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 February 2023. 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.

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. Efforts are currently underway to recruit a small team of interdisciplinary scholars from South Africa, the continent, and abroad. 

Advisory Board: The working group is to be assisted by an advisory board composed of six leading international scholars. The advisory board will periodically review the working group’s progress, providing feedback and critique in order to bolster the quality and rigour of the group’s research outputs. 

Collaborations: Central to the character of the working group is an emphasis on both local and international collaboration, whether formal or informal. Efforts are currently 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.

Research Agenda

Previous Activities: On the 30th of January 2024, the proposal which outlined the rationale for the formation of a Citizens Assembly Working Group was presented to and accepted by CREDO’s Director, Prof Ursula van Beek. While quickly falling out of date, the proposal is nevertheless instructive as to the general aims of the working group. The proposal can be download here

Current ActivitiesAt present, the co-chairs are preparing a comprehensive literature review of the theory and practice of citizens’ assemblies as it relates to the context of South Africa in order to generate a detailed research agenda. This review will be guided by the following research question: “What is the citizens’ assembly model of deliberative democracy, and to what extent is it relevant to and suitable for the South African context?” Additionally, the co-chairs are organising informal discussions with leading global scholars and practitioners in order to solicit critical feedback on the group’s proposed approach and to better scope the field of scholarship and real-world practice.  

Near-term Activities: Testament to the scholarly potential of the working group’s research, the co-chairs have been invited to attend and present at Participedia’s upcoming Partners Conference, which will take place at the University of the Western Cape from 5-7 June and will be attended by most of the leading scholars in the fields of deliberative and participatory democracy. Damien du Preez will present on “The Challenges and Opportunities for Citizens’ Assemblies in South Africa” and Kira Alberts will present on “Lessons Learned from Participatory and Deliberative Practices in the Global South”.

Contact Us

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