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Problems and Purpose
G1000 is a project to revitalize and "advise" Belgium's current representative democratic system by complementing it with deliberative democracy. It is a response to the increasing ineffectiveness of the representative democracy system, as evidenced in part by the 2010-11 parliamentary crisis.
G1000 has used a variety of online and in-person participatory mechanisms. In the first phase of the project during summer 2011, citizens submitted and then voted on problems which they thought should be tackled by through deliberative democracy during the G1000 Citizens’ Summit, the second phase of the project which took place in November 2011. The broad ideas generated from the Citizens’ Summit will be developed into specific policy recommendations by a 32-person Citizens’ Panel over summer and fall 2012.
The impetus for the project came from the Belgian political crisis that began in 2007 and reached its climax in June 2010 when parliamentary elections resulted in no clear majority. The two elected parties, the conservative separatist New Flemish Alliance and the leftist pro-unity Socialist Party, were unable to create a coalition government for over 500 days.
The G1000 summit is an innovative experiment in deliberative democracy attempting to deal with Belgium's recent "democratic crisis" by essentially bringing residents together to rennovate the representative democratic system originally implemented in 1831.
The founders felt that heightened voter awareness and the pressure of elections had created politicians more concerned with short-term gains rather than long-term solutions. These trends, in combination with the loss of traditional civil society groups and the rise of new technologies, had led Belgium to “the limits of representative democracy.” As the G1000 organizer’s manifesto states, “never before have citizens been so articulate—and yet never so powerless.”
Originating Entities and Funding
G1000 was created by twenty five citizens from the French- and Dutch-speaking communities of Belgium. The initiators represented a variety of occupations in academia (political scientist, professor of law, professor of sociology); communications and technology (radio journalist, digital media and marketing consultant, web developer); arts (novelist, actresses, playwright, cultural organization executives, graphic designer); and the non-profit sphere (activist, non-profit executives).
The website of G1000 claims that it is “run entirely by volunteers (the only paid collaborators are the external consultants that have helped us to implement the process).” G1000 also partners with The Foundation for Future Generations, “the only Belgian foundation exclusively devoted to sustainable development”,
G1000 organizers chose to accept only donations rather than sponsors, public, or research money. By financing the project through crowd funding and keeping donator information private, the project avoided creating “privileged sponsors.” Over 3000 donors have supported the project thus far.
During the first phase of Public Agenda Setting, any person with Internet access could submit or vote on proposals. 6000 individuals took part in this process. Awareness had been raised through the publication of the G1000 Manifesto in five national newspapers in June 2011, an event which yielded 10,000 supporting signatures within “a few weeks.”
For the second phase, the Citizens’ Summit, 90% of the participants were selected randomly through Random Digit Dialing, a phone outreach technique that yielded a 3% “yes” (acceptance of the invitation to participate) response rate. The other 10% of participants were from marginalized demographics such as homeless people or immigrants; G1000 organizers encouraged these individuals to participate by working with grassroots organizations. Participants ranged from 18 to 85 years old, and their gender and linguistic diversity reflected that of Belgian inhabitants (participants were 52-48 female-male, and 61-39 Dutch-French speaking compared to the Belgian’s overall 58-32 Dutch-French ratio). Although 1000 participants committed to attending the Summit, only 704 actually attended.
The 32 participants in the Citizens’ Panel, the third phase, were selected from the 491 individuals who participated in the G1000, G-Offs, or G-Home and who wished to be considered for the Panel. They were selected through a random selection process with controls for gender, language, region, and age as well as an ex-post control for socio-economic background.
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
In the G1000’s first phase, “Public Agenda Setting”, participants determined the agenda for the later Citizens’ Summit. Throughout July 2011, citizens could submit questions or problems through the G1000 website. Organizers grouped the ideas into the top 25 themes and posted them online in October 2011 where citizens voted for their top three choices. The ideas appeared in a random order for each participant, and organizers ran an ex-post IP Check to ensure that no individual or group had skewed the results through mass voting. The top themes were: “Social Security”, “Distribution of Wealth in Times of Financial Crisis”, and “Immigration.”
In November 2011, 704 people attended the Citizens’ Summit held in Brussels which followed the Town Hall Meeting format. The day began with opportunities for participants to get to know one another and feel comfortable enough to contribute to the discussion. The participants then split into groups of roughly ten people and sat down at tables to deliberate. There were 35 Dutch, 29 French, 35 bilingual (with interpreters) and one German table. Each table had a facilitator. The tables discussed the three agenda items, starting with presentations on the topic from two experts, one Dutch- and one French-speaking. After the expert presentation, the participants discussed the topic. The discussions were structured by the facilitators to ensure that each group achieved the goals of clearly defining the problem, suggesting solutions, and “taking stock” of the various perspectives and ideas of participants.
