»Citizens’ assemblies will improve our communication with citizens and help us to better understand their problems and needs«
On 22 and 23 September 2021, our first event on the topic of citizens’ assemblies took place in the Montenegrin capital city of Podgorica. The workshop, which we organized in partnership with FES Serbia and Montenegro Office and the capital city of Podgorica, was led by Roman Huber from the association Mehr Demokratie e.V. Among participants were also the representatives of the local NGO theCenter for Democratic Transition that deals with democratization processes and De Facto consultancy that specializes in public opinion research.
Mr. Huber presented the key findings from his current experiences of implementing this relatively new form of citizens’ participation. He highlighted the crucial criteria regarding the design of a successful citizens’ assembly: a pressing issue as a topic, representative inclusion, great transparency, high-quality deliberative procedures, and an established relationship with political actors. He stressed that the benefits of mini-publics translate into a better functioning democracy on both local and national levels.
The workshop participants quizzed him on all the details of a citizens’ assembly design and found that this tool can provide a constructive response to the current challenges of Montenegrin democracy such as deep political and societal polarization. Including the perspectives of ordinary citizens in the political process could also lead to a greater acceptance of political decisions on the local level, in particular regarding divisive issues within the Podgorica municipality.
As a result, the representatives of the capital city of Podgorica have pledged to consider the possibility of implementing this model of citizens’ participation, which means citizens’ additional involvement in agenda-setting and in making the most important decisions for the city and life in it. "In this project, we recognize the possibility of improving communication with citizens, and thus a better understanding of their problems and needs," said Mayor Ivan Vukovic.
The workshop ended with the presentation of the FES study ‘Citizens’ Assemblies: New Ways to Democratize Democracy‘, by Wolfgang Merkel, Andreas Schäfer, and Filip Milacic. The presentation was also attended by the representatives of the University of Montenegro, several NGOs, as well as international organizations such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations (UN).