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Deliberation • Contact Democracy

Dialogue, not debate

Jerphaas Donner and Harm Van Dijk - 13 July 2015

The G1000 movement aims to discover common ground and provide all citizens with an equal chance to participate

Inspired by David Van Reybrouck’s book Against Elections and the Belgian national G1000 initiative in 2011, citizens from the Dutch town of Amersfoort decided to organise the first municipal G1000 on 22 March 2014 – just three days after the local elections.

Based on a methodology developed by Harm Van Dijk, 348 citizens, 45 council members, 45 civil servants, 40 artists and 40 employers gathered together for a dialogue. They were faced with three questions: 'What is important for Amersfoort for the next four years?', 'what must be done to achieve that?' and 'what could be your contribution?' After each round of dialogue, each time with four new participants, each participant put one word, in total three words, into the G1000 app. The most frequently chosen words formed the agenda for the second part of the day where, in groups of 10, proposals were formulated for the community. From the 60 proposals, 10 were chosen by the citizens as the ‘Agenda for Amersfoort’.

This first G1000 sparked a lot of interest throughout The Netherlands and there are currently initiatives to replicate the G1000Amersfoort in around 20 other communities. The latest G1000 took place in Groningen in June.

Since Amersfoort the G1000 platform has developed further its values. It is important that citizens lead each local G1000. This is to prevent the idea that G1000 is just another form of government-organised participative democracy exercise or has been hijacked by a political party. Invitations for a G1000 are based on sortition, to provide each member of the community with an equal chance to participate.

G1000 is based on dialogue, not on debate. Participants look for common ground and what connects the community. They share insights and appreciate each other’s contribution. Differences are put aside. G1000 is not only for citizens. It is important that all key stakeholder groups, government, business and free thinkers participate in the dialogue to encourage a sense that everybody owns the result. To ensure ownership participants develop the agenda for the G1000 during the first part of the day.

Although the programme of a G1000 is fixed, in every round participants can make their own choice about with whom they wish to sit for the dialogue, what topic to work on, and whether they stay or leave. These choices are presented in a transparent way during the day. Through the use of qualified moderation and a careful programme, as well as adherence to G1000’s values and rules, the space for open dialogue is guaranteed for all participants. This makes the G1000 a safe place for people to share their thoughts and dreams about the community.

G1000 is an example of contact democracy, with elements of deliberation and what the Dutch call ‘do democracy’. It gives local politicians and civil servants the chance to share visions of the community with citizens in a positive way. The civil service was especially hesitant about participating in Amersfoort, scared of negative reactions from citizens. Afterwards civil servants were very relieved about the positivity and vibe during the day. Fearing the G1000 would provide competition to the council, politicians were also somewhat hesitant about the programme at first. But many came to realise that they had the chance to listen, participate and further develop their ideas on the future of the community. This aspect of connection, the enthusiasm and sense of ownership by participants, is important for community-building and should not be underestimated.

Deliberation takes place in the form of sharing ideas on what is important for the municipality. At the end of a G1000 participants are asked to give a follow up on one of the 10 chosen ideas. In Amersfoort, 183 participants came forward, thus demonstrating the degree of ownership of the process people feel. Several of the ideas have been put into practice: a neighbourhood connection service, a green vision for Amersfoort, G1000 on a neighbourhood level, an interactive map to share ideas for empty spaces in Amersfoort, and support for civil initiatives. This is G1000’s contribution to ‘do democracy’, in which citizens take initiatives and develop them further with or without support from local government.

Jerphaas Donner and Harm Van Dijk are initiators of the G1000 Amersfoort and the platform G1000.nu. The G1000 platform is open for international cooperation and will gladly share knowledge and experiences with anyone interested in G1000

The G1000s in the Netherlands are one of the case studies detailed in our new Policy Network report by Claudia Chwalisz: The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change

Tags: Jerphaas Donner , Harm Van Dijk , dialogue , G1000 , Netherlands , deliberation , citizens' assembly , Amersfoort , Against Elections , David Van Reybrouck

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The Policy Network Observatory promotes critical debate and reflection on progressive politics. It is centre-left orientated but determinedly challenges social democracy. It is pro-European but restlessly questions EU institutions and practices.

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