What is a planning cell?

A planning cell is a group of about 25 randomly selected citizens, who are released from their daily work duties for about one week in order to work in groups on solutions for a given planning problem. The results of their consultations are summarized in a so-called citizen’s report and made available to the political decision-making bodies as a consultation document.

In order to increase representativeness, several planning cells usually work in parallel on the same topic. In their consultations, the citizens selected at random are supported by a competent process support (moderation). They obtain the information necessary for the assessment of the issue by hearing and questioning experts and representatives of the relevant interest groups.

In their selection, care is taken to ensure that as many controversial opinions as possible are represented and can be presented. The experts and stakeholders are not present at the citizens’ assessments. The appropriate dimensioning and concreteness of the tasks guarantee a high level of competence and information of the participants. In order to reduce opinion leadership, the planning cell is repeatedly divided into changing small groups (e.g. 5 groups of 5 people each).

In recent years, the procedure has been successfully applied at both municipal and supra-regional level on a wide variety of thematic issues, such as the improvement of local public transport in Hanover, the clarification of planning cases that have been unresolved and controversial for many years, and in technology assessment, and has provided valuable recommendations and advice to political decision-making bodies and clients.

An unusually wide range of participants is achieved by the random selection. Women and men are represented according to their share of the population, as are the different age groups. Participation is made easier for members of professions that are difficult to access by taking time off work, and a replacement is being sought for people who are responsible for care. In cases where participation was not possible for the selected person, e.g. because of disability, he or she was supported by a helper. In the case of language problems of foreign participants, interpreters, family members who already spoke better German, helped.

In the previous cases of application, people who had never taken part in a political event or seminar before were also reached. In addition, it brought people from different social (opinion) groups into conversation who would otherwise hardly meet each other, and led to diverse processes of social learning. In principle, the method can be used at all levels of decision-making.

Due to the relatively high organisational and financial costs associated with its implementation, the use of planning cells will nevertheless remain limited to larger projects or decision-making issues in the future.