Iceland's National Forum 2010
Note: This is a German translation of an English case study written by Alexander Kok on Aug 30, 2011. The original version is available at http://www.participedia.net/de/cases/icelandic-national-forum-2010 .
The National Forum 2010 (also known as the National Constitutional Meeting) was a deliberative and participatory one-day forum with 950 Icelandic citizens that was held on November 6, 2010. The Icelandic parliament called for this in response to the country's economic collapse, which led to the crash of the stock market, currency and banks in October 2008. Due to national protests and lobbying efforts by civil organizations, the ruling parties decided that Icelandic citizens should be involved in the drafting of a new constitution. The ongoing experiments of the Anthill Group were welcomed with a new form of democratic innovation, namely the National Forum 2009, and included in the constitutional process. Anthill can be understood as a loose, nonprofit network of individuals (especially professionals) who deal with the lack of cooperation and communication between Icelandic citizens regarding their political future during the economic and political crisis. Anthill's members come from different political backgrounds. In summary, the 2010 National Forum came about primarily through the efforts of the two governing parties and the Anthill Group. The aim of the forum was to create a list of basic values and visions that is representative of the Icelandic citizens. The results of the forum were used as the basis for the constitutional revision. A seven-member constitutional committee, convened by parliament, oversaw the forum and the presentation of the results, while the 2010 Anthill Group oversaw the organization and moderation of the National Forum.
Purpose and problem
04 November 2009: Draft law was presented to parliament
November 14, 2009: National Forum 2009 (1500 participants) organized by Anthill
June 16, 2010: Constitutional act is accepted by Parliament
16 June 2010: Parliament appoints seven members to the 2010 National Forum Constitutional Committee
November 06, 2010: National Forum 2010, initiated by the government (950 participants)
October 26, 2010: Constituent Assembly elections are held (25 elected)
January 25, 2011: Supreme Court overrides the general election
March 24, 2011: Parliament appoints the members of the Assembly to the Constitutional Council
April 06, 2011: The Constitutional Council begins its work
29 July 2011: Constitutional Council submits the final draft to Parliament.
On June 16, 2010, the Icelandic Parliament accepted the "Ordinance on a Constitutional Assembly No. 90/2010" (hereinafter referred to as the "Constitutional Ordinance"), which ordered a complete revision of the constitution. Iceland's existing constitution was drafted in 1944 when the nation gained independence from Denmark. At that time, however, the Icelandic citizens did not formulate the lines of their constitution themselves. Instead, the constitution was almost completely copied by the Danish. Since then there have been only minor changes, such as replacing the word 'king' with 'president'. There were a few parliamentary committees that reviewed the 1944 constitution, but they had made no changes until 2009. The purpose of the revision was therefore to create a completely new constitution that corresponds to the realities of today's Icelandic politics. Particular attention was paid to the authority of the legislative and executive sectors, the role of the president, the independence of the judiciary, electoral reform, public participation, the observation of the financial sector and the ownership of raw materials.
Within this mandate, the forum was tasked with “identifying the basic views and priorities of the public regarding the government and constitution of the country”. The results should be inspiration for a draft constitution that reflects the preferences of the Icelandic population.
The revision of the constitution was officially initiated in Parliament by a bill from Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir (Social Democratic Alliance). This bill was presented as a result of the Icelandic economic collapse in 2008-2011, which had tried a number of protests (also known as the 'Kitchenware Revolution') that led to the government's resignation in 2009. In parallel with these protests, citizens began to organize in grassroots think tanks. On November 14 this year, one of these civil organizations - the 'Anthill' - held a 'national conference'. By inviting a random selection of 0.5% of the population, the organizers hoped to achieve a participatory mandate that was representative enough to hold the government accountable.
The results complemented the existing political discourse, which required a review of issues such as the separation of legislative and executive power, the responsibility and supervision of the executive, and the possibility of direct public participation and decision-making. Faced with such fundamental questions, most public attention has been focused on the fact that Iceland never had a proper democratic discourse on the constitution, which is why it became a central point in the debate on national reform. Predicting this, Sigurdardóttir announced the establishment of a special parliament to edit the constitution, while the coalition's formation was still incomplete in early 2009.
After the bill was submitted, and perhaps under pressure from the National Assembly in 2009, Parliament decided that a “national gathering” of a thousand people should take place to review the nation's views on the essence of the Icelandic constitution. Accordingly, the National Forum 2010 was initiated as part of the revision process by the constitutional ordinance. The decree received support from 39 members of parliament, 11 abstained, one voted against and eleven were absent (out of a total of 62).
