientifically selected a dozen seriously different ordinary Canadians and then used world class facilitation to help them come to an agreement on the future of Canada. ''Maclean's and Canadian TV then gave extensive coverage to both the process and the results, including the stories of the people involved.

Several additional forms of CDC have been proposed (especially by John Gastil and Ned Crosby) which are variations of the existing models above.

Hundreds of CDCs have been formally convened all over the world for over thirty years -- although only in Denmark (and recently in Canada) have they held any official role in governance. They have involved tens of thousands - if not hundreds of thousands - of people in both "developed" and "developing" nations.

Uses of CDCs

It is now well demonstrated that with this method ordinary citizens have a remarkable capacity to grapple with complex problems and come up with useful recommendations that serve the common good, thus realizing the elusive dream of democracy. Some of the uses to which this capacity can be put - and which the CDC model allows us to actually institutionalize in our democratic process - are these:

  • Studying issues on behalf of the public and public officials.
  • Reviewing proposed ballot initiatives and referenda.
  • Ensuring sober public evaluation of controversial legislation.
  • Reviewing candidates for elected public office.
  • Reviewing government budgets.
  • Reviewing government or corporate performance.
  • Accessing the latent insight of We the People about the state of our communities and countries, the directions we're heading and our possibilities for a better future. .

(For more on these potential functions of CDCs, see )

* The definition of "citizen deliberation" used here is "consideration of diverse perspectives on public affairs by diverse citizens conversing together in search of greater shared understanding of the common good." This is significant because some methods normally included in the CDC category, like [Wisdom Council][Wisdom_Council], are not deliberative in the sense of "carefully weighing options" but are rather more creative (Choice Creating) in their approach. See also [Citizen Consensus Council][Citizen_Consensus_Council] - CDCs that use consensus See also [Citizen Reflective Council][Citizen_Reflective_Council] - a definition of CDC that moves beyond conventional deliberation


Atlee, Tom. "Using Citizen Deliberative Councils to Make Democracy More Potent and Awake" (November 2003)

Atlee, Tom. "Citizen Deliberative Councils"

Atlee, Tom. "Can Citizen Deliberative Councils Legitimately Claim to Generate a 'People's Voice' on Important Public Concerns?" [ July 2, 2002]


Atlee, Tom. The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World that Works for All. (Writers Collective, 2003). Covers all types of CDCs, including a detailed report on the [Macleans Panel][Macleans_Panel] in Canada.

Crosby, Ned. Healthy Democracy: Empowering a Clear and Informed Voice of the People. (Beaver's Pond Press, 2003). Focuses on [Citizens Juries][Citizens_Juries] and their potential applications.

Gastil, John. By Popular Demand: Revitalizing Representative Democracy through Deliberative Elections (University of California, 2000). Covers a wide range of deliberative practices, focusing on citizen panels and their potential applications.

Joss, Simon, and John Durant (eds). Public Participation in Science: The Role of Consensus Conferences in Europe. (Science Museum, UK, 1995). Focuses on [Consensus Conferences][Consensus_Conferences].

Renn, Ortwin, Thomas Webler, and Peter Wiedemann. Fairness and Competence in Citizen Participation: Evaluating Models for Environmental Discourse. (Kluwer Academic, 1995). Focuses on [Citizens Juries][Citizens_Juries] and [Planning Cells][Planning_Cells], as well as many other forms of citizen participation.

Rough, Jim. Society's Breakthrough! Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in all the People. (1stBooks, 2002). Focuses on [Wisdom Council][Wisdom_Council].

Why a Wisdom Council is not a "Citizens Deliberative Council" by Jim Rough:

Tom Atlee describes the category "Citizen Deliberative Councils" (CDC�s) and mentions that I have difficulty with his characterizing the Wisdom Council as being part of that category. Let me explain why. Basically, a CDC is a randomly selected microcosm of society that reflects on issues of public concern, and reports its conclusions to officials and to the larger community. Since the Wisdom Council does this, why isn�t it a "Citizen Deliberative Council?" (1) The Wisdom Council does NOT generally employ a deliberative process of thinking. (2) The Wisdom Council symbolizes (and sparks into actual existence) a living being who can choose, think creatively, and solve problems ... We the People. (3) The Wisdom Council�s relationship to CDC�s is to initiate them, give them their topic, and make use of their output. Let me explain.

To me it�s like saying that there are different kinds of "computers": the IBM mainframe, the Apple Macintosh, the abacus, and the human being. ... The human being can do computing but it�s demeaning and misleading to include her in the category of "computers." Consider these differences: (1) She can compute but it�s only a small fraction of what she does. (2) She is a living being who can choose, think creatively and solve problems. (3) Her relationship to computers is to build them, program them, and make use of their output. The same reasons apply to the Wisdom Council:

(1) The Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines "deliberation" as "discussion and consideration by a group of persons of the reasons for and against a measure." Deliberation suggests "slow or careful reasoning" back and forth. Webster�s Revised Unabridged Dictionary says it is "a discourse in which a question is discussed, or weighed and examined" or that it is "a kind of rhetoric employed in proving a thing and convincing others of its truth, in order to persuade them to adopt it." The root for the word is "liber" ... "to weigh." Deliberation is fundamentally a rational, decision-making thought process. The dynamic facilitator, who is an essential component of a Wisdom Council, actively avoids "deliberation" in favor of a creative, heartfelt form of thinking known as "choice-creating". It is not rational "decision-making," or evaluating a given set of options but seeking breakthroughs in the face of a difficult issue... See (2) The Wisdom Council symbolizes an autonomous, creative "We the People." Citizen Deliberative Councils, on the other hand, are like focus groups, reflecting back to some authority how "the people" feel about an issue. While the Wisdom Council may also do this, its primary role is to spark into existence and to maintain a "We the People." So, for instance, Citizen Deliberative Councils generally begin when a powerful sponsor provides a specific issue for it to address, usually with particular options to consider. The authority makes the decision, with the CDC being subservient. Also, the result of the CDC is usually determined by a vote, not by enthusiastic consensus. So its ability to spark unanimity in the whole system is limited. The Wisdom Council, on other hand, derives its charter from all the people. It chooses its own issues, addresses them creatively and reaches unanimous conclusions. Because its thinking process is choice-creating instead of decision-making and because it is ongoing, the entire community can participate in the conversation it sparks and the consensus it develops. (3) The Wisdom Council is a symbolic reflection of the ultimate authority in the system, We the People. It is even more powerful than elected officials or the Constitution. When there is a legitimate We the People conversation, then each of us is empowered to affect the larger system we are within. And when that conversation is an inclusive, thoughtful, creative one, then our system can become collectively intelligent. Citizens Deliberative Councils are best used in conjunction with the Wisdom Council. When the Wisdom Council charters a CDC, then it is We the People seeking to learn more about an issue so We can all be more intelligent about it. Without the Wisdom Council in place, CDC�s operate within the existing system, providing information to whoever is in charge.

The Wisdom Council is still theoretical because none of the many experiments with it had all twelve principles. But each of the experiments in a high school, a city, a state agency, a county department, a corporation, etc. has been successful as far as it has gone, indicating that it will work. See the Center for Wise Democracy ...




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see where we are also listing similar practices

  --Michel Bauwens (Not signed in).....Sun Jan 31 00:53:33 -0800 2010

The Bohm Dialogue, especially Collective Reflection has significance for me in terms of artistic critique and dialogue.

If one wanted to connect this to Jungian thought I'd relate to that.

  --Srule Brachman (Not signed in).....Mon May 21 17:09:16 +0000 2012





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