What is Shimin Tōgikai (Citizen Deliberation Meeting)?
To introduce Planungszelle (the Planning Cell method) to Japan, in November 2004, members of the Politics and Government Policy Committee within the Junior Chamber International Tokyo invited Professor Akinori Shinoto of Beppu University to give a lecture. The Planning Cell method had been mentioned in Professor Hajime Shinohara’s book Shimin-no Seijigaku (Citizens’ Political Studies). Following this event, a brief pilot simulation of a deliberation meeting was conducted by the Junior Chamber (JC) Chiyoda Ward Committee in 2005.
In addition, the Mitaka JC co-sponsored a meeting with Mitaka City in 2006, which in turn stimulated other like-minded groups, and more meetings were held in Tokyo in 2007. In the two years following, citizen deliberation meetings spread to the Kanto, Tokai, and Kansai regions mainly through local JC branches. As of February 2011, a total of more than 150 such meetings have taken place (according to CDPN surveys). Further development is expected in 2011. Citizen deliberation meetings are now an exemplary practice of "deliberation" and "deliberative democracy" in Japan.
No strict definition of a citizen deliberation meeting has been established, as its implementation as a governing practice has just begun. As its use is spreading as a grassroots movement without a specific managing group, there are no specific regulations. Therefore, we have all kinds of meetings ranging from disappointing meetings that cannot be called “deliberative democracy” to high-quality practices where the city assemblies or administration may be able to easily incorporate citizens’ reports into policies. However, considering that the practice of holding citizen deliberation meetings is based on the Planning Cell method and that democratic, impartial, and fair practices are expected, its main features are currently considered as follows:
1. Discussants are randomly sampled and asked to participate.
2. Participants receive rewards.
3. Discussion in small groups (with 5 to 6 people each).
4. Summaries of the deliberation are presented and all participants vote.
5. Necessary information is given to participants before deliberation.
There are also many other important rules (such as principles of nonintervention and information disclosure), which are explained in Jichi-wo Hiraku Shimin Tōgikai.
Our group, the Citizens’ Discussion Promotion Network (CDPN), a nonprofit corporation, aims to promote and support practices of high-quality citizen deliberation meetings. To study and examine the future directions of citizen deliberation meetings, another group called the “Planungszelle Study Group” has been organized.