Civic Council on Asylum and Refugee Issues
Office for Future-Related Issues

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
For several decades, democracies in Europe and all over the world have been subject to significant changes. Growing wealth, education and a hitherto never experienced amount of possibilities for information and networking have caused citizens to no longer leave the destinies of the community exclusively to their parliaments, deputies and administrations. Focus is laid on the institutional enhancement of opportunities for citizens to cooperate and actively participate and on the inclusion of the multifaceted interests, views and skills of different communities, persons involved and stakeholders. Without a corresponding change, citizens might lose acceptance of and confidence in their political leaders and the established institutions of the representative democracy. In order to meet this challenge European countries have embarked on two main strategies during the last two decades. On the one hand, there is an increasing number of direct democracy processes such as referendums, plebiscites and public petitions. On the other hand, the number of so-called dialogue oriented processes of citizen participation is constantly increasing. This results in a gradual creation of political systems that combine the representative, direct democratic and increasingly also participatory and/or dialogue-oriented forms of participation. The Vorarlberg state government is targeting on establishing a new culture of social cohesion in order to enhance the identification with the challenges of the communities and the state. Citizens should be drawn closer to politics. Citizens' disillusion with politics should be actively combatted. A successful democracy is depending on essential factors such as an active citizen participation and the development of democratic instruments. The present crisis situation in many countries around the world and the associated increasing numbers of refugees and asylum seekers constitute an important challenge to numerous governments, administrations and organisations. But the population is equally partly unsettled and frequently overstrained. This is also the case in Vorarlberg. Particularly the reception conditions for asylum seekers requires the effort of numerous people, it requires a good cooperation and all stakeholders must be clearly aware about whoever will be able to cooperate in what way whatsoever – also within the population itself – this requires appropriate formats and good framework conditions.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
Since 2006, more than 40 Civic Councils were initiated in Vorarlberg and were accompanied by the Office for Future Related Issues of the Vorarlberg State Government. Due to the anchoring of the participatory democracy in the Vorarlberg State Constitution in 2013 – the first European project to achieve this – added value was granted to the citizen participation and hence, to the Civic Councils. In 2015, a comprehensive statewide Civic Council process dealt with the sociopolitical relevant aspects of asylum and consequently, succeeded in bringing together politics, administration, NGOs and civil society.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
The mission of the Office for Future Related Issues of the Vorarlberg State Government is to promote civic commitment and public involvement using to this aim different participation instruments. In 2006, the instrument of “Wisdom Councils” originating from the USA was first tested. Since that time more than 40 so-called Civic Councils have been established on local, regional or state level. In all the other federal states of Austria, as well as in Germany, Switzerland and in Italy Civic Councils have meanwhile been established based on the Vorarlberg model. In 2013, the Vorarlberg state government has anchored the approach of a participatory democracy in its State Constitution and since that time, one to two state-wide Civic Councils are held each year, with the aim to include the population more intensely in major questions of state development. This clear commitment to a promotion of citizen participation was unique in Europe at that point in time. In the light of the recent events, the Vorarlberg State Government mandated in June 2015 the Office for Future Related Issues to hold a state-wide Civic Council process on asylum and refugee issues in Vorarlberg. Specialised organisations and stakeholders (Office of the State Governor, departments of domestic affairs and security, society and social affairs, the Vorarlberg Association of Municipal Corporations, Caritas Vorarlberg, the Agency for integration “Okay Zusammenleben” and further initiatives) were involved in the project right from the beginning. 23 Vorarlberg citizens, selected at random from the population register, accepted the invitation to a state-wide Civic Council. During one and a half day they discussed the issue: ”What do we need in order to optimally handle the rise of asylum seekers and refugees? And: What can we expect from the asylum seekers in this respect?”