PLANNING CELLS AND CITIZENS'
(This article is based on the following naterials sent to me by Prof. Dr. Peter C. Dienel, Bergische Universitiit Wuppertal, Gerrnany; e-mail: DIENEL@UNI-WUPPERTAL.DE )
In English: Planning Cells: The Geman Experience (Werkstatt-papier der Forschungstelle Burgerbeteiligung Nr.56)
The idea of Planning Cells has been conceived and developed for practical use by Prof. Dr. Peter. C. Dienel, undoubtedly one of our time's leading sociologists. The Planning Cell might be defined as a non-partisan, ad hoc, randomly selected, single issue, short-term micro-parliament. I quote from Werkstatt-Papier Nr.56 (see above):
"25 people from different background work together for a strictly limited time accompanied by two moderators (one man, one woman), in order to learn of a problem delegated to them by a commissioning body, and to look for alternative solutions. Generally 4 days are enough to understand and to handle the given case. One hour for lunch and two coffee breaks organize the discourse into four working units every day. Finally, the recommendations and the assessments of the solutions are presented to the commissioning body as a "Citizens' Report" (Biirgergutachten).
The instrument was tested thoroughly, and it now proves to be ready for being multiplied into many new areas on different levels of decision making. If the conditions of the model are observed, the Planning Cell is aiming in the medium term towards the development of a new industry .But how does it operate? The Planning Cell-model takes four steps to make the informed human being possible:
* There is a limited sector of reality to deal with. This way, the Planning Cell implementing organization knows beforehand what information could be relevant-
* Information is offered to the group by the best experts we can get, or by witnesses and visits and by all kinds of media ( e.g. films, slides, videos).-To save time, an agenda organizes the information into reasonable problem packages.
* The most important factor for getting informed seems to be time. One has to have the time to listen, to understand, to ask questions, to discuss alternatives and to make up one's mind. Participants learn surprisingly fast. At the second day already, old widows and young sales assistants speak jargon. Records of Planning Cell-projects show: The ability of lay consultants to understand and to use new categories was constantly underestimated by the experts and politicians taking part as witnesses or speakers.
* Time is money. People have to be paid, if we want to have the sufficiently informed citizen. Every participant gets an expense allowance and also the full loss of earnings and a young mother may need a place in a kindergarten. In paying the necessary money, it came out that remuneration here has a very positive side-effect. To the people it signalizes the seriousness and the emergency of their task.
During the four days of the average Planning Cell program, everyone of the participants spends most of the time together with four other people in small discussion groups. Those 5-people-groups have to grasp a certain situation or to decide on specific alternatives. They also have to visit sites or to work on some other task.
Participants in Planning Cells, surprisingly enough, hesitate to optimise their own interest positions. They try to detect the common interest behind each ofthe possible solutions and they are eager to identify themselves with it.
Taking part activates the normal participant to talk to other folks (family, colleagues, neighbors) at length about the Planning Cell experience and its results. The planning cell appears to be a public relation machine.
In the USA, citizen juries usually work in plenary sessions, not dividing up into small groups. Processes of this kind are influenced by their understanding of a "jury", assimilating evidence and deciding always together. The UK juries have at least some small group sessions on their agenda.
Public trust in the reliability of our state seems to wane. Today even formally legitimized measures sometimes occur as not feasible. Solutions are blocked by vested interests. The foggy reasoning of permanent campaigning keeps the real issues invisible (You better do not mention them). In that respect, people selected at random behave uninhibited and impartial. They immediately will ask you what will happen to the results at the end of their 4 days' work. This means to have good reason for expecting a true political effect. This expectation is possible since
* Planning Cell projects do not start without administrative orders. They have an officially commissioning body (a city, a county, a ministry etc.) as their partner. Therefore they got an addressee for their Citizens' Report, whereas e.g. the US "citizens' juries are not a direct part of the decision making process." Instead, they try to address the media.
* The proposals of this Citizen's Report are discernibly unbiased. The laypeople admitted to the Planning Cell process work on their problem without any formal ties to the organizations affected or to vested interests. In comparison with other bodies in the area of public decision making, the Planning Cell process reduces the chances of any organized interest to have an influence to a minimum. Besides being imm:une against vested interest, the advisory instrument Planning Cell also does not produce organizational interests of its own. The Planning Cell people have no opportunity for personal advancement, for being promoted or for becoming re-elected. The jury-process is seen to be neutral, by the participants as well as the general public."
