The Tolosa Town Council reports on the progress made in the implementation of the 14 recommendations of the Citizen’s Assembly

In today’s follow-up session the members of the Assembly received the information on how the recommendations presented are being implemented. 

On the 4th of November 2023 at 9.00 a.m., the Tolosa Citizens’ Assembly members and municipal representatives met at the Kultur Etxea of Tolosa. The aim of the session was to present how the Tolosa Town Council is implementing the Citizens’ Assembly recommendations. Likewise, the municipal representatives explained the next steps and contrasted the work carried out to date with the citizens. The Assembly was set up with the aim of deepening on a public challenge: emotional health and well-being. This innovative process of citizen deliberation, carried out in a pioneering manner in Tolosa, allows people to involve in a significant way in public decision making. The Citizens’ Assembly presented 14 recommendations to the Tolosa Town Council political representatives, and following the commitment made, today they have held the first follow-up session. 

The Mayor of Tolosa, Andu Martinez de Rituerto, opened the session with an explanation on the importance of this initiative for the Town Council of Tolosa and reaffirmed the municipal commitment to implement the recommendations. Then, the municipal representatives explained the development of the five recommendations mentioned. Thus, Rituerto described the recommendation on “Inclusive architecture”; Xarles Iturbe detailed the recommendations on “Young people, LGTBIQ+, suicide” and “Space and leisure, young people”;  Aitor Agirresarobe, “green areas”, and Josune Sanz on “Institutional trust”. 

After the presentation, the members of the assembly worked in four groups. In each group, two recommendations were discussed. First of all, the members of the assembly discussed their questions and made a first evaluation, after which they had the opportunity to contrast their questions and concerns with the municipal representatives. Garikoitz Lekuona, Governance and Community Development technician of the Tolosa Town Council, facilitated the conversation at the end to collect the final reflections and questions from Assembly members. Afterwards, Naiara Goia, Arantzazulab’s Managing Director, presented the next steps that will be taken to follow-up on the implementation of the recommendations. Finally, Andu Martinez de Rituerto highlighted the challenges that exist so far in the implementation of the recommendations and described the steps to be taken in the coming months. The municipal representatives have proposed to the Assembly members to hold an unplanned follow-up session in May 2024, as actions will be carried out in the coming months that could not be advanced so far, and they propose to communicate them before the follow-up session planned for October 2024.  

Background: Tolosa Citizens’ Assembly journey. 

In 2022 we launched the Tolosa Citizens’ Assembly together with the Tolosa Town Hall and various international as well as local stakeholders. At the international level we have collaborated with the OECD and Democracy Next; and at the local level with Aztiker, Deliberativa, Aktiba (UPV-EHU university research group) and Prometea. 

In October 2022, 32 people from Tolosa, representing the local diversity based on age, gender, education level and place of residence, were chosen through a civic lottery. From October to December of 2022, the 32 citizens of Tolosa selected by a civic lottery participated in a 40-hour deliberation process to write the recommendations and respond to the question posed by the Tolosa Town Council: What can the Tolosa Town Council do through public-community collaboration to achieve a Tolosa that improves the health and emotional well-being of all?    

On 17 December 2022 the Assembly members presented 14 recommendations to the Town Council of Tolosa. The public representatives carried out internal work during the following months, and it was on the 25th of March 2023 that the municipal representatives responded to each of the recommendations detailing which recommendations would be implemented and how, and which would not be implemented and why. At that session, the municipal political representatives and Assembly members contrasted the public institutions’s responses and raised various questions and concerns. The documents containing the recommendations made by the Assembly members are available on the project website (available in Basque and Spanish). 

Since that session, the Tolosa Town Council has been implementing the commitments made. This year, the following five recommendations of the Assembly have begun to be implemented:

A_Inclusive architecture 

H_Young people, LGTBIQ+, suicide: care, education and intervention   

K_Space and leisure, young people (13/18)   

M_Green areas 

N_Institutional trust: permanent spaces for participation 

Deepening democracy: Citizens’ Assemblies 

Today, we live in a time of deep transformation. Governments and institutions recognise that their structural capacity and knowledge are not sufficient to respond to the scale, speed, interconnectedness and complexity of today’s challenges. Moreover, citizens feel increasingly alienated from institutions and the political system. 

Only by rethinking models of collaboration between institutions, citizens and organised society will we be able to respond to the challenges of today’s society. The starting point of the Citizens’ Assemblies lies in a complex challenge or dilemma proposed by a public institution and defined around a specific question. In order to respond, a group of people describing the diversity of the community analyses information on the issue, deliberates and develops concrete recommendations addressed to public authorities on public policy issues. 

Citizens’ Assemblies seek to involve citizens in a meaningful way in designing public policies on complex challenges. In our case, we have promoted and set up two Citizens’ Assemblies: the Gipuzkoa Citizens’ Assembly and the Tolosa Citizens’ Assembly. The aim of Arantzazulab is to systematise the knowledge generated in these processes, and to disseminate the positive impact they generate. In addition, we try to incorporate this tool for democratic innovation into organisations on a permanent way. We call this institutionalisation. 

What is institutionalising Deliberative Democracy for Arantzazulab? It is creating the conditions to embed Deliberative Democracy principles, mindsets, and practices in public administrations. Specifically, it requires governments to build the capabilities and knowledge, designing the structures, ensuring the resources, and approving the laws and policies that will enable it.

The characteristics of an institutionalised Deliberative Democracy practice are:   

  • it will focus on dilemmas or values-based questions.  
  • it will follow the principles of good practice established by the OECD. 
  • it will be convened on a regular basis. 
  • it will be embedded in the existing institutional system to complement and enrich it. 

What are the steps we are taking to institutionalise Deliberative Democracy in the Basque region? In a study done by McConnel Family Foundation and Tamarack institute in Canada, they identify three approaches to scaling social innovation. At Arantzazulab we are working on institutionalising Deliberative Democracy following the suggested three strategies:

  • Scaling up: “impacting laws and policies”. 
  • Scaling out: “impacting greater numbers”. 
  • Scaling deep: “impacting on cultural roots”. 

The Tolosa Town Council is also collaborating in the reflection of institutionalisation, and in the following months we will share the next steps of the The Tolosa Citizens’ Assembly and the work we are doing to disseminate Deliberative Democracy.