Citizens discussed with experts the opportunities and risks of the bioeconomy, or more precisely, of the cultivation and use of plant-based biomass in Northrine-Westphalia (NRW). The citizens drew up recommendations for the future design of a sustainable bio-based economy in NRW.
Problems and Purpose
The strategies for a biobased economy based on the concept of the bioeconomy are so far in the hands of a few experts and are largely a scientific discourse. In the Wisdom Council, citizens were given the opportunity to inform themselves about the opportunities and risks of a bioeconomy, to debate and to develop recommendations for politics. In this way, conflicts of biomass use can be dealt with constructively and jointly. Based on the results of the Wisdom Council, a report was prepared to reflect the method, the course of the council, and the citizens' positions.
Background History and Context
The "bio-economy" is a central leitmotif of the German Federal Government to change the current way of living and economic activity. The aim is to achieve a sustainable, bio-based economy in order to replace fossil fuels on the one hand and contribute to climate protection on the other. This "biologisation" of the economy goes hand in hand with the introduction of innovative, bio-based products and services in all sectors of the economy and therefore with an extensive change in society.
The Wisdom Council on Bioeconomics is part of the "BioDisKo" project. By developing, testing and evaluating early, target group-oriented, participatory and communicative approaches and measures, the project aims to contribute to the design of a sustainable bio-economy.
With the review of the Participedia entries, it was the first time that the method Wisdom Council was applied to this bioeconomic topic.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Wisdom Council was developed, conducted, and evaluated by the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities Essen (KWI) as part of the project "Bioökonomische Nutzungspfade - Diskurs und Kommunikation (BioDisKo)". Further project partners were the Research Centre Jülich GmbH, the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology UMSICHT and the IZT - Institute for Future Studies and Technology Assessment. The project was funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
In order to ensure the heterogeneity of age, place of residence and gender, citizens were chosen at random. The aim was to achieve the most representative cross-section of the population possible. The participants of the Wisdom Council are consequently people with everyday knowledge and experience.
An invitation and a postcard with the contents of the project and the concept of the event were designed.
Within NRW, the Münsterland has a particularly high cultivation rate of Grain and silo maize. In order to learn from the citizens living in the Münsterland region what they think about the existing maize cultivation and alternative land use concepts, the Institute for Democracy and Participation Research (IDPF) at the University of Wuppertal, in cooperation with the residents' registration offices, selected 369 citizens of the city of Münster and surrounding districts in a statistical random procedure. The citizens were invited in writing to participate in the citizens' council. Feedback was provided by mail, telephone or e-mail.
The invited experts were to be named beforehand by the organiser; the selection of experts was based on an analysis of relevant actors in the field and aimed at including a broad range of perspectives. The organiser also appointed an additional moderator.
The participants were renumerated, and were offered free overnight accommodation and free catering.
Methods and Tools Used
The dialogue format is dependent on non-partisan moderation, a dignified atmosphere, an inclusive composition of the participants between rich and poor, young and old, and different living situations. In addition to the random selection, the following methods were used:
- World Café: The World Café is a methodology for hosting conversations about relevant questions and themes. The ideal is that there are multiple conversations that build off of each other to explore the issue deeply.
- Graphic Recording: The method of graphic recording, the visual recording of oral statements in the form of comics, line drawings and short notes, is not only used for documentation purposes, but also to summarise and present information in a vivid way in order to promote collaboration and group processes. The aim of this method is also to generate new insights and knowledge.
- Wisdom Council: The Wisdom Council or Civic Council offers a simple, inexpensive and rapid way to strengthen community members’ self-organization and sense of responsibility. 
- Dynamic Facilitation: has been used as a specific tool within group deliberations with the intent of encouraging participants to engage creatively with differing perspectives. 
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
At the beginning, all participants were invited to introductory exercises. The organizers and all persons involved introduced themselves. Afterwards, expert lectures were followed by short discussion rounds between participants, for which results were collected. These results were to be be discussed in further group discussions using the World Café method. The aim was not that all attendees have the same opinion; it was more about listening to all voices and collecting their statements through the Graphic Recording technique.