Parliament appointed a constitutional committee to make the first preparations. This committee consisted of seven members and was tasked with observing the forum. Then it should write a report on the results of the forum and organize the elections for the constitutional assembly. This assembly would then take up to four months to produce a first draft constitution based on the report of the committee. The draft would then be presented to parliament for vote.
Process and selection of participants
The constitutional regulation said that forum participants should be chosen arbitrarily from the national population register, "taking into account an appropriate distribution of participants across the country and an equal gender distribution." The Anthill Group therefore collaborated with Gallup Island. This survey company selected participants from the official resident registers using quota samples. This ensured representativeness and avoided distortions in age, gender and place of residence. Only the place of residence and age were challenges for the organizers of the National Forum 2010, while an equal distribution between men and women was relatively easy to establish. Finally, selected participants were contacted first by letter and then by telephone. The mobilization rate was 20%, which meant that five times more participants had to be addressed. In the end, 950 participants took part in the 2010 National Forum.
Deliberation and decision
The participants of the forum sat in small groups of eight individuals at round tables and were accompanied by a discussion leader. These trained moderates did not contribute their opinions, but led the discussions and ensured that all participants had equal opportunities to express their opinions. The moderators were part of a team of 200 volunteers who worked to collect participants' arguments and process them in a digital file. The discussions ran in rounds so that all participants could express their opinions. They were encouraged to keep their speeches short. The declared goal was to generate many and different ideas. The deliberation of the National Forum 2010 was primarily about identifying the main issues and challenges for Iceland and gaining a common understanding of them. It was not aimed at stimulating controversial discussions about the advantages and disadvantages of a proposal. Deliberation and decision in the National Forum 2010 followed the idea of self-organization and empowerment. This model of civil participation aims at political education, community building, stimulating social engagement, supporting public vitality and last but not least the idea of giving citizens a voice in the constitutional revision.
The day followed a strict schedule set out in a 'moderator's handbook' made especially for the event by Agora, a crowdsourcing company. In the morning, participants should think about “values and visions” and write them down on paper cards, which were then voted on at the table. The most popular value cards - those with the most votes - were then collected and summarized in eight main themes (values). Participants were also encouraged to write specific content suggestions on cards, which were later categorized under one of the eight topics. Subsequently, all eight participants from each table were given a topic and all relevant content cards. The participants were then placed in new groups on the same topic. In this way, the afternoon could be spent with more concrete discussions between the specialized groups. At the end there was another vote in which the participants evaluated the content suggestions in terms of "relevance" and "positive new way of thinking". Based on the election results (topics), the participants then created consensus summaries of their discussions (program form). The participants then returned to their original tables, where they shared the experiences of their group discussions. Based on the reflections during the day, they all made up to five recommendations, each of which voted for the three best (selected recommendation).
At the end of the event, the organizers came to the following results:
- VALUES: Each participant gave several answers to the question “What values should form the basis of the new Icelandic constitution?”
- TOPICS: Thematically selected answers to the question “What do you want to see in the new Icelandic constitution?”
- PROGRAM FORM: a sentence composed of each thematic table “which contains the most important contribution within a topic that was discussed at the table and characterizes the Icelandic constitution”
- SELECTED RECOMMENDATION: three consensus responses from each table to the question, "What are your recommendations, advice, and requirements for those who continue and end work on a new constitution?"
- PERSONAL RECOMMENDATIONS: everyone also has the opportunity to fill out an assessment form with personal recommendations for the Constitutional Assembly
The results were then summarized in a mind map. The eight topics were published together with relevant aggregated proposals.
Results and impact
The deliberations of the participants were considered by the constitutional committee, which wrote a 700-page report that should serve as the starting point for the deliberations of the assembly. In addition to the conclusions of the forum, the report listed the opinions of experts and the committee itself. Overall, most of the conclusions reflected the common beliefs of the Icelandic population. The importance of human rights, democracy, transparency and education are the main results. They reflected society's desire for a more regulated financial sector. There was also a wish that Iceland's raw materials should remain under Icelandic control.
There are notable ideas in the current draft constitution that can be traced back to the forum, such as the idea that Iceland's raw materials are state-owned, an article on information rights, and an attempt to reinforce Parliament's role in overseeing financial management. At the moment, however, there is no systemic evaluation of the Icelandic primary sources. It is therefore not possible to say exactly how much the proposals of the National Forum had an impact on the final constitution.
