Public Participation in Drafting a Strategy for Facing Demographic Changes on the Municipal Level (Tuningen, Germany)

Public Participation in Drafting a Strategy for Facing Demographic Changes on the Municipal Level (Tuningen, Germany)



The submitted case study aims at introducing an example of a public participatory process conducted by the Municipality of Tuningen as well as analyzing its causes and effects. In order to make it comparable within the broader universe of cases, I will classify the case using Fung’s (2006) democracy cube scheme. Hence, I will be describing the case regarding its methods of “participant selection”, modes of “communication and decision”, and degree of “authority and power” granted to the participants. The analysis is based on data from four expert interviews, ten interviews with citizens, as well as documents provided to me by translake GmbH which professionally managed the participatory process.

Problems and Purpose

Tuningen is a village of approximately 2,900 inhabitants on the edge of the Black Forest in southwestern Germany (Statistisches Bundesamt, 2016). It is rural communities, like those of Tuningen, that are most affected by the effects of what has been deemed “Demografischer Wandel” (demographic change) in Germany’s public discourse. The German Ministry of the Interior lists aging populations, emigration, declining general amenity, as well as the deterioration of basic services and opportunities to make an income among these effects (Bundesministerium des Innern, 2016). To face these challenges, the municipality initiated a public participatory process following the motto “Altwerden in Tuningen” which is German for “Aging in Tuningen”.

The proclaimed goal of the process is to develop a strategy to preserve and improve Tuningen’s local opportunities to fulfil basic needs. These include classic service institutions – such as pharmacies, doctors, geriatric care, and mobility – but also more abstract concepts such as intergenerational encounter, mutual support, and access to social and cultural life (translake GmbH, 2015).


Tuningen has a tradition of public participation. Recent examples include the participatory restoration of the village square, as well as the debate whether or not a state prison should be built within the bounds of the village (Roth, 2016: 12). This project began with plans to involve the citizens in the reconstruction of the municipally owned “Marielehaus” as a retirement home. In order to reach a broader audience, the scope was expanded to drafting a general strategy to meet the infrastructural needs of all generations in Tuningen (Lenzer, 2016: 4).

Originating Entities and Funding

The Municipality of Tuningen is the originating entity and source of funds for this project. However, subsidies were acquired from the Interreg V program which is associated with the European Regional Development Fund. According to Wolfgang Himmel, director of translake GmbH, the overall budget is €10,000. Interreg subsidizes 60% of the cost, thus €6,000.

Participant Selection

In determining the method of participant selection - the first element of Fung's democracy cube - one needs to take account of all three parties that played a role in conceptualizing and organizing the participatory process in Tuningen. First, there is the “Lenkungsgruppe” (steering group), a board of local politicians and administrators responsible for setting the framework for the process (Groh, 2016: 13). Second, a panel of eight citizens formed the “Spurgruppe” (track group) which has been involved in the process from the beginning, reflecting the needs of the citizens (Himmel, 2016: 9). Third, translake GmbH serves as external partner providing knowhow of participation methods, moderating at the participative venues, and doing the “back office work” of coordinating and documenting them (Lenzer, 2016: 8; Roth 2016: 12, 20).

Furthermore, there are three venues or arenas of public participation within the process. The first one is the “Spurgruppe”, described above. One of its major tasks is to conceptualize and organize the second participatory venue – a public workshop aimed at developing preferences and identifying focal points which are worth working on further. This “further work” is to be done in “Arbeitsgruppen” (task forces) which constitute the third venue and the only one that has not taken place during the period of observation (Himmel, 2016: 9, 11). Thus, when it comes to the effects of the participative process this case study is restrained to analyzing those of the “Spurguppe” and “Workshop” venues.

The “Spurgruppe” is involved in conceptualizing and organizing the participatory process reflecting the needs of the citizens (Himmel, 2016: 9). On Fung’s (2006) scale of participant selection, they can be categorized as lay stakeholders as they are unpaid non-experts expected to represent different groups within the village who have similar stakes in the topics discussed (Fung, 2006: 68). Therefore, they were consciously chosen by the town council to be as diverse and representative as possible in order to include as many perspectives as possible (Himmel, 2016: 21; Lenzer, 2016: 6; Roth, 2016: 26). The applied method of participant selection has been developed to avoid problems of representativeness, typical of public participation that is open to anyone. Self-selected participation is often dominated by the “usual suspects” – those that are involved in involved in local politics at high levels already. Certain demographic groups tend to be underrepresented (Irvin und Stansbury, 2004: 59). This, of course, raises concerns of legitimacy.

The workshop was open to anyone living in Tuningen. The municipality made efforts to advertise it widely among the population (Roth, 2016: 31). Open self-selection seemed to be an obvious choice of category. Yet, the interviewees report that many of those present at the workshop were directly invited by members of the “Spurgruppe” and belonged to their personal milieu (Roth, 2016: 32; Lenzer, 2016: 6; Citizen a, 2016: 32; Citizen i, 2016: 27). Thus, one could argue that some targeted recruitment was at work as well.

Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction

In the case of Tuningen, there are three distinct participatory venues with different features, the “Spurgruppe”, the workshop, and the “Arbeitsgruppen". Since, as of this article's writing, the third venue has yet to be used, this section will only classify the first two according to the second of Fung’s (2006) democracy cube elements: modes of “communication and decision."

1. The Spurgruppe

The “Spurgruppe’s” mode of communication and decision cannot simply be labelled with a single Fungian category. Some evidence points to aggregation and bargaining. Some of the participants allegedly tried to push their personal favorite topic on the agenda over and over again (Himmel, 2016: 19; Citizen d, 2016: 35). Nevertheless, the majority of interviewees describe qualities of the discussions that are deliberative, such as openness towards others (Citizen a, 2016: 26; Citizen d, 2016: 29; Citizen f, 2016: 31), orientation towards the common good (Citizen a, 2016: 44; Lenzer, 2016: 8) and mutual respect (Citizen d, 2016: 35; Citizen f, 2016: 31; Lenzer, 2016: 8).

2. The Workshop

The workshop was moderated by Wolfgang Himmel and Stephanie Bee of translake GmbH. First, the participants formed eight teams. Each team was offered a profile of a fictional persona – all of them citizens of Tuningen, living in 2030. The personae were designed to be diverse in age, social status, family background, origin, et cetera. The teams were asked to define pleasures, worries and desires for their persona regarding six aspects of life in Tuningen: “shopping, services, gastronomy”; “leisure and social issues”; “health”; “children”; “mobility”; and “housing”. In a second step, the answers were detached from the personae and organized according to six aspects of life. New teams were formed and each got to discuss one of the aspects defining an ideal state for 2030 that meets as many of the personae’s needs as possible and developing ideas how to reach that state. In the end, the teams shared their results and jointly discussed which aspects are worth intensive attention in the “Arbeitgruppen” (task forces) (Himmel, 2016: 11).

Regarding the modes of communication and decision at the workshop, much of the evidence indicates the development of preferences (Groh, 2016: 31; Himmel, 2016: 15; Lenzer, 2016: 8). This, of course, was intended by those in charge and stimulated by applying the persona method (Himmel, 2016: 13). Other references suggest that the nature of communication was deliberative. Due to the interactive format, the participants exchanged their views and experiences with real people in addition to relating to the perspectives of the fictional personae. The discussions were described as pleasant, being dominated by mutual listening and respect (Citizen a: 32, 42; Citizen e: 29; Citizen i: 27).

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

When determining the “Spurgruppe’s” final of Fung's democracy cube scales, degree of power and authority, one has to keep in mind that the group's prime task is to conceptualize and organize the participatory process (Himmel, 2016: 9). Hence, it mainly exerts power and authority on the polity in which polices are shaped, not so much on the policies themselves. Through reflecting the needs and perspectives of the respective demographic group they represent, the “Spurgruppe” takes a consultative role providing advice to translake GmbH on how to design the participatory venues (Lenzer, 2016: 16). Yet, its influence is not restricted to Fung’s (2006) advice and consult category. In some respect, it fulfills criteria of co-governance as it takes operative, organizational tasks and is actively involved in shaping strategy rather than just providing piecemeal input (Lenzer, 2016: 4). There is even evidence that in some decisions the “Spurgruppe” has been granted direct authority (Groh, 2016: 17).

Some elements of the workshop allowed the participants to derive personal benefits. For instance, they were educated on technical innovations that address problems caused by demographic changes (Citizen a, 2016: 20; Citizen d, 2016: 27). Other evidence suggests that the statements made by the participants exerted communicative influence on the politicians that were present (Citizen e, 2016: 13, 23, 33, 36; Groh, 2016: 21). Lastly, the participants’ extent of power and authority also included the provision of advice and consultation to decision makers as not only needs but also possible solutions to meet those needs were expressed. (Groh, 2016: 9; Roth, 2016: 58).

The effects of the participatory process on final decisions cannot be assessed yet, as its conclusion – a strategy for dealing with the challenges of demographic changes – has not yet been produced. One can only suspect that the local politicians present at the workshop were somehow influenced by the statements and ideas voiced and intend to incorporate them in the policy-making process (Fung, 2006: 69). The effects on participants are easier to observe. A quantitative comparison of selfish and non-selfish preferences among participants and non-participants, as well as a qualitative assessment of how they justify these preferences, show that the former tend to include the needs of other social groups to a greater extent. When non-participants took the needs of others into consideration, they mostly referred to those of relatives or friends (Citizen b, 2016: 12; Citizen c, 2016: 23; Citizen h, 2016: 22). Participants sometimes referred to experiences at the participatory venues (Citizen a, 2016: 28, 38, 40, 45; Citizen e, 2016: 13, 23, 33, 35; Citizen f, 2016: 33; Citizen i, 2016: 31). This indicates that deliberation within diverse participatory settings – like the “Spurgruppe” and the workshop – enables changes in perspectives and raises participants’ awareness of the needs of other groups. This matches Rosenberg’s (2007) claim that deliberation strengthens social integration and produces more balanced and just decisions.

