Doing mini-publics: the translocalisation of politics (database)

An introduction to the database project
Go directly to the mini-publics map

See the full mini-publics database as Google Sheet:

Or access the full mini-publics database in the infobox on the left side at the mini-publics map.

The database project is a subproject of the project “Doing mini-publics”, a research project between 2018 and 2021.
Funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) – Projektnummer 290045248 – SFB 1265.

What is this all about?

Recently, discussions abound about citizen assemblies. They are hyped as an innovation of democracy that can compensate for deficits of representation and legitimacy. Historical reviews of the innovation journey show that the term citizen assemblies is just the current notion for a family of specific methods of public participation that are captured in academia with umbrella terms such as “citizen panels” or “deliberative mini-publics” (Voß/Amelung 2016, Voß et al 2021). Such methods have been developing and spreading already since the 1970s, even if under several different labels such as citizens‘ juries, planning cells, consensus conferences, deliberative polls, or World Wide Views. The core design entails the organisation of a convention of 12 to several hundreds of randomly selected citizens to deliberate a collective judgment on some predefined policy problem while being provided with information and being moderated for fair and rational argumentation. A dedicated research field has been built up studying such processes and drawing lessons for improving their design (Grönlund et al 2014; Bächtiger et al 2018). Several attempts have been made to register cases and provide an overview Participedia, OECD etc.). But all of them are partial. Nobody knows how many cases have been conducted altogether. How many deliberative mini-publics, as we call them here, have taken place throughout the years? And where on Earth? And when? And on what kinds of issues? And who had initiated them and carried them through? With reference to what kind of methodical specifications?
We have picked up these questions as part of a project investigating deliberative mini-publics as an innovation in governance. The “Doing mini-publics” project investigated this process in terms of how it constitutes a translocal space of doing politics on the basis of this particular model of public engagement and democracy.
Our baseline was to just start counting. We defined basic criteria for what to count as a deliberative mini-public and then started researching by all different means. We wanted to find out how far we come, what the problems are that we encounter on the way, and what this means for the very possibility of providing a complete survey, a database with all deliberative mini-publics that have been carried out so far, across the world and since the 1970s.

What makes a participatory event a deliberative mini-public?

According to our definition, deliberative mini-publics are processes of public engagement carrying several, sometimes varying main characteristics:

  1. A random selection of citizens (12-200, in rare cases up to 800) is invited as representative sample of the larger public.
  2. They are provided with factual information and are professionally moderated.
  3. They produce a consensus or majority statement which is fed into broader public debate and/or ongoing processes of policymaking as an informed and considered view of the public.
  4. Such processes take one to several days of meetings that may also be stretched out over weeks or months.

The aforementioned characteristics are considered essential traits of deliberative mini-publics by our project team. Nonetheless, the field still discusses what in essence makes up a mini-public and which types of democratic innovations are not mini-publics in the narrow sense (Elstub/Escobar 2017). Up to now, it is enough to say that mini-publics are distinct from spontaneously self-organized participatory processes, from open hearings or organized stakeholder deliberations, from participation through referendums and elections. Mini-publics are organized by professionals for citizens who are selected by lot and provided with a procedural framework to produce a specific kind of deliberative reasoning and collective judgement.

The database: tracking and visualizing the surge of mini-publics

The overall aim of the “Doing mini-publics” project was to study the travelling of mini-publics between different localities.

As indicated, since their emergence in the 1970s in the USA and Germany mini-publics travelled to other places, at first, mostly within the Western world and recently increasingly to the Global South. A central subproject, mainly realized by the projects’ student assistants, was the creation of a database in an effort to visualize the surge of mini-publics by gathering as many cases as possible from all around the world and since their emergence in the 1970s. This served the purpose of describing the travelling of the model and the expansion of the translocal space within which it is practiced. On the basis of the database we provide a visualization of the history of mini-publics’ global proliferation:

Bächtiger, André, John S. Dryzek, Jane Mansbridge, und Mark Warren, Hrsg. The Oxford Handbook of Deliberative Democracy. The Oxford Handbook of Deliberative Democracy. Oxford University Press, 2018.

Elstub, Stephen, und Oliver Escobar. „A Typology of Democratic Innovations“, 31. Political Studies Association’s Annual Conference, Glasgow, 2017.

Grönlund, Kimmo, André Bächtiger, und Maija Setälä, Hrsg. Deliberative mini-publics: involving citizens in the democratic process. ECPR — studies in European political science. Colchester: ECPR Press, 2014.

Voß, Jan-Peter, und Nina Amelung. „Innovating Public Participation Methods: Technoscientization and Reflexive Engagement“. Social Studies of Science 46, Nr. 5 (Oktober 2016): 749–72.

Voß, Jan-Peter, Jannik Schritt, and Volkan Sayman. “Politics at a Distance: Infrastructuring Knowledge Flows for Democratic Innovation.” Social Studies of Science, (August 2021).