Stellenbosch University | Political Science

CITIZENS' ASSEMBLY WORKING GROUP

Profile and Mission

In response to the growing political and scholarly interest in citizens’ assemblies (CAs) as a potential response to the ongoing crisis of democracy, the Centre for Research on Democracy (CREDO) at Stellenbosch University convened a Citizens’ Assembly Working Group in January 2024. To be composed of an interdisciplinary cohort of African and international scholars, the working group is guided by six objectives: 

  1. To investigate the relevance and suitability of CAs for South African democracy, with a focus on highlighting linkages with existing deliberative and participatory traditions on the African continent.
  2. To inform the local development of CAs, with a focus on designing, convening, and evaluating South Africa’s first pilot assembly.
  3. To explore how Global South traditions of deliberation and participation can contribute to the larger global discourse on democracy and thus facilitate North-South learning.
  4. To build capacity amongst African researchers and practitioners in the study and implementation of deliberative and participatory democratic processes. 
  5. To generate public interest in and discussion about CAs, deliberative and participatory democratic processes, and the notion of democratic innovation more broadly. 
  6. To outline an African research and practice agenda for the future development of CAs and other deliberative and participatory democratic innovations.

As the first African-led research initiative of its kind, and given the current scarcity of Global South contributions in a field of scholarship and practice dominated by Global North actors, the working group stands to make a significant and timely contribution to the scholarly and practical development of democracy.

What is a Citizens’ Assembly?

A citizens’ assembly (CA) is a new type of innovative democratic process which is quickly gaining popularity worldwide. Emphasising inclusion, informed discussion, and consensus-based decisions, a citizens’ assembly gathers together a representative group of citizens over a number of days to learn about, deliberate on, and put forward recommendations on an important policy issue affecting their community. In most cases, participants are guided throughout the process by trained facilitators who help ensure quality deliberation, and subject experts who inform citizens on the issue at hand. Advocates of citizens’ assemblies argue that they provide a platform to engage ordinary citizens, reflecting the diversity of interests and perspectives of the general public, in decision-making processes which are usually the exclusive domain of politicians and interest groups.

To learn more about CAs as well as their potential for South African democracy, take a look at our recommended videos and articles:

  • Citizens’ Assembly in Francisco Morato, São Paulo | YouTube
  • Citizens’ assemblies empower a more authentic democratic spirit | The Daily Maverick
  • Bude Area Community Jury on Climate Change | Vimeo 
  • South Africa’s democracy problem | News24
  • Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care, UK | YouTube
  • Participedia’s Citizens’ Assembly Guide | Read Online
  • How can citizens’ assemblies help residents tackle local issues? | Vimeo

Research Team

The working group is co-chaired by Damien du Preez, a Research Coordinator with CREDO, and Kira Alberts, a Research Associate with CREDO and a KAS-CREDO Master’s Scholar. They are joined by Alison Kuah of the University of Cape Town. Efforts are currently underway to recruit a small team of interdisciplinary scholars from South Africa, the continent, and abroad. 

Damien du Preez, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
EmailBio | Twitter | LinkedIn

Damien is a Research Coordinator with the Centre for Research on Democracy (CREDO) at Stellenbosch University and the initiator and co-chair of the Citizens’ Assembly Working Group. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics from Stellenbosch University and has been involved with CREDO since its inception.

Kira Alberts, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Email 

Kira is a Research Associate with the Centre for Research on Democracy (CREDO) at Stellenbosch University and a second-year Master’s student in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Stellenbosch University, for which she was awarded a KAS-CREDO scholarship. She is the co-chair of the Citizens’ Assembly Working Group.

Alison Kuah, University of Cape Town, South Africa
EmailBio 

Alison is a Doctoral Research Fellow at the Institute of Humanities in Africa, University of Cape Town, and a PhD candidate in Social Anthropology (UCT). She holds a Master’s degree in Practical Anthropology (UCT) and a Bachelors degree in Anthropology from Tufts University. 

Advisory Board

The working group is to be assisted by an advisory board composed of leading international scholars, members of South African civil society, and African political actors. The advisory board will be responsible for providing strategic advice, reviewing the working group’s progress and outputs, and assisting with funding and partnerships. At present, the board consists of Professor Nicole Curato and Dr Melisa Ross

Prof Nicole Curato, University of Canberra, Australia
Bio| Twitter | LinkedIn

Nicole is Professor of Political Sociology at the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance. She is the founder of the Global Citizens’ Assembly Network, former editor of the Journal of Deliberative Democracy, and author of over 50 book chapters and journal articles on deliberative democracy and global south politics. 

Dr Melisa Ross, University of Bremen, Germany
Bio | Twitter | LinkedIn 

Melisa is a postdoctoral researcher at SOCIUM Research Center on Inequality and Social Policy and Co-Lead of the Global Citizens’ Assembly Network. She obtained her PhD in Political Science from Humboldt University of Berlin in 2022. Previously, she was a research fellow at WZB Berlin Social Science Center and Public Agenda.

Research Agenda

Envisioned as a 3-4 year project, the initial phase of the Citizens’ Assembly Working Group follows a multi-stage project roadmap which will result in, among other achievements, three key outputs: South Africa’s first citizens’ assembly (CA) and the official evaluation thereof; a guidebook outlining best practices to inform future South African CAs; and a series of academic publications which draw from the empirical research and analysis generated during the project. For an overview of the research questions and data we will be focusing on for academic publication, please refer to our forthcoming Strategic Research Plan: 2024 – 2027.

Collaborations

Central to the character of the working group is an emphasis on both local and international collaboration, whether formal or informal. Efforts are underway to establish working relationships with several international research centres and networks, individual scholars and practitioners, and local actors motivated to improve South African democracy. Our collaborative network currently includes Participedia; the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance; the Democracy R&D Network; the OECD’s Innovative Citizen Participation Network (ICPN); and a diverse cohort of international scholars. 

Contact Us

If you’re interested in the work of the Citizens’ Assembly Working Group, we welcome your emails. You can reach out to either Damien du Preez (ddp2@sun.ac.za) or Kira Alberts (kca@sun.ac.za).