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Group dynamics in the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform

By M.S. de Jongh

Abstract

In 2006, the Dutch Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations set up a national citizen assembly on electoral reform. One hundred and forty Dutch citizens were asked to work together for nine months to investigate various electoral systems for choosing members of the Parliament, and eventually to decide which system would be most appropriate for the Netherlands. Outcomes in a deliberative group such as the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform can be affected by group dynamics. In this study, I am particularly interested in how the group dynamics in the Assembly helped or hindered the task at hand. From this, insight into the meanings of particular behaviors can be obtained along with establishing conditions for successful process development. As such, investigating the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform using a social and psychological perspective offered potentially valuable insight into how 140 diverse citizens work together, and what that means in terms of facilitating such a process. This study is considered as an interpretive study, using a flexible design with both quantitative and qualitative data collection methods being used. Apart from the ethnographic tradition, influences from action research and the psychodynamic tradition can be found. It is presented that Assembly members were satisfied after the Assembly’s period of operation had come to the end. The functioning of the chair and staff, as well as the group process and the final proposal, were evaluated positively by most of the members. The results of the questionnaire have shown that the Assembly’s perceived outcome (proposal and process) was strongly influenced by the perceptions of the group process and of the functioning of the staff. This would seem to underline the importance of good facilitation and a good group process for achieving a successful outcome of group working. Moreover, it has been argued that the critical dynamics hindered the Assembly’s task effectiveness, which in turn decreased creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, and learning in the Assembly. As such, the Assembly’s final proposal could be less rich than the group’s initial potential suggested. Perceived threats could have created the critical dynamics that surfaced in the Assembly, for example the lack of political support, the size and diversity of the group, the insecure situation (the project was an experiment), and the complexity of the task. The main theoretical contribution of the study is that it provides a deep and integrated understanding of large group dynamics that emerged during the period of operation of a large group. Specifically, this study shows how context affected the group’s task effectiveness and outcome. Moreover, it is claimed that this study has contributed to a better understanding of the impact of diversity in large groups. It illustrates the complexity and difficulties that Assembly members and staff experienced while working with diversity. This research is also said to offer insights into the emotional climate of a large group. Finally, this study is said to offer insights into the complexity of working with dynamics in a large group

Topics: group dynamics, large group, deliberative democracy, citizen assembly, facilitation, diversity
Publisher: Utrecht University
Year: 2013
OAI identifier: oai:dspace.library.uu.nl:1874/275018
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