Deliberative Coalescent Planning and Policy Making

DeCoPP has been developed as a new form of deliberative democracy which unfolds mainly online. It is a method that organizes societal deliberation that aims at creating a consensus among all those who have a stake in a particular issue – that is, those who either have an interest in corresponding decisions or are affected by those decisions.

DeCoPP can be described by the following characteristics:

  • Everybody can initiate a DeCoPP process

  • The DeCoPP process aims at societal consensus

  • Deliberation happens mainly in small teams that work on the formulation of a proposal of how to deal with the problem in question on the Reflect! platform, and in pairs of teams that try to overcome disagreements between independently developed proposals.

  • An essential component of the process is determining the issue in question, that is: to understand that the problem can be framed in a number of different ways, depending on who is looking at it (a characteristic of wicked problems), and to define the boundary between problem and context

  • The goal is to satisfy three basic democratic principles (Fishkin 2009, p. 191; pp. 32-64):

    1. Political equality: Equal opportunity to participate in political decision making

    2. Mass participation: Instead of elites or self-selected actors making decisions, everybody participates. Usually, mass participation is guaranteed by voting rights

    3. A deliberative approach to decision making: debate instead of just voting or demonstrating

The DeCoPP process includes:





determines wicked problem

Initial problem formulation

establishes Leadership of a Maximal Stakeholder Assembly

Leadership of a Maximal Stakeholder Assembly

Leadership of the Maximal Stakeholder Assembly

identifies all the stakeholders that are relevant for the particular wicked problem

Stakeholder list

determines which stakeholders need to be represented by a sample, and determines sample characteristics

Qualified stakeholder list

determines which stakeholders or stakeholder representatives need what kind of support

  • Financial support

  • List of helpers that form a support team

organizes the Maximal Stakeholder Assembly which includes all stakeholders or representatives of stakeholders

Meeting of the Maximal Stakeholder Assembly

Maximal Stakeholder Assembly

differentiates wicked problem into a set of problems:

  • alternative formulations of the problem

  • sub-problems

  • adjacent problems that need to be addressed to solve the main problem

Set of Wicked Problem Instantiations

determines which Wicked Problem Instantiations should be addressed.

Set of relevant Wicked Problem Instantiations

determines leadership for each relevant Wicked Problem Instantiation

Set of Leaders for Wicked Problem Instantiations

publishes a visualization of the problem space

Problem Exploration Map

Each Leadership for a Wicked Problem Instantiation

organizes again all the steps from the problem formulation to a differentiation into relevant Wicked Problem Instantiations and the determination of Leaders for Wicked Problem Instantiations that happened earlier

Ideally, this process should be repeated until no further relevant Wicked Problem Instantiations can be determined.

At this point, each Wicked Problem Instantiation gets taken care of by at least one Atomic Stakeholder Assembly in which all stakeholders that are relevant for this particular problem instantiation are represented.

forms additional Atomic Stakeholder Assemblies for people who become interested to participate in the process

Public engagement

Each Atomic Stakeholder Assembly

engages in Reflective Consensus Building (RCB) on the Reflect! platform, aiming at the development of a symphysis proposal

Leadership of the Maximal Stakeholder Assembly

checks the consistency of all Atomic Stakeholder Assembly Proposals across all Atomic Stakeholder Assemblies

Set of Contradictory Proposals

assembles Consistency Stakeholder Assemblies to negotiate proposals that contradict each other. These assemblies are composed of those Atomic Stakeholder Assemblies among which proposals are in contraction

Consistency Stakeholder Assemblies

Consistency Stakeholder Assemblies

try to overcome contradictions among their Proposals in Reflective Consensus Building

Maximal Stakeholder Assembly

debates all revised Atomic Stakeholder Assembly Proposals

Consensus proposal

Go to top


Atomic Stakeholder Assembly: An assembly of all stakeholders or representatives of stakeholders that are relevant for a particular Wicked Problem Instantiation.

Atomic Stakeholder Assembly Proposal: The Symphysis proposal that a particular ASA formulates as a possible solution for its Wicked Problem Instantiation.

Coalescent democracy: A form of deliberative democracy that (1) can be initiated at any point in society, that (2) focuses on forming a collective will by building consensus, and that (3) tries to get influence on policy making by attracting as many people as possible. Ideally, coalescent democracy can overcome what has been described as the democratic reform trilemma, that is: the apparent impossibility to realize the three principles of political equality, mass participation, and a deliberative approach to decision making at the same time (Fishkin 2009, p. 191; pp. 32-64). It is possible, at least in principle, that coalescent democracy satisfies all three of these democratic principles over time by allowing whoever is interested to engage in a competition for public attention that aims at universal participation of all members of a community. If that goal would be achieved, then all three democratic ideals of the democratic reform trilemma would be satisfied and the trilemma, thus, dissolved. However, since it remains unlikely that all members of larger communities will engage equally in the process of Deliberative Coalescent Planning and Policy Making that is at the core of coalescent democracy, it should be more appropriate to describe coalescent democracy as a form of democratic will formation that prioritizes the ideal of deliberation and leaves decision making to democratic competition.

In contrast to the “new power” described by Heimans and Timms and exemplified in the Occupy movement, coalescent democracy tries to organize and focus the power of social movements.

Contradictory Proposals Set: A set of all symphysis proposals that contradict each other, or among which substantial tensions can be observed.

Consistency Stakeholder Assembly: Assembly of those Atomic Stakeholder Assemblies among which proposals are in contraction. The goal of this assembly is to overcome contradictions in Reflective Consensus Building.

DeCoPP: Deliberative Coalescent Planning and Policy Making: A method for deliberating a wicked problem among the stakeholders that are relevant for this problem. The goal of DeCoPP is the formulation of a proposal for a plan or policy; a proposal that determines what should be done. The DeCoPP process is realized as the coalescing (that is: “growing together”) of a large variety of proposals in a consensus building process. DeCoPP is at the core of coalescent democracy.

Helper: A person who provides technical, epistemic, emotional, or language support for a stakeholder or representative of a stakeholder.

Initiator: Anybody who wants to start a DeCoPP process. The initiator can be an expert who wants to address a wicked problem or a citizen who is concerned about something.

Maximal Stakeholder Assembly: An assembly of all stakeholders or representatives of stakeholders that are relevant for the wicked problem in its most comprehensive understanding.

Maximal Stakeholder Assembly Proposal: The symphysis proposal that a Maximal Stakeholder Assembly proposes to solve or approach a wicked problem in its most encompassing understanding.

Qualified stakeholder list: A list of stakeholders in which each stakeholder is described by certain characteristics. These characteristics are needed to determine a sample of people that can represent a particular stakeholder type.

Stakeholder list: Lists the types of stakeholders that are relevant for a particular wicked problem.

Wicked Problem Instantiation: A particular formulation of a wicked problem in contrast to alternative formulations of the same problem that can be characterized by a specific set of sub-problems or a different determination of the boundary between problem and context.


Heimans, J., & Timms, H. (2018). New power. How power works in our hyperconnected world — and how to make it work for you (First edition. ed.). New York: Doubleday.

Fishkin, J. S. (2009). When the people speak : deliberative democracy and public consultation. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

May 18, 2019

Michael Hoffmann

Go to top