tools directory

Citizen Assemblies

What situations is this tool used in?

Citizen assemblies are participatory processes used to debate issues of national importance, often in the context of strengthening democratic processes and restoring trust in political systems. The assembly debates options around specific issues before coming to a conclusion or set of recommendations. 

Who is this tool aimed at?

Members of the public are typically selected at random to participate in an assembly. Although these participants sit at the centre of the process, wider implications are cited for policy makers in the form of better policy grounded in realistic context, and for the wider public in the form of strengthened democracy and trust. Citizen assemblies can be state-organised or run independently (for example via crowd funding).

How Is the Tool Used?

A citizen assembly tends to consist of several stages, for example: 

Selection. A randomised group of people – often around 100. Specific selection criteria are often used depending on the location and topic.

Learning. Working agreements are formed. Participants are given background reading, followed by a series of meetings or workshops guided by a group of experts or advisory panel. The aim is to enhance learning and facilitate discussion. 

Consultation. A series of public meetings are held, each attended by a group of assembly members. Meetings might include presentation, discussion, questions and answers and submission of written evidence.

Deliberation. The assembly considers what it has heard, and seeks further input from experts as necessary.

Outputs may be used to influence local, regional or national processes and policy. For example, at a national level - if statutory provision allows - conclusions may be put straight to a referendum after the process. Any conclusions should ideally be considered without amendment by government, helping to reinforce the role of the assembly as an independent body with the power to drive change.

Who has used the tool?

The G1000 was a Belgian crowd funded citizen assembly initiative, founded as a result of a Manifesto published in five national newspapers in 2011, and run by volunteers. It took a multi-level – local, regional, and national – approach to citizen assemblies, with the aim of providing recommendations on economic and socio-political themes in Belgium during the Government crisis (2011-2012). The final focus of this three-stage process was ‘how to deal with labour issues and unemployment in our society’. The assembly’s final report listed a number of recommendations aimed at various audiences, including parliamentary commissions, local and provincial governments, regional and federal parliaments and governments, political parties, social partners, citizens, the European Union, and the Council of Europe.

Blog article on the G1000: http://www.summer-foundation.org/en/Blog/The-G1000-Citizens%92-Summit---a-democratic-example-for-Europe%3F-

G1000 home page: http://www.g1000.org/en/

G1000 final report: http://www.g1000.org/documents/G1000_EN_Website.pdf 

Where to find out more

UK parliamentary birefing paper on citizen assemblies: www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN04482.pdf

Guide to citizen assemblies: http://unlockdemocracy.org.uk/page/-/publications/Citizens%20Assembly%20briefing.pdf 

Irish 'We the Citizens' initiative: http://participedia.net/en/cases/we-citizens-ireland