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Consultative-discursive procedures

Several forms of consultative-discursive procedures have been established in Europe since the 1990s. However, until now, most research has focused on US or Canadian experiences (for example, Smith 2009; Beierle and Cayford 2002). However, in Europe too, several consultative-discursive procedures have been tried out. Many European governments have passed regulations to enforce consultative-discursive procedures, particularly in Scandinavia, The Netherlands and the UK (Ansell and Gingrich 2006: 174-5). In The Netherlands, for example, urban ‘interactive policy making’, promoting citizen participation has been en vogue since the 1990s. Finland began a ‘Participation Project’ in 1997 to enhance participation in local affairs and Norway engages in ‘joint consultations’ (see also OECD 2005). In addition, the EU has intensified its consultation process and the European Commission is particularly active in this field.17 In spite of all these developments, systematic, comparative analyses on Europe are just beginning. For the following evaluation, I have summarized the findings of several case studies.

The inclusiveness of participation is dependent on the recruitment of the participants. In most procedures with self-selection, the less educated, immigrants and the lowest classes are either entirely absent or considerably under-represented. And if they do attend meetings, they tend to be marginalized in the debate: the ‘usual suspects’ generally dominate when self-selected recruitment is applied. However, specific forms of recruitment have been tried out in many consultative- discursive procedures in order to avoid the social bias - with randomly selected citizens, stakeholder invitation or recruitment according to social characteristics (see, for example, Fishkin, Smith and Talpin in this volume).

The impacts of consultative-discursive procedures on perceived legitimacy are seldom scrutinized, though a research team from Harvard Kennedy School has examined two consultative-discursive procedures launched by the EU: the European Citizens’ Consultation and Tomorrow’s Europe. These public engagement projects have not improved the perceived legitimacy of EU institutions (Culpepper et al. 2008; similar: Geissel 2009).18 However, Fishkin in this volume has shown that perceived legitimacy was enhanced within the group of participants. Different research results can be explained partly by different interview questions applied by research teams. Systematic meta-analysis of the findings is still lacking.

What about the quality of deliberation? Mansbridge (1983) has already pointed out that successful deliberation is most likely in groups that share common interests as well as social bonds, and when the problem can be solved in a univocal, amicable way. If underlying interests differ, if social bonds are missing and if a univocal, amicable consensus is unlikely, deliberation is often problematic and needs specific support. Unsurprisingly, deliberative quality was excellent in those consultative-discursive procedures that provided adequate prerequisites such as an experienced organizer and moderator, thoughtful recruitment of participants and preparation of background material (see also Smith in this volume).

Consultative-discursive procedures are often similar to procedures of cogovernance launched to identify collective goals - and the recruitment of participants plays the same crucial role as discussed in the chapter on cogovernance. The impacts on the achievement of shared goals depend largely on access to the decision-making bodies. Impacts of consultative-discursive procedures are, in most cases, relatively small and indirect (see, for example,

Impacts of democratic innovations in Europe 177

Table 8.4 Evaluation of consultative-deliberative procedures

Input-legitimacy Inclusive equal participation

Depending on recruitment of participants

Perceived legitimacy


Democratic process

Deliberative quality

+ If adequate prerequisites available


Identification of collective goals

Depending on recruitment of participants

Achievement of collective goals

Depending on and access to decision-making bodies

Civic education

Improvement of knowledge


Improvement of civic skills


Frewer and Rowe 2005). Most procedures pass without much attention from decision-making bodies (see also Smith and Talpin in this volume). However, there are also positive examples. In a few cases - the Danish Consensus Conferences, for example - the elected representatives took the advice into account. In addition, longitudinal analyses of the consultative-discursive procedures ‘Local Agenda 21’ (LA 21) revealed clear impacts (Joas 2000). The forerunner municipalities, which had started LA 21 processes early in the 1990s, showed better results concerning environmental policies than the latecomers and the communities without the LA 21 process. Clearly, the LA 21 processes had substantial impact in achieving the shared goal of sustainability. But, again, there are country differences. Estonian, Russian, Latvian and Lithuanian municipalities with LA 21 processes improved their environmental performance far less than municipalities in Denmark or Germany.

The impact on knowledge is unequivocal. Participants of consultative- discursive procedures improve their knowledge on the specific topic significantly (similarly for the USA: Beierle and Cayford 2002). In the above-mentioned LA 21 forerunner municipalities, for example, the attitudes of the local government as well as the whole community have shifted towards a more environmentally conscious direction (Joas 2000). Of all innovations under research, consultative- discursive procedures seem to have the most impact on civic skills, such as tolerance or the ability to compromise (Delli Carpini et al. 2004: 324, 326).

Table 8.4 summarizes the evaluation of consultative-deliberative procedures.

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