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European Citizen Panels - The Making of Ready-Made Templates

Open Panel

Abstract

In the last decade especially pan-European implementations are the new superlatives in citizen deliberation instruments with applications such as the Consensus Conference ''Meeting of Minds'' 2006, European Citizens’ Panel on the role of rural areas in tomorrow’s Europe, European Citizen Consultations 2007 and 2009, European Citizens’ Panel ‘New democratic toolbox for new Institutions’ 2009/2010, European Consensus Conference on Homelessness 2010 and others. This phenomenon of increasing quantities of pan-european citizen deliberation events can be set in context of the history of the innovation process of citizen deliberation instruments which were designed, implemented and expanded since the second half of the 20th century. This history begins with the emergence of single designs such as planning cells, consensus conferences, citizens’ juries, deliberative pollings and many more in localized and nationalized development and application contexts which on European scope transcend and hybridize into procedures nowadays often summarized as citizen panels or citizen forums. Surprisingly, though, the question of how those citizen deliberation instruments emerge, take shape, and stabilize has been treated peripheral at best. As we argue in this paper, the innovation of citizen deliberation instruments has to be viewed and analyzed as a process of producing and marketing particular deliberative designs by instruments’ communities such as designers, practitioners, consultants and scientific evaluators. We therefore study what drives particular procedure designs to prevail, how communities shape and use instrument designs, and how they market their expertise to “users” on the instrument choice side – thereby shifting the focus from a more traditional perspective of policy choice to one of policy supply. This paper is divided in three parts. In the first part we introduce a theoretical concept on the supply chain of citizen deliberation instruments and its ‘social life’ including designers, consultants and researchers building and fostering design standards as a contingent historical process. In a second part we probe our theoretical framework with the innovation process of the citizen panel becoming institutionalized as a de facto design standard beginning with single designs such as citizens’ jury, consensus conference and planning cell. Therefore we analyze the structure of an emerging transnational community, and its dynamics to provide ready-made templates for implementations based on mutual adaptation processes and negotiated strategic rule-making. The present ‘deliberative industry’ (Saretzki) can be identified by indications such as professionalisation regarding instrument marketing and increasing funding in research and action programs, accompanied by an empirical and evaluative turn in deliberative governance research crucial for providing legitimacy. We conclude with an outlook on the study of the role of standardization processes driven by instrument communities and discuss relevant ambivalences expressed in current discourse including critics of the design of deliberative procedures being shaped in selected expert discourses and carried forward by professionals who implement ‘top-down’ ready-made templates without taking the situational and systemic context into account, aiming at managing a friction-less process with reliable results.