Knowledge base

Glossary of participatory democracy terms

Deliberative democracy

Deliberative democracy or discursive democracy is a form of exercising political power that involves all parties concerned in the process of political decision-making. This occurs during an argumentative debate phase between citizens from different backgrounds and social groups. Thus, deliberative democracy would be situated at a higher democratic level than participatory democracy in terms of legitimacy and rationality of collective decisions (Bouvier, 2007).

Indeed, this form of participation involves citizens at the level of co-decision, the highest stage of participation according to Arnstein’s scale (1969). There are in fact “four levels […] with an increasing degree of participation, [i.e.] information (as a condition for participation), consultation (soliciting an opinion in relation to a project that has already been developed), consultation (association with the development of a project further upstream), and finally co-decision (direct participation in the development of the decision, or even delegated management)” (Dubas, 2006, p.22).

« This deliberative model, inspired in particular by the writings of Jürgen Habermas and John Rawls, posits, to put it briefly, that “the legitimacy and rationality of collective decisions rest on a process of collective deliberation, conducted rationally and equitably among free and equal individuals” » (Blondiaux, 2008, p.131 and 132).

Citizens’ advisory council

Citizen advisory councils normally  involve 10-30 members of the public who sit as a committee to inform and advise decision making over an extended period of time. Advisory groups can create effective and on-going dialogue that allow issues and concerns to be explored in depth, and ideally addressed, while the participants are still involved.

Citizens’ assembly

A citizens’ assembly is a body of citizens who come together to deliberate on a given issue and provide a set of recommendations, options, or a collective decision to the convening body. Typically numbering between 40 and 200 people the participants are selected by a stratified random selection process.

Citizens’ panel or jury

Similar to a citizens’ assembly, a citizens’ jury or citizens’ panel is where a representative sample of a community is assembled to learn about and deliberate on a given topic. They reach a collective decision or recommendation on a policy issue through informed deliberation. Typically, however, a citizens’ jury or citizens’ panel is smaller in nature than a citizens’ assembly and requires less time and engagement. Typically they number between 20 and 40 people and the participants are selected by a mini-public (stratified random selection)

Civil society

One definition of civil society, which has been used for a long time, is: the arena outside of the family, the state, and the market, which is created by individual and collective actions, organisations and institutions to advance shared interests. This broad definition covers non-governmental organisations (NGOs), activists, civil society coalitions and networks, protest and social movements, voluntary bodies, campaigning organisations, charities, faith-based groups, trade unions and philanthropic foundations.

Newer definitions of civil society focus on civil society as a growing and changing ecosystem with both organised and organic components. The actors who are a part of this civil society ecosystem collaborate to achieve goals.


Co-design is a participatory design-led approach to challenges of a more complex nature. It is more than a method – it is a mindset and a movement that employs different modes of collaboration, experimentation and creative thinking to challenge power dynamics, share knowledge, build and nurture trust and social connections. A co-design approach seeks to empower individuals to have a greater sense of agency in shaping the systems and services around them. Co-design is underpinned by five principles: outcomes-focus, inclusivity, participation, respectfulness, and adaptiveness.

Community appraisal

Community appraisal is a method that includes gauging the viewpoints of members of a community on particular issues. Appraisals may be conducted to form a plan of action to resolve an issue or improve existing services. Traditionally, they are citizen driven initiatives although they can also be organised by local authorities.


A method to regularly consult with a medium to large number of people using online tools. E-panels are useful to gather views on a given question or proposal from a wide variety of people. They are focused in their nature and are usually designed as a questionnaire or survey.

E- petitions

E-petitions make use of software which allows the posting of petitions online where others can also register their support. Most e-petitions contain a detailed  requestcontaining what it is that the petitioner wants the government to do, or stop doing.

Local conference of parties (COP)

A local COP is an opportunity for civil society actors to advocate and influence local decision-makers. Such an event concludes with decision-makers in a local administrative entity signing a common document of climate objectives.


Deliberative mini-publics are institutions in which a diverse body of citizens is selected randomly to deliberate together about an issue of public concern. There are many variations in their design ranging from citizens’ juries to citizens’ assemblies.

Participatory budgeting

The process whereby members of a community deliberate on the allocation and distribution of public resources. This has long been recognised as a means of involving citizens in local governance and decision-making. Participatory budgeting provides an opportunity for a more equal budget planning process to take place and to support climate change mitigation and adaptation projects.

Peoples’ assembly

Peoples’ assemblies are a way for a group of people to discuss issues or make decisions collectively. People’s assemblies are a form of direct participatory democracy, usually organised by citizens themselves, often as part of a political campaign or social movement. Though without legal or statutory power they can be used to influence public policy or as an organising tool for forms of direct action. Such assemblies have been usedwidely by Extinction Rebellion and the Occupy movement.

21st Century town meetings

21st Century Town Meetings bring together between 500 and 5,000 people, to discuss local, regional or national issues. By using technology, this method combines the benefits of small scale face-to-face discussions with those of large group decision making.





Knoca Research Briefings

KNOCA (Knowledge network on climate assemblies) collates and highlights existing and emerging research on climate assemblies,  as well as commissioning its own targeted research on aspects of such assemblies. Four Research Briefings have been commissioned in the following areas:

Knoca also intends to develop research on the evaluation of climate aassemblies, developing the work of OECD and other bodies. This will consider, for example, whether established evaluation frameworks need to be adapted for the issue of climate change.

The Research Briefings are drafts that were discussed by network members during the launch events on 22 and 23 June (follow the links to view the recordings from the events). Final versions will be published following this consultation process. If you have any comments on any of the draft Research Briefings, please send to

Handbooks for planning, setting up and implementing citizens’ assemblies

International reports and books on deliberative democracy

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