When citizen deliberation enters real politics: how politicians and stakeholders envision the place of a deliberative mini-public in political decision-making

  • Christoph NiessenEmail author
Research Article


In the wake of the increasing use of deliberative citizen assemblies in the public sphere, this article studies how traditional policy actors receive a mini-public as ‘newcomer’ in political decision-making, despite its reliance on a fundamentally different vision of policy-making and that it substantially alters existing power distributions. Survey data collected before and after a typical mini-public case, the Citizen Climate Parliament, shows that most politicians and stakeholders welcome this ‘newcomer’ as long as it remains consultative. A typological discourse analysis of 28 semi-structured interviews with these politicians and stakeholders suggests that this attitude comes with four different views of mini-publics’ place in political decision-making: an elitist-, expert-, (re)connection- and reinvention view. Given that an important correlate of these views was the extent to which actors agreed with the recommendations of the mini-public, it shows that their views were driven both by actors’ interests in the outcome on a micro-level and by their general ideas about political decision-making on a macro-level. The findings illustrate that mini-publics may encounter opposition from both political actors and stakeholders once they aim to take a place in political decision-making that goes beyond occasional and consultative uses. At the same time, these results show that the use of mini-publics does not leave traditional representative institutions unaffected as it prompts them to think about the place that citizen deliberation should take in the political system.


Deliberative system Mini-publics Elites Stakeholders Discourse analysis 



I would like to express my gratitude for invaluable comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this article to Min Reuchamps, Vincent Jacquet, Jérémy Dodeigne, John Pitseys, Sergiu Gherghina, Dimitri Courant, Nathalie Schiffino, Jean-Benoît Pilet, Eszter Timár, Spencer McKay and to the participants of conferences at Goethe Universität Frankfurt, Université catholique de Louvain–Mons, Université libre de Bruxelles and Université Saint-Louis–Bruxelles. Furthermore, I would like to thank the organizers of the Citizen Climate Parliament (CCP), the SEED Research-Unit at Université de Liège, for having allowed me to observe the CCP and for having shared numerous internal documents with me. Special thanks go to all politicians, associations and companies who responded to my surveys and who accepted to be interviewed. Finally, I wish to express my gratitude to the two anonymous reviewers of Policy Sciences for their detailed and generous comments and suggestions. Throughout the writing process, I was funded by the Fonds pour la Recherche en Sciences Humaines (FRESH – F.R.S.-FNRS).


