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650 Finns participate in the Citizens’ Parliament – drugs policy and fuel taxation as themes

The Center of Excellence in Public Opinion Research at Åbo Akademi University organizes together with the Finnish Parliament a unique Citizens’ Parliament, where randomly selected citizens participate in democratic deliberation and decision-making.

The Citizens’ Parliament develops Finnish democracy by involving people in a new way. Its aim is to provide an appreciation of an informed public opinion and increase diversity in public discourse. The method can also increase the acceptance of political decisions. In addition to Åbo Akademi University and Parliament, the organizers are the University of Tampere, Sitra and Stanford University.

In September, 30 000 randomly selected Finns were invited to participate in the Citizens’ Parliament. From that group, eventually, a group of 650 people are participating in the deliberations. Their characteristics represent the Finnish people in miniature. The Citizens’ Parliament discusses four themes directly related to citizens’ initiatives. Three of them are already under discussion in Parliament and the fourth should be submitted this spring. Two of the initiatives concern drugs policy (supervised user rooms and legalization of cannabis), two of them deal with the taxation of petrol and diesel.
Participants in the Citizens’ Parliament come together over two days to hear experts and engage in moderated small group discussions. The discussions follow specific principles of deliberative democracy and are conducted according to the Deliberative Poll® model developed by Professor James Fishkin of Stanford University.

The Citizens’ Parliament takes place over two weekends in November. A week ago, 450 participants discussed in small groups online with webcams and microphones. The expert hearings were also held as webinars.

“The online experiment succeeded beyond expectations: the participants were involved throughout the weekend and there were surprisingly few technical problems. This weekend, the remaining 200 or so participants from all over the country are traveling to Helsinki. They are of different ages, have different educational backgrounds and also think differently on the issues at hand. The participants talk face-to-face at round tables and meet the experts on site. “We are of course a bit nervous but at the same time we know that everything is planned in detail and should go well”, says Professor Kimmo Grönlund from Åbo Akademi University.

At the end of the discussions, the participants’ opinions are surveyed. Based on these, the research team writes a report on the results. The report is submitted to the relevant parliamentary committees that handle the citizens’ initiatives.

“The aim of the citizens’ parliament is to create a constructive discussion environment where everyone is heard and respected. An impartial information package sent to the participants in advance serves as an aid to the discussions. It addresses questions from the four citizens’ initiatives. There are also experts selected so that there are both neutral experts and actors arguing either for or against the initiatives,” says Professor Kaisa Herne from the University of Tampere.

More information about the Citizens’ Parliament:
Professor Kimmo Grönlund, Åbo Akademi University
Telephone: 050-409 6409
e-mail: kimmo.gronlund@abo.fi

Professor Kaisa Herne, University of Tampere
Telephone: 050-318 6967
e-mail: kaisa.herne@tuni.fi

Parliament’s Deputy Secretary General Timo Tuovinen
Telephone:  09-432 2012
e-mail: timo.tuovinen@eduskunta.fi