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Participants at the first-ever Lisbon Citizens Council debating the most pressing issues facing their city, Source: Lisbon Municipality

Lisbon’s first Citizens Council took place over the weekend

Lisbon’s first Citizens Council took place over the weekend

An exciting avenue for random democratic participation

This past weekend, 14-15 May, and for the first time ever, the Lisbon Citizens Council held its inaugural session in order to debate pressing issues and decide on concrete proposals for the authorities to work on. The new institution, which is expected to meet several times a year but with different members, represents an interesting experiment in civic participation. The 50 citizens who took part were randomly selected from a pool of 2,300 candidates.

Making people part of the decision-making process

In the opening session, held at the Salão Nobre dos Paços do Concelho, the Mayor of Lisbon, Carlos Moedas, highlighted the importance of people's participation. In his words, this was “a pilot project, unprecedented in the country, which promotes participation in the construction of public policies. We want people to bring us their concrete ideas for the future. Europe sets the goals, the country sets the policies, but it is we, the cities, who will define and implement the concrete measures towards decarbonisation".

The Lisbon local government thought of this idea to involve citizens closely in the policy and decision-making processes in a non-partisan way. The idea is to promote democracy in what is possibly its purest and non-biased form – random selection.

As it is not possible to have all the people who have expressed interest to be present in the debates, 50 citizens are selected by independent and impartial entities. The draw allows everyone to have exactly the same opportunity to participate. This group of 50 selected people represents the population of Lisbon in terms of age, education level, gender, professional status and place of residence.

All citizens, aged 16 or over, are invited to register to participate in the Council’s debates and construction of proposals for the local government. Each session is dedicated to a specific theme, which will be announced before the day.

If a person has not been drawn for a particular session, his/her registration will be valid for the drawings for future sessions.

Civic participation here is not just an empty slogan

The Lisbon Citizens Council, which met this weekend for its first session, presented City Hall with about 35 proposals to combat climate change, which will now be worked on by the proponents together with the municipality.

These ideas will be worked on with the municipal services and these people will participate in these meetings. Here people are really working with us,” Mayor Carlos Moedas told Lusa.

This new initiative of civic participation was one of the commitments of the electoral program of the “Novos Tempos” coalition in the municipal election of September 2021. The promise was to constitute a space for debate and working sessions, where a group of Lisboners, chosen at random to represent the diversity of the population, could present projects for the city.

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