The discursive weighing up of arguments and points of view is based on mutual respect. The lectures and discussions do not take place head-on, but in a sitting circle face-to-face and are led by an independent moderator who used the Dynamic Facilitation method. All in all, a mutual learning process between citizens and experts develops.
Finally, recommendations for policy were collected, which were named and determined exclusively by the citizens. The trained team of moderators made sure that everyone had their say and could express their opinion freely. Using the methods of graphic recording, the use of sticky notes, and a research diary that the participants were able to fill in their opinions, questions and ideas were recorded and collected.
Information on the event can be found on the project website.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The participants of the Wisdom Council were able to gain general knowledge about the bio-economy and its interrelationships. In addition, they dealt with different opinions and perspectives, learned methods of communication and exchange as well as democratic decision-making.
While the participants tended to place the risks of the bioeconomy above the opportunities before participating in the process, their acceptance had increased by the end. The participants then had a higher level of knowledge and saw considerably more opportunities than risks.
Citizens were actively involved in public discussions throughout this initiative. Citizens who don't have organized interests, are thereby represented in the evaluation of technologies and their consequences.
The information and knowledge gained will be passed on by the citizens who became multipliers through this event.
In addition, a brochure was produced together with the participants, which will reflect the recommendations of the citizens as well as the opinions of the experts and will be presented to a wider public. Dialogue-oriented participation strengthens the exchange of different perspectives and strives for a decision-making process that - at best - is perceived as fair by all. This makes it possible for citizens to have a political say beyond their membership and involvement in organised associations and initiatives by supplementing the formal procedures of the regulatory authorities at an early stage, but not undermining or replacing them.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
It can be said that such a format strengthens the citizens' ability to shape political configurations and gives them the opportunity to participate in political issues which are mostly discussed by experts.
Furthermore, such processes are particularly suitable in the estimation of possible technological consequences to ensure that citizens are informed at an early stage and able to incorporate their experiences. The Wisdom Council was also evaluated by before and after questionnaires. The majority of the participants were positively surprised by this participation format and were generally satisfied.
The event worked very well in terms of planning, organisation and implementation. It must be emphasised that a sufficient amount of time is necessary in advance for the invitations and the search for suitable premises. Research, selection and requesting the experts and moderators must also be started in a timely manner.
Additional methods may be required to better involve quieter participants.
 Backhouse, M.; Lehmann, R.; Lühmann, M. & Tittor, A. (2018): Bioökonomie als technologische Innovation. Zur Notwendigkeit alternativer Forschung und einer gesellschaftlichen Debatte. Forum Umwelt & Entwicklung Rundbrief 1/2018, S. 14-15. https://www.forumue.de/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/7_Blackhouse_Rundbrief118.pdf
 BMBF & BMEL (2020): Nationale Bioökonomiestrategie. Abrufbar unter: https://www.bmbf.de/upload_filestore/pub/BMBF_Nationale_Biooekonomiestrategie_Langfassung_deutsch.pdf (abgerufen am 16.01.2020).
 Kulturwissenschaftliche Institut Essen (KWI)
 Dryzek, J.; Niemeyer, S. (2008): Discursive Representation. American Political Science Review 102(04). https://www.jstor.org/stable/27644540?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
 Bürger*innenrat „Biobasierte Wirtschaft?! Welche Folgen hat das für meine Region?“: Ergebnisbericht (2018). Abrufbar unter: https://websites.fraunhofer.de/Biooekonomie/wp-content/uploads/b%C3%BCrgerinnenrat-2018.pdf
 Abels, G.; Bora, A. (2013): Partizipative Technikfolgenabschätzung und -bewertung. In: Konzepte und Verfahren der Technikfolgenabschätzung, S. 109-128.
The copyright of both pictures as well as the pdf is held by KWI.