Analysis and Lessons Learned

It becomes obvious that in praxis Fung’s (2006) categories are not exclusive. The “Spurgruppe” and workshop show a mix of features on the applied scales which makes it difficult to define distinct democracy cubes for them.

Some inference about why the participation was initiated can be drawn from the analysis of the expert interviews. Nevertheless, the amount of data and evidence is limited which makes triangulation difficult and therefore compromises the validity of the results. Tuningen’s mayor initiated the participatory process with the support of the town council (Himmel, 2016: 3; Lenzer, 2016: 4; Roth, 2016: 4). Thus it seems plausible that the decision-makers anticipate positive effects of letting citizens participate in the matter (Himme, 2016: 51). They claim that the long-term nature of the problems addressed requires a holistic approach which can only be reached by incorporating the public (Interview Groh 7; Interview Roth 6). They also expect public participation to be a remedy for general disenchantment with politics and produce more widely accepted decisions – effects described by deliberative theorists like John Dryzek (2007) and Shawn Rosenberg (2007) (Groh, 2016: 5; Roth, 2016: 42). They also name more utilitarian motivations for public participation, like avoiding potential protest or litigation costs (see Irvin and Stansbury, 2004) which go hand in hand with unpopular decisions (Groh, 2016: 45; Himmel, 2016: 49; Roth, 2016: 46).

This case study provides a detailed description of an example of public participation which includes a great diversity of perspectives using special methods of participant selection and stimulating certain modes of communication. An “inner circle” of participants – the “Spurgruppe” – are selected to be part of the entire process including the conceptualization and organization. They serve as diverse lay stakeholders reflecting the needs of the groups they represent. They motivate people with similar backgrounds to join the official participatory venues. At those venues, role plays like the persona method facilitate changes in perspectives throughout different social groups. As a result, participants tend to be more aware of the needs of other groups and include them in their policy demands.


Bundesministerium des Innern. 2016. Jedes Alter zählt. Demografiestrategie der Bundesregierung. In: (last accessed: 02/22/16).

Citizen a. 2016. Interviewed on February 15, 2016.

Citizen b. 2016. Interviewed on February 15, 2016.

Citizen c. 2016. Interviewed on February 15, 2016.

Citizen d. 2016. Interviewed on February 15, 2016.

Citizen e. 2016. Interviewed on February 15, 2016.

Citizen f. 2016. Interviewed on February 15, 2016.

Citizen h. 2016. Interviewed on February 15, 2016.

Citizen i. 2016. Interviewed on February 15, 2016.

Citizen j. 2016. Interviewed on February 15, 2016.

Dryzek, John. 2007. Theory, Evidence and the Tasks of Deliberation. In: Shawn Rosenberg (eds.): Deliberation, participation and democracy. Can the people govern?. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan: 237-250.

Fung, Archon. 2006. Varieties of Participation in Complex Governance. In: Public Administration Review, Special Issue December 2006: 66-75.

Groh, Barbara. 2016. Expert interview on January 20, 2016.

Himmel, Wolfgang. Expert Interview on January 12, 2016.

Irvin, Renée, Stansbury, John. 2004. Citizen Participation in Decision Making: Is it Worth the Effort? In: Public Administration Review, 64(1): 55-65.

Lenzer, Ronald. 2016. Expert Interview on January 20, 2016.

Rosenberg, Shawn. 2007. Introduction. In: Shawn Rosenberg (ed.): Deliberation, participation and democracy. Can the people govern?. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan: 237-250.

Roth, Jürgen. 2016. Expert interview on January 20, 2016.

Statistisches Bundesamt. 2016. Alle politisch selbständigen Gemeinden in Deutschland nach Bevölkerung am 31.12.2011 auf Grundlage des Zensus 2011 und früherer Zählungen. In: (last accessed: 03/30/16).

translake GmbH. 2015. Strategieprozess Tuningen. In: (last access: 02/23/16).

External Links

translake GmbH Bürgerbeteiligung:ürgerbeteiligung.html

Case Data


78609 Tuningen , BW
Baden-Württemberg DE


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Who paid for the project or initiative?: 
Gemeinde Tuningen
Other: Funding: 
Partial Subsidization by Interreg V (European Development Fund)
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Other: Organizing Entity: 
translake GmbH
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Total Budget: 
US$11 000.00
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