How to hold a Citizen’s Assembly: the Greater Cambridge experience
- 14 January 2020
- Posted by: Helen Nicol
- Category: News
More and more places are using Citizen’s Assemblies to debate complex issues and challenges, to better understand what the wider population think should happen to address them. Participants are chosen so that they reflect the demographics (e.g. age, gender, ethnicity, social class) and attitudes of a place. These are usually high profile events, where decision-makers are often present so that they can hear recommendations first hand.
The Greater Cambridge Partnership commissioned The Greater Cambridge Citizen’s Assembly to gain insights and recommendations from Cambridge residents, asking:
How do we reduce congestion, improve air quality, and provide better public transport in Greater Cambridge?
Isobel Wade, Head of Transport Strategy at the Greater Cambridge Partnership, considered her experience of the approach and has created five key pieces of advice for places interested in citizens’ assemblies and who are thinking about how to use them to best effect for a local issue:
- Pick your issue – a citizens’ assembly must be able to genuinely influence a decision, but the issue should be well defined so you can plan a programme around it. Set your question and make sure a citizens’ assembly is the right tool to consider this.
- If you’re gonna do it…do it right – Citizens’ assemblies need the right expertise to work well, and they need to be designed and facilitated by people who know what they’re doing. They cost money and take time to deliver, and although there is a huge pay off in the quality of feedback you get, there are some things you can’t compromise on. The process needs to have a high level of independence built into it to be credible, which has implications for scope and delivery.
- Make the most of external expertise – it’s a great opportunity to bring in experts, demonstrating independence and balance, but even more than that offering real value by bringing considered evidence and fresh thinking to a problem.
- Be transparent – in order to have trust in the citizens’ assembly people need to understand the process and how it integrates with decision-making. Plan to publish as much information as possible about the design, think about how to involve the wider public, and livestream the evidence presented to the assembly.
- Create space – for assembly members to ask questions, discuss the issues with each other and come up with their own ideas. It’s tempting to pack in the evidence, but the real value of the assembly is in their discussions and feedback and they need time for this.