. In the course of two public Civic Cafés (“Bürgercafés’) with about 150 participants and in the presence of the politically competent representatives (State Governor and State Councillors), the Civic Council presented its results and had them discussed in public. The subsequent Responder Group enhanced the results of the Civic Council and the Civic Café and summarized them in a catalogue of measures. This catalogue of measures was then transmitted for further processing to the State Government and/or the Vorarlberg Parliament. The complete process was documented in form of a magazine and thus presented to the public at large. The participation process resulted not only in a very constructive discussion culture, a motivating plea of the Civic Council (“We can do it!”) and specific proposed actions but also in an improved interdepartmental coordination among the stakeholders regarding this extremely sensitive issue. In November 2015, the federal state Salzburg held a state-wide Civic Council based on the Vorarlberg model regarding the issue of asylum. The Civic Councils are one of numerous possibilities to involve citizens in political processes. They are a real enhancement of political opinion and decision making, civic commitment is supported. Based on a random selection, persons were invited who usually are not part of public debates. The advising citizens, the public involved as well as the political responsible persons met on an equal footing for an extensive dialogue. The Civic Council does not act as the voice of any particular stakeholder group, but it is the voice of a broad and multifaceted public (that otherwise would be silent) and emphasizes the aspect of public welfare. The particular atmosphere of these events is most remarkable and distinguishes by a climate of mutual estimation. The presentation ensures a constructive discussion and careful listening is an important feature. Plurality of opinions is experienced as a source of great enrichment and offers an unequaled opportunity for the forming of an opinion. Consequently, these events constitute an essential contribution to a new political culture of cooperation. Objectives and intended effects • Find out what really moves people in Vorarlberg regarding the issue of asylum and refugee policy and where they see important challenges • Derive ideas for a future-oriented asylum and refugee policy through a continuous confrontation with the asylum and refugee issues in Vorarlberg on a broad basis (citizens, asylum seekers, stakeholders, administration, politics) • An opportunity for individuals as well as for the broader public to form a qualified opinion regarding this important socio-political topic (political education) • Create a possibility to deal with and to participate together in the search for solutions to such problems • Promotion of individual responsibility, personal initiative and commitment • Contribute to a reduction of the gap between politics, administration and society, but also to see things in context in order to find better and more sustainable solutions • Encourage integration: speak with each other rather than about each other! • Draft and implementing the amendment of the constitution

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
- Exemplary process of dealing with asylum policy – proactive approach to explosive social issues - „Civic Councils – a democratic innovation - have the potential to complement and to enrich the representative democracy in a useful way” (quote Prof. Dr. Patrizia Nanz, European Institute for Public Participation) - Contribution to a new political culture of cooperation (politics, administration, population), through counteracting polarization and focusing on solution-oriented approaches and encounters - Opportunity for citizens to participate actively in socio-political issues beyond political parties - Due to participants deliberately selected at random, the Civic Council does not act as the voice of particular interest groups, but as the voice of the broad (otherwise silent) multifaceted public - Climate of confidence due to an appropriate presentation process: plurality of opinions is experienced as a source of great enrichment and offers an unequaled opportunity for communication - Readiness of politics and the administration to engage in open and unbiased processes - Values that we want to experience require processes that make these values experienceable (quotation from the process observer and journalist Marietta Schürholz)

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