  1. Arnstein, S. R. (1969). A ladder of citizen participation. Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 35(4), 216–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ayres, L., & Knafl, K. A. (2008). Typological analysis. In L. M. Given (Ed.), The Sage encyclopedia of qualitative research methods (pp. 900–901). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  3. Bächtiger, A., Setälä, M., & Grönlund, K. (2014). Towards a new era of deliberative mini-publics. In K. Grönlund, A. Bächtiger, & M. Setälä (Eds.), Deliberative mini-publics. Involving citizens in the democratic process (pp. 225–246). Colchester: ECPR Press.Google Scholar
  4. Blais, A., Carty, R. K., & Fournier, P. (2008). Do citizens’ assemblies make reasoned choices? In M. E. Warren & H. Pearse (Eds.), Designing deliberative democracy: The British Columbia citizens’ assembly (pp. 127–144). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Caluwaerts, D., & Reuchamps, M. (2018). The legitimacy of citizen-led deliberative democracy: The G1000 in Belgium. Oxon: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Curato, N., & Böker, M. (2016). Linking mini-publics to the deliberative system: A research agenda. Policy Sciences, 49(2), 173–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dalton, R., & Wattenberg, M. (2002). Parties without partisans: Political change in advanced industrial democracies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dryzek, J. S. (2000). Discursive democracy vs. liberal constitutionalism. In M. Saward (Ed.), Democratic innovation: Deliberation, representation and association (pp. 78–89). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Eisenhardt, K. M. (1989). Building theories from case study research. Academy of Management Review, 14(4), 532–550.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fishkin, J. S. (2018). Democracy when the people are thinking: Revitalizing our politics through public deliberation. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Galletta, A. (2013). Mastering the semi-structured interview and beyond. From research design to analysis and publication. New York: New York University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Goodin, R. E., & Dryzek, J. (2008). Making use of mini-publics. In R. Goodin (Ed.), Innovating democracy: Democratic theory and practice after the deliberative turn (pp. 11–37). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hamilton, A., Madison, J., & Jay, J. (1999[1788]). The federalist papers. New York: Mentor.Google Scholar
  15. Hendriks, C. M. (2002). Institutions of deliberative democratic processes and interest groups: Roles, tensions and incentives. Australian Journal of Public Administration, 61(1), 64–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hendriks, C. M. (2005). Participatory storylines and their influence on deliberative forums. Policy Sciences, 38(1), 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hendriks, C. M. (2006). When the forum meets interest politics: Strategic uses of public deliberation. Politics & Society, 31(4), 571–602.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Jacquet, V., Schiffino, N., Reuchamps, M., & Latinis, D. (2015). Union sacrée ou Union forcée ? Les parlementaires belges face à l’impératif délibératif. Participations, 3(13), 171–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lang, A., & Warren, M. E. (2012). Supplementary democracy? Democratic deficits and citizens’ assemblies. In P. T. Lenard & R. Simeon (Eds.), Imperfect democracies: The democratic deficit in Canada and the United States (pp. 291–314). Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.Google Scholar
  20. Mansbridge, J., Bohman, J., Chambers, S., Christiano, T., Fung, A., Parkinson, J., et al. (2012). A systemic approach to deliberative democracy. In J. Parkinson & J. Mansbridge (Eds.), Deliberative systems: Deliberative democracy at the large scale (pp. 1–26). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Nothomb, C.-F. (2015). La réussite d’une province rurale. Récit de 50 ans de développement. 1960–2010. Neufchâteau: Weyrich.Google Scholar
  22. Parkinson, J. (2006). Deliberating in the real world: Problems of legitimacy in deliberative democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Robinson, O. C. (2014). Sampling in interview-based qualitative research: A theoretical and practical guide. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 11(1), 25–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Rui, S., & Villechaise-Dupont, A. (2005). Les associations face à la participation institutionnalisée: les raisons d’une adhésion distanciée. Espaces et sociétés, 123(4), 21–36.Google Scholar
  25. Ryan, M., & Smith, G. (2014). Defining mini-publics. In K. Grönlund, A. Bächtiger, & M. Setälä (Eds.), Deliberative mini-publics. Involving citizens in the democratic process (pp. 9–26). Colchester: ECPR Press.Google Scholar
  26. Schmitter, P. C. (1974). Still the century of corporatism? The Review of Politics, 36(1), 85–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Smith, G. (2009). Democratic innovations. Designing institutions for citizen participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Suiter, J., & Reuchamps, M. (2016). A constitutional turn for deliberative democracy in Europe? In M. Reuchamps & J. Suiter (Eds.), Constitutional deliberative democracy in Europe (pp. 1–14). Colchester: ECPR Press.Google Scholar
  29. Thompson, D. (2008). Who should govern who governs? The role of citizens in reforming the electoral system. In M. E. Warren & H. Pearse (Eds.), Designing deliberative democracy: The British Columbia citizens’ assembly (pp. 20–49). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Van Reybrouck, D. (2016). Against elections. The case for democracy. London: The Bodley Head.Google Scholar
  31. Warren, M. E. (2008). Citizen representatives. In M. E. Warren & H. Pearse (Eds.), Designing deliberative democracy: The British Columbia citizens’ assembly (pp. 50–69). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political, Social and Communication SciencesUniversité de NamurNamurBelgium
  2. 2.Institute of Political Science Louvain-Europe (ISPOLE)Université catholique de LouvainLouvain-la-NeuveBelgium

Personalised recommendations