A Short History
The project should not be too small. Never run just one Planning Cell alone. The average Planning Cell-project consists of 6- 10 Planning Cells. There have been already nation-wide projects up to 24 Planning Cells working on the same problem along an identical 4-days program. Larger quantities are more resistant to bribery .
Beside an official commissioner, the Planning Cell-project has to have an implementing organization. This has to be acknowledged as being impartial. Originally, this function was taken care of by the "Participation Research Unit" at the University ofWuppertal. During the years, it came out that all those remuneration operations and the number of contracts with experts, jurors and staff asked too much of a university administration. Then CitCon took over the demanding function of a neutral organization. This institute is located in Bonn, now with branches in San Sebastian (Spain) and Beppu University (Japan)."
The Standard Procedure in Germany
Contrary to the use of a quota-system in the UK and the USA for recruiting participants, we select people completely at random. The practice of a quota-system in the UK and the USA is a consequence of the small number of participants. A group of 15 people hardly can mirror the composition of society, a group of 300 people can.
.In the third phase, Planning Cells carry through their 4-days program. Usually we run two Planning Cells parallel to each other, one starting at 08, the other at 09 o'clock. This way every expert may be deployed twice which saves time and money.
Fourth phase: In the days after this finish, the Citizens' Report is produced and printed. It documents the task of the project, describes the course of the process and finally gives a summary of the results in presenting recommendations.
Fifth phase: The Report is handed over to the commissioner. Each participant receives a copy. These Citizens' Reports have their impact on the official decision making processes."
In general: "In most cases, Planning Cells were employed because the political parties had come to a dead end. The Citizens' Report offers a break through. Each of the Planning Cell-projects mentioned in the "Status Report '97" had a definite effect on different stages of the solution processes,"
The influence of the moderators:
The costs of running Planning Cells
The Current Situation
Officially, it is still non-existent. The terms "Planning Cell " or "Citizens' Report " do not occur in any decree, announcement, law or budget."
Planning Cells outside Germany
Spain: Planning Cells began to be organized in the Basque region in 1991, after Prof.Dienel's visit to the Laboratorio de Sociologia Juridica. Several local newspapers brought reports about the idea and the results achieved in practice. The presentation, which took place in October 1991 at the University of Onate, was attended by more than 50 Mayors, MPs of the Province of Guipuzcoa and the Ombudsmen of Galizia and Arag6n. Many citizens as well as the media understood immediately that "el modelo alemtin " -"Nucleos de Intervenci6n Participativa " was a new opportunity for solving problems caused by permanent conflicts between the local population and Madrid, Until September 1997, three Planning Cell projects were realized in the region. In the Spring of 1997, a successful PC project was organized in Catalonia, Interest has been aroused at the University of Barcelona and inquiries were received from Uruguay and Argentina. (See Werkstatt-Papier Nr,54)
South Africa: The idea is known as Peoples' Planning Units. UK: Interestingly, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair has expressed a wish to use the Gennan PC model in important areas "of the country's politics, (The Times, October 28 1996, p.2) -
Sweden: PC's have been mentioned as a possible innovation by Sven O,Hansson in the article Nytt Partiprogram. Nya former fijr demokrati'published in the Social Democratic periodical Tiden, February 1998. However, in the Swedish public debate, not only the Planning Cells, even the concept of Direct Democracy in any form has, so far, been banned.
Planning Cells and
Citizens' Juries -"The Missing Link"
When we talk with prejudiced or poorly informed people, time and again, we meet the following objection, " Direct Democracy is undesirable and it couldn't work in practice; because ordinary citizens are not competent' to make decisions concerning their own affairs.
It is better for them to let others (i.e. Parliament and Government) do the deciding. ~Elected representatives possess superior knowledge. We are better off letting these people decide than we would be if trying to decide ourselves." This allegation is seemingly the strongest and most credible argument against Direct Democracy. Probably, the vast majority still believe in it. As I see it, our I movement's most difficult task is to persuade the man/woman in the street that he/she is perfectly capable of making relevant decisions concerning him/herself.
