“merry citizens’council

Jacob Birkenhäger, Business Unit Manager Deliberation, Open Government, Democracy

You are currently organizing the Citizens’ Council on food politics. How do you manage to get vegetarians and meat eaters around the table to work together?

In a Citizens’ Council, all participants are respected and heard, people work together as equals and no opinion is more important or better than another. The strength of our Citizens’ Councils and other deliberative forums lies in listening to each other and recognizing that there is truth to the other person’s views. By valuing each other, we can have tough discussions without attacking each other personally. In the end, it’s not about who comes out on top, but what a solution that everyone can agree on might look like. And in the end, it often turns out that the positions are not so far apart and a good compromise can be found. And whether meat, vegetarian or vegan, it seems to me that the culture war debate in politics and the media is much louder than among citizens, who don’t really care.

This is not the first Citizens’ Council that we have helped to organize at ifok. Can you describe the special relationship between the Citizens’ Councils and ifok?

Solving conflicts through dialog has driven ifok for almost 30 years. We started working early on with the random selection of citizens and deliberative formats to develop political solutions. Through close cooperation with Mehr Demokratie and nexus in the Citizen Participation Network, we came up with the idea of organizing the first national Citizens’ Council in Germany. We worked on the concept for a long time and a trip to Ireland ultimately prompted us to base our Citizens’ Council on the Irish model, which incidentally also has many similarities with the ifok Citizens’ Conferences. Since 2019, we have already held numerous Citizens’ Councils at all levels – from single municipalities to the EU level. Developing and improving the processes and constantly learning new things, including through international exchange, is a lot of fun.

What rituals are part of the winter season for you?

There are no rituals for me or my family. I like the turn of the year, the quiet days with time to reflect and relax – but I don’t care whether I spend them in Berlin, with my mother or somewhere warm in the south.

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