Roles: - Originator: Vorarlberg State Government - Process responsibility and coordination: Office for Future Related Issues - Content project group: stakeholders, responsible persons from administration, representatives of industry - Hosting Team: process facilitators & observers (documentation, magazine) - Population affected: about 380,000 persons living in the state of Vorarlberg Specialised organisations and stakeholders (Office of the State Governor, the departments of domestic affairs and security as well as of society and social matters of the state, the Vorarlberg Association of Municipal Corporations, the NGO Caritas, the Agency for Integration “Okay Zusammenleben” and further initiatives) were involved in the project right from the beginning. 640 persons selected at random from the residents’ register were invited to participate in the Civic Council (selection criteria: main place of residence in Vorarlberg, half of them male, half of them female, a third each from the age groups 15-35 years, 36-55 years and 56-75 years), 23 persons engaged for the process, 100 persons excused themselves. Composition of the group of 23 participants: aged between 18 and 75 years; 12 men / 11 women, 5 persons with migrant background. In two public Civic Cafés with about 150 participants and in the presence of the politically competent representatives (State Governor and State Councillors) the Civic Council presented the results and had them discussed in public. The magazine „Momentaufnahme – Ein Dialog zwischen Bevölkerung und Politik zum Asyl- und Flüchtlingswesen in Vorarlberg“ (Snapshot – A dialogue between the people and politics regarding asylum and refugee issues in Vorarlberg) with a circulation of 3,000 copies was sent to political decision-makers, state and municipal authorities, stakeholder organisations as well as to interested citizens.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
Feb-Mar 2015 // Development and localization of the opening questions; pointing out of the utilisation values: in a first stage, the relevant stakeholders and the originator (State Government) elaborated the initial questions, narrowed down the range of topics, pointed out the scope for action for the participation process and determined in which form the results should be submitted to further processing. Mar-Apr 2015 // Composition of the associated organisation and reflection teams: The Office for Future Related Issues assumes responsibility for the process, however not for the content aspects of the topic. Consequently, the integration of stakeholders is an essential success criteria for the development of the questions and particularly for the interpretation and utilization of the results (Office of the State Governor, State Department IVa – society, social affairs and integration as well as Department Ia – domestic affairs & security; Caritas, association Vindex, the Agency for Integration okay_zusammenleben). 12 and 13 June 2015 // Civic Council: 23 persons participated in the process that lasted for one and a half day. The initial question was: How can we successfully deal with the development of asylum and refugee matters? What may we aspect from asylum seekers? Due to the large number of participants (normally a Civic Council is composed of 12-16 persons) the group was subdivided in 2 subgroups. The results were brought together at the end of the second day in a joint presentation. Many of the elaborated contents were the same for both subgroups which indicates that there is a broad concordance within the population. June 2015 // Public presentation of the results: The participants in the Civic Council presented their results on 15th of July in the so-called Civic Café held in two different regions of the country in order to reach as many people as possible. The first presentation took place in the FH Dornbirn (University of Applied Sciences) in Dornbirn and on the 22nd of June 2015 in the Bezeggsall in Bezau, the results were presented to the political decision-makers (State Governor Markus Wallner and State Councillor Erich Schwärzler as well as to mayors from cities and communities), to media representatives and to the population (about 150 persons). Interested persons who had come to the Civic Café were also informed about the most recent figures and political strategies and were granted the chance to contribute their opinion and their proposed solutions (World Café format). 9 July 2015 // Meeting of the Response Group: The enlarged steering group examines the results as to their utilisation value (participants in the Civic Council, Vorarlberg Association of Municipal Corporations, Chamber of Commerce, Office of the State Governor, Departments for domestic affairs & security, as well as for society and social matters, okay-zusammenleben, Caritas, Catholic Church, ZuB) 21 July 2015: State Government approves of the report elaborated by the Civic Council, deals with the results and transmits the report to the Parliament, the municipal corporations and the relevant departments; the Civic Council’s report comprises the results of three events as well as of the Response Group. The report is available to the interested public on the website of the Office for Future Related Issues. In autumn 2015, the State Government presented an extensive feedback on measures taken and/or to be taken on the basis of these presentations. September 2015//Communication and implementation: The results of the Civic Council were extensively presented to an interested public in the magazine „Momentaufnahme – Ein Dialog zwischen Bevölkerung und Politik zum Asyl- und Flüchtlingswesen in Vorarlberg“ (Snapshot – A dialogue between the people and politics regarding asylum and refugee issues in Vorarlberg) and the results were complemented by perspectives and points of view (asylum seekers in