At the end of the forum, the organizers asked participants in a survey about their views on the organization of the event and their influence. 93% thought the results would be useful to the constitutional assembly. 97% were satisfied with the organization, 95% thought that the forum was a success and 75% found the implementation of the forum exemplary.
In addition to the positive effects in terms of political influence and the satisfaction of the participants, the National Forum 2010 also received a lot of media attention as it dealt with a topic that was very present in the Icelandic news. However, no systematic analysis of media coverage has yet been carried out.
The entire National Forum 2010 was broadcast on the Internet.
Analysis and criticism
The large-scale set-up and the random selection made for a representative sample of the population. In addition, the division into small, moderated groups gave all participants a good opportunity to express their opinions. The results of the National Forum were filtered several times: once by the discussion leaders, once by the data collectors and once by the committee that presented the report. Even if all of these processes were designed to deliver the public's opinion to the utmost, it would not have been possible without aggregating, simplifying and consensualizing the results. In this regard, it is important to mention that almost all participants were satisfied with this process of jointly formulating proposals. The organizers seem to have found a way to summarize the many ideas from all participants so that they were accepted by almost all participants.
In addition to the actual event, the results of the deliberations of the National Forum were dependent on external factors. The results of the forum were not binding on the Constitutional Council and the draft constitution drawn up by the Council has yet to be reviewed by Parliament.
The cost of the National Forum was 63.5 million Icelandic kronor (about € 386,000), which is 70% of the allocated budget of 91.7 million (€ 557,000). The relatively efficient use of resources was made possible by the broad support of political, economic and civil society actors.
The National Forum 2010 should be viewed as a single event. It is part of an ongoing civil engagement process. So far, 100 such processes have taken place across Iceland, most of which were much smaller than the 2010 or 2009 National Forum. The Anthill Group has estimated the total number of participants in these events at 20,000.
- Axelsson, Reynir. Comments on the Decision of the Supreme Court to Invalidate the election to the Constitutional Assembly (2011). http://stjornarskrarfelagid.is/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Article_by_Reynir_Axelsson.pdf (Accessed on 8/8/2011)
- Robert H. Wade and Silla Sigurgeirsdottir. "Iceland's meltdown: The rise and fall of international banking in the North Atlantic." Real-world Economic Review, 56, 2011: 58-71. http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue56/WadeSigurgeirsdottir56.pdf (Accessed on 8/8/2011)
- Act on a Constitutional Assembly no. 90/2010 - English version
- Conclusions of the 2010 National Forum - English version
- Constitutional Council website - German version
Official project links
- Guardian.co.uk (9/6/2011), “Mob rule: Iceland crowdsources its next constitution.”
- "The extremely controversial decision by the Icelandic Supreme Court", published by the Constitutional Society (16/07/2011).
- Iceland Review Online (11/28/2010), “Poor Turnout in Constitutional Assembly Election.”
- IceNews.is (24/3/2011), “Icelandic parliament passes constitutional bill change.”
- Icelandreview.com (12/01/2010), “Iceland Election Results Announced.”
- IcelandReview.com (11/29/2010), "Poorest Election Turnout in Iceland's History"
- Icelandreview.com (25/1/2011), “Iceland Constitutional Assembly Voting Invalid.
- A useful blog about the process by Indridi H. Indridason, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of California-Riverside.
- US department of State: Iceland (accessed 15/9/2011)
- AP (12/6/2011), “Tech-savvy Iceland goes online for new constitution.”
- Old constitution.
- ↑ http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/europe/04/25/iceland.elections/index.html
- ↑ Alda Sigmundsdottir, Associated Press (12/6/2011)
- ↑ Stjornlagarad.is. “A Bill Submitted to Althinghi”
- ↑ Article 3 of the Constitutional Act
- ↑ Act on a Constitutional Assembly, Interim Provision
- ↑ Helga Kristin Einarsdottir, “Iceland's Ruling Coalition Splits Following Protests” http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=avntV39aM_7I&refer=europe
- ↑ Interview with Gudjon Mar Gudjonsson on OhMyGov.com
- ↑ Iceland Review_Online 30/01/2009
- ↑ Act on a Constitutional Assembly, Interim Provision
- ↑ Act on a Constitutional Assembly, Interim Provision
- ↑ National Forum website
- ↑ These data are stored online in [www.thjodfundur2010 Icelandic]. A summary of the data was also produced in English
- ↑ AP, “Tech-savvy Iceland goes online for new constitution” 12/6/2011
- ↑ Interview with Dr. Guðrún Pétursdóttir Chairman of the Constitutional Committee, minute 4:13
- ↑ Official forum website