Exchange of views with representatives of the civil society, organised under the aegis of
the Chair of GR-DEM in co-operation with the President of the Conference of INGOs
“Participatory Democracy: Opportunities and Challenges, Trends and Lessons learned”
Strasbourg, 3 June 2022 (2.30 pm – 5.00 pm)
Concluding remarks from the Chair
Participative democracy is a core element in active democratic processes, which enables citizens to participate in, and influence decision-making processes in their communities. We witness an increasing number of participation initiatives and forms of engagement of citizens in political decision-making, especially the deliberative format gains more and more importance.
The Council of Europe has been working in this field over the last decades. It recognises the importance of civil participation in the democratic process and has produced reference standards, such as the Guidelines for civil participation in political decision making (CM(2017)83-final) or the Recommendation on the participation of citizens in local public life (CM/Rec(2018)4).
This informal exchange of views provided delegations with an overview on different aspects of participatory and deliberative democracy. It further helped to better understand how participatory mechanisms can be strengthened and used more efficiently, jointly by authorities and civil society, either in a top-down way or using a bottom-up approach.
To further motivate cooperation between authorities and civil society organisations to build an enhanced participatory culture and practice in Council of Europe member States, the following elements and recommendations were stressed and duly noted by delegations:
- After many years of piloting and experimenting, participation and deliberative mechanisms have proven to be much more than an amplifier to make citizens’ voices heard. They have shown their potential to give citizens a real advisory role, incorporating their opinions, experiences, preferences and recommendations in policy making. The relation and interaction between direct, representative, and participatory democracy practices however needs to be further explored and properly researched in order to make best use of their complementarity.
- Participatory and deliberative mechanisms can only be effective when they are formally embedded within a policy or legislative framework and if there is a political commitment to organise them and implement the results.
- Participatory and deliberative mechanisms can only function if implemented in a joint co-operative effort of politicians, public institutions, NGOs and citizens, taking genuinely into account different backgrounds and expectations. A proper expectation management is crucial to avoid dissatisfaction and loss of trust.
- Civil society organisations need to play an important role in the conception of deliberation processes, they are seen as crucial to provide topic related evidence to the participants, and their role as watchdogs for the implementation of the results was felt to be fundamental.
- In order to strengthen the trust of citizens in participatory and deliberative mechanisms and to motivate their engagement, participation processes at all stages need to be organised in the most transparent way, from the selection of participants to the implementation of the results. Transparency is crucial to build trust, and trust is crucial to reach the desired result of any participation process.
- The Conference of the Future of Europe showed that a common understanding between authorities and civil society organisations on deliberative democracy still needs to be consolidated. This gap has to be bridged with awareness raising of citizens, civil servants, media representatives and politicians. Joint education programmes should be supported by in-depth needs assessments and further research.
- To promote participation methods and to make them effective, good practices need to be shared, and innovation be promoted. Good practice examples can show benefits of participatory initiatives and make the process, roles and outreach better understandable. In this context, the Council of Europe has launched the online platform BePART (www.bepartforum.org), which provides authorities and civil society organisations an online space to share their experience and lessons learned, and which fosters peer-to -peer learning in its member States.
- Citizen’s do not want and cannot be engaged all the time in all topics. Therefore, efficient, and sustainable participation systems need to be established, in which citizens could trust and believe in, even if they were not personally involved in the process.
- The involvement of young people in any participatory and deliberative effort is crucial as change of culture and change of mindset starts with young people, therefore it is fundamental to promote youth participation and support it with affirmative actions.
- The use of digital tools should be put in the service of participatory democracy, in accordance with Council of Europe standards. Effective communication and professional facilitation are core elements in particular in deliberative processes, to guarantee a tangible result.
- The proper follow up of the process and implementation of the result of the participation and deliberation processes by the authorities is the most crucial aspect of the process. If this is not given, the credibility of the process is on risk.
- Time has come to set standards and to institutionalise participation and deliberation mechanism in the existing democratic framework. A change of democratic culture is needed and a proper infrastructure for participation needs to be build up.