schools, municipal corporations, industry, individual organisations, historical). A snapshot of the dialogue between the population and politics regarding asylum and refugees in Vorarlberg is thus generated. Moreover, the magazine satisfies already some major claims of the Civic Council: providing information on the current situation (figures, data, facts), a generally positive coverage and highlighting of possibilities of playing an active part in the process. A further proposal by the Civic Council will be implemented on 25th September 2015: during a coordination and networking event „Commitment by and for refugees“ within the scope of the „Long Day of Flight“ organised by the cooperation partners State Vorarlberg, Association of Municipal Corporations, Okay-Zusammenleben and Caritas Vorarlberg, a summary of the existing offers, good practice examples and the most recent challenges was presented. Cost overview 1. Preparation, organisation and implementation of the Civic Council process: includes costs such as presentation, room hire, accompanying publicity work, etc.: approx. EUR 15,000.-- 2. Coordination of the stakeholders during the implementation of the measures: process management, documentation, elaboration of concepts, networking: approx. EUR 10,000.— 3. Communication and publicity work: series of magazines „Momentaufnahme zum Asyl- und Flüchtlingswesen in Vorarlberg“; approx. 25 information events, website, etc.: approx. EUR 25,000.-- Time requirement: Office for Future Related Issues: approx. 600h, involved state departments and system partners approx. 200h each; in total: more than 1000h of all involved stakeholders during a period of 2 years.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
Cooperation partners: Office of the State Governor, State Departments for domestic affairs & security, society and social matters of the State of Vorarlberg, Vorarlberg Association of Municipal Corporations, Chamber of Commerce Vorarlberg, agency for integration okay-zusammenleben, Caritas Agency for Refugee Support, Catholic Church, external process facilitators, free journalists.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
The Civic Council process has effects on several levels: on the one hand, on the level of contents regarding the optimisation of the design of policies, on the other hand, on the level of political culture and thirdly on the level of the participants who learn about politics in the course of the Civic Council. Consequently, the Civic Council process contributes essentially to the SDGs “10 Reduced Inequalities“, “11 Sustainable Cities and Communities“ and “17 Partnerships for the Goals“. The Civic Council process assists in thematising and compensating inequalities through proposal of measures (teaching of German, etc.). Political challenges can thus be communitised and the awareness that all people can contribute their part in solutions is enhanced. The process succeeded to establish the required partnerships in order to promote valuable solutions. What is now required from both parts (receiving and arriving part) in order to have a way with the current development? This was the initial question to which the 23 persons originating from the most various social environments who participated in the Civic Council elaborated the following common core statement: - This topic affects all of us! We can handle it! A peaceful coexistence in our common environment requires open-mindedness and a positive attitude that can be generated through transparency, communication and that can be based on encouraging good examples from history. The following essential recommendations resulted from this: - Information: well-prepared overall information will be the basis; pictures distributed by media often promote unfounded fear; it should be aimed to have clarity who is here for what reasons and how the asylum seekers are housed. - Role of the state/regions/municipal corporations: Administration plays a major part in communication and enhancement of commitment for and of refugees; co-operations with Caritas and other initiatives are a deciding factor. - Structuring of coexistence and integration: Once housing of the asylum seekers has been successfully accomplished, the further integration process must be structured. In the course of the Civic Council process different ideas and approaches have been developed: early German courses, 150 German survival words, peer-to-peer-learning; integration of the VHS network (community college). Beside a very positive discussion culture, the motivating appeal of the civic council „We can handle that!“) and proposed realistic actions, the participation process also led to a better interdepartmental coordination among the stakeholders regarding this explosive issue.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
Coordination of the stakeholders who are actively involved in this area of issues constituted one of the major challenges, as well as the good assistance through the municipal corporations and those involved in voluntary activity. Due to the impetus by the Civic Council, appropriate coordination mechanisms were developed on all relevant levels (see also D 10).

