Citizens’ assemblies in Switzerland: status quo and current developments

Deliberative practices such as citizens’ assemblies have gained a lot of  momentum worldwide in the past years (e.g. Germany, Scotland, Ireland, France). In Switzerland however, the development of this type of public decision making is still in its infancy.

Some current notable pilot projects and initiatives are briefly introduced below:

Academic Citizens’ Assembly, June 2021

The Academic Citizens’ Assembly 2021 (ACA21) took place on 4th  June 2021 and prototyped a small-scale version of a citizens’ assembly. It was organized by Sascha Nick from the Business School Lausanne and the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). Around 60 participants from all over Switzerland were involved online and deliberated an entire day about future food & energy policies. The evaluation of ACA21 is still ongoing and will soon be published on the ACA21 and Citizens’ Democracy website.

Common Food Policy 2022 (Citizens’ Assembly for Food Policy)

The associations Landwirtschaft mit Zukunft / Agriculture du Futur, Biovision, SDSN and Collaboratio Helvetica are launching a citizens’ assembly for Food Policy, which is to meet for the first time in 2022. On 19th October, they are communicating more details at the Alte Markthalle in Basel.

Citizens’ Panel for more climate protection 2021

In August & September 2021, a Citizens’ Panel with 20 randomly selected citizens took place in Uster. The project is being supported by the Centre for Democracy (University of Zurich) and financed by the Department of Justice and Home Affairs of the Canton of Zurich. The panel focused on the areas of Climate Protection, responsible consumption and waste reduction and will send their recommendations to the local authorities in Uster.

Further panels on climate protection are planned for Winterthur (spring 2022) and Thalwil (autumn 2022).

Demoscan Citizen Panel (Sion 2019, Geneva 2021)

The pilot project Demoscan was launched by prof. Nenad Stoianovic and other researchers from the University of Geneva.

During the first Citizen Panel in Sion, 20 randomly selected citizens of the city of Sion met for two weekends in November 2019. They deliberated on a federal popular initiative on housing policy. The report from this panel was then sent to all residents in Sion before the Swiss public voted on it in February 2020.

During the second pilot, 20 citizens of Geneva were randomly selected on 4th June 2021. Their task was to deliberate during two weekends in September on an issue scheduled for a cantonal vote  (pensions for cantonal councilors) that is planned for 28th November. They have to produce a two-page report outlining three arguments for and against the proposal under consideration, which will then be sent to residents before the vote.

The next one is scheduled in Aarau (tax reform) for March 2022. Another Demoscan initiative, using the same principles, involved the setting up of a neighbourhood contract in an area of Lausanne.

Demokratie im dialog

The project Demokratie im dialog has been set up by professor Daniel Gut and other researchers and it has some similarities with Demoscan. The issue that will be discussed in the Cantons of Solothurn and Bern is energy policy. 50-100 randomly selected people who reflect the diversity of the population will discuss this topic over two sessions. One difference from other models is that after the first session the panel’s work will be put online so other interested members of the initial randomly selected group of 2000 can contribute their ideas. After the second session a final proposal is elaborated and discussed with the government. Ideas can be rejected by the government or parliament. However, this would have to be justified in detail.

Citizens’ Forum Geneva

The Citizens’ Forum set up in Geneva is an assembly of 30 people drawn by lot, whose composition reflected the diversity of the Geneva population (age, gender, level of education, etc.). It dealt with the issue: ‘How do we want to inhabit the territory of Geneva in order to live better together in respect of nature and to face climate change?’ The forum received training beforehand and consulted experts.

After four weekends of work, the Citizens’ Forum has adopted 104 measures to answer the question.

National Climate Council

In response to the climate crisis, the Green Party has recently proposed a motion for a national deliberative citizens’ council to work alongside the Federal Council and parliamentary commissions and where members will be drawn by lot.

Citizens’ Democracy

Connecting Swiss deliberative democracy
initiatives & promoting Citizens’ assemblies