Interview with Annabelle Bretton, Councilwoman in charge of participatory democracy in Grenoble

Ms. Bretton explains the challenges and opportunities of participatory democracy in the city of Grenoble.


Annabelle Bretton joined Grenoble's mayor's team in 2020 for a six-year term. Not affiliated with any political party, she was discovered by the team of the previous mandate participating in a citizen participation project after being randomly drawn.


The city of Grenoble is one of the densest in France, with about 160,000 inhabitants in an area of 18 km2, and 430,000 inhabitants for the metropolitan area, made up of 49 municipalities. It has a very strong link with citizen participation, since the first unions and municipal action groups were created there. So there is a very important tradition of engagement by the local population.



 Annabelle Bretton began by addressing the usual criticisms of citizen participation projects. She considers some of them to be legitimate. According to her, many French municipalities have implemented Participatory Budgeting processes in the last ten years, based on the principle that, "as there is a process, citizens participate. But this is just an excuse not to go further, leaving them only a very small part of the budget and leaving it up to elected representatives to choose the projects. It's a bit hypocritical."

The city of Grenoble seeks to go beyond and encourage the multiplication of participatory processes, perceived as open doors for all. Annabelle Bretton explains that in ultra-proximity, citizens carry out projects in their area, such as shared gardens, while at the city level, larger projects are proposed. In fact, the city of Grenoble offers some thirty mechanisms to meet the needs and interests of all, such as the implementation of projects or the call for debate in the municipality. The aim is to support citizens in a plan to invest even more in the city and the wider interest, and Annabelle Bretton describes these plans as "a gateway to long-term support".



Among the citizen participation initiatives launched by the municipality, Annabelle Bretton mentions the Citizen Interpellation Mechanism. After the initial failure of a local referendum system, caused by the central government's opposition, the city of Grenoble has managed to offer residents a system that allows them to question the municipal team, on the sole condition that they are over sixteen years old, without necessarily having French nationality. The system is divided into three stages:


  1. Mediation
  2. The Project Workshop
  3. Voting


The first threshold, mediation, was groundbreaking, requiring only 50 signatures to start a discussion with the municipality, meaning that "even without a network, we can dialogue with elected officials." In two years, the City Council has registered 37 mediations initiated by citizens.

For the project's workshop, one example was the initiative concerning the reception of children outside school hours. Thanks to the citizen inquiry system, 36 volunteer or randomly selected parents will work for two afternoons and two Saturdays on the expectations of the families, and then present their study to the city council.

At the moment, no project has been put to a vote because the threshold of 8000 signatures has never been reached.


But Annabelle Bretton insists on the limits facing the municipality. In fact, it is important to explain to the inhabitants which competencies are the responsibility of the municipality and which are not. Sometimes, neighbors don't understand that not everything always depends on the municipality. Then, when it falls within the scope of the municipality's competence, it is necessary to question the place given to the inhabitants. To what extent can we question the program for which we were elected? Change?

The system of citizen interpellation can also go against municipal policy: issues opposed by the municipality can be voted on by the inhabitants and pass the voting stage. In this case, Annabelle Bretton explains that it is also a matter of citizen participation and the system itself and that it is up to the municipality to campaign against it.



To include people furthest removed from the plans and civic life, Grenoble's city agents spend a lot of time on the ground to get to know people and create social bonds, even if they don't vote. They are also based on the principle of lottery, with defined criteria for each scheme (socio-professional category, geographical area, etc.) to arrive at a representative panel of the city's INSEE (National Statistic Institute) data. Recently, the inhabitants submitted a report after a year of work with other stakeholders on the impact of this scheme. In short, the City Council works tirelessly for the inclusion of all people in the participatory process through monitoring, reference people and support work. 

Young people are also a key target audience for the municipality. Elected officials seek to strengthen their participation by sensitizing them to citizenship issues and informing them of their interest in participating in public and political life, including by enabling them to access their rights. In the context of the "popular education" (éducation populaire in French) launched by the municipality, Annabelle Bretton defines this concept as the primacy of the process over the result and the importance of the collective: "the exchange of knowledge, lifelong learning; Ultimately, it's about being and doing together."



Finally, Annabelle Bretton highlighted the importance of international networks for participatory democracy. According to her, it is essential to continue being part of these networks to realize one's own level, and thus how one can accompany others and return to the fundamentals. Annabelle Bretton insists on the importance of grassroots, which are essential: "Sometimes we talk more about human rights than about the choice of projects in the city." Therefore, the diversity of democratic practices is very important.



More information

  • Grenoble - Citizen city 

  • Citizen workshop on the quality of after-school care

  • 2023 Report presented by the Citizen Participation Evaluation Commission to the City Council on 25 March 2024

  • Video of the interview