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
The Civic Council offers the possibility to small groups of people (approx. 10-16 persons) to intensively deal with a topic that is important to them. The Civic Council does not take any decisions and can consequently be considered as an instrument of political consulting. In general, the Civic Council is most appropriate for two scenarios: on the one hand, when new issues and demands must be dealt with, when new political fields require an elaboration or when existing developments must be questioned/newly considered; on the other hand, when important strategic courses of action must be decided. The process of qualified shaping of public opinion and policies is the main task of a Civic Council, the evaluations of the Civic Council prove a high quality and practice shows that comparable results can only be found either on the basis of the results often elaborated in Civic Councils or on the basis of scientific studies/expertises. „I appreciate that we face this important issue. Information generates tolerance. I concentrate on actions and will be able to effect a change.“ “Such events prevent fear – I found myself encouraged – I want to do something!“ Such quotations from participants in the Civic Councils show what the Civic Council process is able to perform. People are in a safe surrounding and deal with an issue, that presently is one of the biggest socio-political challenges. This entails not only the willingness to actively contribute, but brings also along solution proposals and ideas how this development can be shaped by many stakeholders. What is required from both parts (receiving and arriving part) in order to cope with the present developments? This was one of the initial questions. On the basis of the results found within the Civic Council and the Civic Cafés (see also Output C 8), the following ideas were developed and the follow-up processes were initiated: -Implementation status „Information“: The Vorarlberg Association of Municipal Corporations in cooperation with Caritas and the State of Vorarlberg has created the information platform, a central hub for the issues of housing, commitment opportunities, possibilities for occupation. In 25 information events in which participated approx. 100 citizens each, information was spread in autumn 2015 on current figures, ways of procedure, housing and legal issues and these events aimed mainly at preventing prejudices and fears. Edition of the magazine series „Momentaufnahme 1 – Ein Dialog zwischen Bevölkerung und Politik zum Asyl- und Flüchtlingswesen in Vorarlberg“ and „Momentaufnahme 2 – Engagement von und mit Flüchtlinge(n)“, „Momentaufnahme 3 – Leben, Wohnen und Arbeiten für Flüchtlinge in Vorarlberg“ („Snapshot 1 – A dialogue between the population and politics on asylum and refugees in Vorarlberg“, „Snapshot 2 – Commitment by and for refugees“ and „Snapshot 3 – Living, housing and occupation for refugees in Vorarlberg“) with information on the central areas of activity in refugee integration, as well as editorial preparation of good-practice examples in Vorarlberg by the Office for Future Related Issues and the Agency for Integration „okay_zusammenleben”. - Implementation status „Role of the state/regions/municipal corporations“: Office for Future Related Issues (in cooperation with the Association of Municipal Corporations, okay_zusammenleben, Caritas) interconnected between the stakeholders: - regular information meetings were organised on state level for all departments involved - ten regional coordination offices were established for asylum and integration issues - consultation and assistance for municipal corporations for the implementation of structures for those involved in voluntary activity: particular structures were developed in the municipalities specially adapted to the local requirements of those involved in voluntary activity. - implementation of various information and coordination events - Implementation status „Organisation of coexistence and integration“: The state of Vorarlberg (dept. IVa) makes available an overview on German language courses, coordination of providers; implementation of a coordination and networking event on 25th September in Feldkirch by the Office for Future Related Issues with information on German language courses, neighbourly help, etc. with about 90 interested persons. Since March 2016, offer of information and networking information for those involved in voluntary activity „Engagementwerkstatt Flüchtlingsintegration“ („Engagement workshop: Integration of refugees“) with 250 participants in 13 modules organized by the Office for Future Related Issues in close cooperation with Caritas Vorarlberg and the Agency for Integration okay_zusammenleben. This will be continued in 2017. Due to an intensive media reporting, further population circles were informed about the dealing with the topic and the Civic Council process as well as the relevant follow-up processes: Media reports (selection) - - - - - A 4 minutes film on the Civic Council: - Awards Due to its integral policy making, the Civic Council process has been awarded the Austrian Environment Award in the category Participation and Civil Society, as well as the Austrian Administration Award and thus increased the knowledge about Civic Councils and served as a source of inspiration for further participation processes:

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
Since March 2011, Civic Councils are held every six months in Vorarlberg on state level. With the anchoring of the participatory democracy in the State Constitution in January 2013, the participation of citizens and consequently, the Civic Councils were ascribed additional importance. Since February 2013, there is the possibility that not only politics, but also the population can initiate Civic Councils – a further less complicate and more efficient possibility to participate in democratic processes. The willingness of people to participate in Civic Councils is growing. While the first state-wide Civic Council had a response rate of about 2.75 per cent (11 participants out of 400 invitations), the sixth Civic Council had a response rate of 4.66 per cent (28 participants out of 600 invitations). Of course, this is also due to the constantly growing degree of brand awareness of a Civic Council as a result of media reporting.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
Due to the selection at random, it can be guaranteed that not only the „usual suspects“ participate in discussions and participatory processes. The personal invitations and the classification pursuant to sociodemographic features ensures that particularly young people and women are included appropriately in the process.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Office for Future-Related Issues
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   Michael Lederer
Title:   Project Manager  
Telephone/ Fax:   +43557451120614
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   Jahnstraße 13-15
Postal Code:   6900
City:   Bregenz
State/Province:   Vorarlberg

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