But how can we do that? What can we say in support of our standpoint?
As a matter of fact, the answer is already there. Let us return again to the discussions held at our Pribram Conference. Very soon two standpoints came to the fore, The first one, advocated by most participants, was the classical DD method, i.e. citizen initiative, I popular referendum, and recall. The right to use these procedures was recognized as the comer-stone of true democracy and explicitly to called Direct Democracy. This standpoint was opposed by two participants; Mr.Crosby at and Dr .Carson, who refused to use the term a Direct Democracy and wanted something else, Strong Democracy, Participatory Democracy); or another qualifier, anything but the word Direct. The model these two researchers (and many others round the world) use to improve democracy are the Citizen Juries inspired by all the Planning Cells developed by Prof. Dienel. Regrettably, the adherents of both these schools of thought were discussing democracy as if their respective standpoints were mutually incompatible. As I see it, our DD movement can be greatly reinforced if we succeed in combining both these methods into one overall model. I am namely convinced that the development of Planning Cells and Citizen Juries was a stroke of genius. Why?
Let us return to the seemingly strongest criticism of Direct Democracy mentioned above. Obviously, the argument based on the alleged incompetence of ordinary citizens becomes untenable if we can prove the opposite. And that's exactly what the thirty years history of organizing Planning Cells and Citizen Juries enables us to do. Prof.Dienel's working papers as well as the Jefferson Center's reports show that groups of ordinary citizens, selected at random, are able to penetrate any issue to the same extent or even better than (biased) experts, let alone members of legislative bodies, if only these citizens are given sufficient information and time (one week is sufficient). This conclusion, arrived at again and again in the course of repeated projects of this type, using all the time the same standard procedure, is a scientific proof of the perfect ability of the grassroot citizen to make well-grounded decisions concerning him/herself. The reason why we have to delegate many (in fact most) decisions to people who represent us has nothing to do with our alleged incompetence. It is purely a matter of organization.
In the current western systems, basically, we
have three types of decision-making or assessment: 1.Indirect -i.e. processes
taking part in party-based legislative bodies and governments;
.On the other hand, it can't be denied that, in some cases. popular referenda might propose d~isions of dubious effects. Some of the proposed solutions are probably not based on solid in-depth knowledge of the problem in question. Occasionally, opponents of Direct Democracy might score a point.
This is not the case with the Planning Cells and Citizens' Juries. This model is perfectly democratic, it eliminates all vested interests, it involves only grass-root citizens, during a few days and no more than once in a lifetime. At the same time, the resulting recommendations (no decisions are made here) are based on genuine expert knowledge and are consonant with the will of the vast majority of all citizens because the participants -as shown by experience -invariably disregard their own personal interests and are focused on the interests of the whole society. Evidently, this model has a tremendous democratic potential" But -as one might expect -so far, there has been a hitch. In Europe. Planning Cells are organized and financed by the authorities or political parties. which means that they are limited to the treatment of marginal problems, not threatening the oligarchic system as such. In the USA. the Citizen Juries are independent and financed from private funds, but this great disadvantage condemns them -like the case is in Europe -to only play a marginal role.
What I have in mind is this: It would be perfectly possible to initiate a popular referendum demanding that the submission of issues to Planning Cells or Citizen Juries be made a standard procedure the organization and financing of which would be entrusted to an independent authority. Even before that, instead of demanding this or that measure to be taken, popular referenda might simply demand that the issue in question be submitted to a series of Planning Cells or Citizen Juries. In this way. instead of delegating the right to make decisions to petrified and corrupt party-political establishments. the citizens could delegate decision-making to themselves. Not even the most inveterate adversaries of Direct Democracy could raise any serious objections to such proposals. By combining. in some cases, referenda and Planning Cells/Citizen Juries into one single two-step procedure. our movement could be greatly strengthened. Instead of playing a Cinderella role in our political systems, the excellent device used by Prof. Dienel, Mr.Crosby, Dr.Carson and their colleagues might open a Pandora's box of revolutionary democratic change, an outburst now smouldering under the surface.