The Vorarlberg Bürgerrat model
- Face-to-Face, Online, or Both?
- General Type of Method
- Deliberative and dialogic process
- Community development, organizing, and mobilization
- Collaborative approaches
- Typical Purpose
- Make, influence, or challenge decisions of government and public bodies
- Develop the civic capacities of individuals, communities, and/or civil society organizations
- Spectrum of Public Participation
- Open to All or Limited to Some?
- Recruitment Method for Limited Subset of Population
- Stratified Random Sample
- Number of Participants
- Small groups
- Medium size groups
- Types of Interaction Among Participants
- Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
- Ask & Answer Questions
- Decision Methods
- General Agreement/Consensus
- Scope of Implementation
- Level of Polarization This Method Can Handle
- Level of Complexity This Method Can Handle
- High Complexity
Bürgerräte were first developed in Austria in 2006, enshrined in the Vorarlberg state constitution in 2013, and recently adopted in Germany. The method uses sortition to select participants and is based on the Wisdom Council Process.
Problems and Purpose
Origins and Development
Manfred Hellrigl, the former director of the Büro für Zukunftsfragen in Vorarlberg, Austria, began experimenting with the Wisdom Council model in 2006. He soon renamed the format "Bürgerrat" (Civic Council or Citizen's Council.)
Kairos and the European Institute for Public Participation conducted an external evaluation of Bürgerräte in Vorarlberg, which was published in 2012 and also translated into English.
By 2014, there were 32 different and successful instances where this model had been applied within the state of Vorarlberg, while by April 2018, the participation.at website reported 24 non-Vorarlberg case studies using this format.
The model has also been spreading to Germany, and current estimates are of over 100 instances in all, in the German-speaking region as a whole (Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.)
Anecdotal evidence is of mostly positive outcomes, which seems to be further evidenced by the method's growing popularity. Clearly, more research needs to be done; and more English-language translations of these growing numbers of case studies would be very helpful as well.
Since the assessment in 2011, there have been two particularly significant projects utilizing Civic Councils. One took place was in Mauthausen in 2013, as part of a larger participatory project at the site of a former concentration camp. The second was an award-winning project sponsored by the State of Vorarlberg in 2015 on the topic of Asylum and Refugee Policies.
Over time, the Vorarlberg model has distinguished itself in at least three different ways from the original Wisdom Council model:
1) the use of stratified sortition process, instead of simple random selection;
2) the use of the World Cafe format to host the Civic Café after the smaller Council has completed their work;
3) the addition of a "Responder's Group" that follows through on the outcomes of the process.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Participants are chosen through sortition. The process is designed to ensure stratified random selection so that the microcosm reflects the make-up of the larger population.
How it Works: Process, Interaction, and Decision-Making
The Vorarlberg Bürgerrat method generally involves 4 steps:
Citizen Council: over the course of a day and a half, between 10 to 30 randomly selected citizens work out a joint statement (not open to the public). If there are more than 15 participants, the group is subdivided into two working groups.
Citizen Café: the findings of the Citizen Council are presented to the public at a large gathering convened using the World Café methodology. Usually there may be between 50 - 100 people attending. After some brief introductions by the sponsoring organization, and the report by the Council itself, participants are invited to join in a deeper conversation at their smaller tables before reporting out to the larger group.
Responder Team: a team of professionals involved with the issue under discussion at the institutional level is created, in order to review the Citizen Council's findings and to monitor their implementation..
Documentation & Next Steps: The documentation encompasses the findings of the Council and the results from the Café, providing the informational groundwork for further conversation among both community members and government.
In cases where the Bürgerrat has been sponsored by the State government instead of at a more local level, the Vorarlberg State Parliament will issue a detailed review assessing the measures that have been taken and/or need to be taken.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Analysis and Lessons Learned
 Citizen Council Report: Vorarlberg Asylum and Refugee Policies, June/July 2015 https://dk-media.s3.amazonaws.com/AA/AL/diapraxis/downloads/297775/Doku_...