A key design principle for effective public debate activities An organised activity, delimited in scope, intended to stimulate and to attend to public debate on a specific theme in the expectation that it will inform or influence policy development or governance. is to enable participation. The most important features concern how the process design expresses or manages the power relations among those involved, including the various participants and those initiating the initiative. This can be improved by creating an environment and process that are adequately resourced, inclusive and enabling.

Examples Examples

Ireland - Public debate concerning abortion and the repeal of the eighth amendment to the constitution (2016)

A public debate activity was initiated concerning the repeal of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibited abortion. The process involved the establishment of a Citizen’s Assembly that met five times in 2016 - 2017. Its conclusions in 2017 laid the groundwork for a decisive national referendum in May 2018. The commitment of sufficient time was an important factor in the effectiveness of the process.

The Irish Citizen’s Assembly was empowered to invite the experts it wanted to hear from and to question them in order to establish a solid basis for its deliberations.

United Kingdom - Public engagement on brain science, addiction and drugs (2007)

In a wide-ranging series of public debate activities around the theme “Public Engagement on Brain Science, Addiction and Drugs”, the participants were able to interact with a wide range of experts to inform their debate.

As part of the ‘Public Engagement on Brain Science, Addiction and Drugs’ public debate initiative steps were taken to ensure the active participation of recreational drug users and ex-drug users, not only those coming forward through patient organisations. These groups were enabled to develop their own preferred mode of participation, which they did by debating among themselves in a secure environment and designating intermediaries, with whom they had built up trusting relationships, to represent their views in the debate.

Finland - Citizen's initiative to the Parliament (2012)

Public debates can be costly, but there are also more affordable ways to create spaces for public influence. An example is the Finnish initiative to build an easily accessible website for the public to raise support for an issue that they wish to be addressed by Parliament. In its first six years, this initiative resulted in 37 petitions being debated.

France - Public debate on the law on bioethics (2018)

The French “États Généraux” initiative made use of existing regional forums in an efficient way, reaching out to the public across the country and overseas territories, and making it possible for the wider public to engage in national debate via a local infrastructure.

Poland - Constitutional week to inform and dialogue with citizens (2018)

The Polish Constitutional week makes use of the existing organisational infrastructure of schools and of other institutions to involve students with legal professionals by offering lectures in constitutional law as part of a public debate activity that has taken place annually across the country since 2015. It is a capacity-building exercise offered on a voluntary basis by legal scholars, free of charge.

Denmark - Public debate in Denmark on the future of the healthcare system (2008)

The participants in the public debate on the future of the Danish healthcare system discussed and later voted on very tangible questions, among other things setting principles for health care resource allocation and guidance for the policy makers.


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