Facilitators were supposed to ensure that the discussions were inclusive and open for all participants. To help participants who were uncomfortable with public speaking, the discussions were sometimes held between small subgroups of people at each table (ie, splitting into pairs).
At various points throughout the day, citizens submitted proposals to the control desk. The six academic experts at the control desk aggregated the proposals into a list of ideas or solutions on each of the topics which participants discussed. The list was then projected on screens throughout the room, and participants voted on the ideas.
G1000 organizers also used technology to make participation possible for citizens who had not been selected to attend the conference. Citizen groups from five to one hundred people gathered across Belgium to participate through G-Off, watching the livesteamed expert testimonials and then deliberating. Other individuals could take part through G-Home, a web-based discussion facilitated by the “online brainstorming tool” Synthetron.
For the third phase of G1000, 32 individuals were selected from the attendants at the Citizens Summit, G-Off, and G-Home to take part in a Citizens’ Panel. This Panel’s goal is to develop specific policy recommendations relating to the broad ideas that had arisen during the Citizens Summit. It will use a Consensus Conference, which is a more intensive and more highly-moderated process format. This phase will take place over three weekends in fall 2012, and the results will be available in November 2012.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Outcomes and effects are limited as the final phase of the G1000 has yet to be completed.
According to a posttest survey, “participants felt like they had sufficient opportunities to express their opinions and that they could participate without restraints.” Over 90% felt that other participants had been sincerely interested in their opinions, and 75% felt that they had been treated with great respect. More than 75% “felt that good decisions were made at the G1000.” These results suggest a high level of satisfaction in the quality of the deliberations.
Analysis and Criticism
The full effects and consequences of the process have yet to be seen as G1000 is not yet completed. It is unclear whether or not the Belgian government will listen to policy recommendations developed by the Citizens’ Panel.
The interesting choice to finance G1000 through crowd funding limited the project’s budget and required volunteers to spend lots of energy fundraising. Partnering with an academic institution might have helped this problem, although organizers may have felt this violated their principle of “independence.” Designing the project and working closely with academic researchers would, however, have made it easier to determine the extent to which G1000 achieved its goals of diversity and inclusion.
Bias was potentially introduced into the Citizens’ Summit deliberations because the expert positions probably did not reflect the full spectrum of expert opinions on each subject, and organizers had not provided further supplementary material such as background reading before the Summit. During the deliberations, facilitators attempted to combat bias by repeatedly telling participants that they were not required to follow the experts’ viewpoints. According to the posttest survey, 23% said their opinions had been changed after hearing the experts and 50% of participants claimed to have been uninfluenced. Changing one’s opinion based on expert testimony is not, in itself, problematic; care needs to be taken, however, to ensure that the experts’ testimonies do not create bias towards certain solutions that other experts would disagree with.
Sources and Links
Caluwaerts, Didier and Reuchamps, Min. “The G1000: Facts, Figures, and Some Lessons from an Experience of Deliberative Democracy in Belgium.” Document here.
The Foundation for Future Generations: http://www.foundationfuturegenerations.org
G1000 Website: www.g1000.org
“It’s not the G20, it’s the G1000!” Europe Weekly. November 11, 2011. http://www.euronews.net/2011/11/12/europe-weekly-the-g1000-gives-a-voice-to-the-people/.
US Department of State “Background Note: Belgium”: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2874.htm
Vermeersch, Peter. “G1000: Deliberative Democracy in Belgium.” Deliberative-Dmeocracy.net. November 2, 2011. http://www.deliberative-democracy.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=178:g1000&catid=1:general&Itemid=68
This case study could be strengthened by answering the following questions. Dutch or French speakers may be able to find answers to these questions through the G1000 website which is only partially translated into English at this point.
· What were the demographics of participants in the Public Agenda Setting phase of the project?
· What were the racial and socio-economic background of participants in the Citizens’ Summit? Did they successfully manage to recruit participants from marginalized backgrounds through the grassroots organizations?
· What were the demographics of G-Off and G-Home participants?
· What were the demographics of the Citizens Panel participants?
· How were the two experts for the issues selected—where they meant to be unbiased experts or to present two opposing viewpoints?
· How were the results from G-Off and G-Home incorporated into the final results?
· What were the ideas that garnered the most support at the Citizens’ Summit?
· What specific policies were developed through the Citizens’ Panel?