Citizens’ assemblies (CAs) are bodies of citizens who come together to deliberate on a given issue of high public and social importance with the aim to develop solutions and recommendations for decision-makers. They are designed to empower citizens, to prove that they are capable of governing themselves and regaining control over their own future.
CAs are usually organised by public administration in collaboration with third sector organisations. Participants are mostly randomly selected from their communities’ register to create a group that represents the diversity of the community in terms of gender, age, ethnicity, education level or socioeconomic status. Professional facilitators and various experts can sometimes take part and have an important role. They moderate the discussions to allow everyone to have their say and to support the group and its diverse opinions in reaching an agreement. The final CA recommendations are usually forwarded to a committee of experts and representatives of political institutions (e.g. mayors, ministers) for further consultation and implementation.
Some Citizens Assemblies have a merely consultative character while others have a binding character, which means that policy makers and administrators are committed to implementing the proposed solutions. CAs work best when citizens and other involved actors know that their recommendations will have a real impact.
Citizen Assembly step by step:
- Choosing a topic of the Assembly (eg. how we can fight climate change in our city).
- Decision-makers (e.g. city council) provide funds for the Assembly and commit to implementing recommendations made by panelists.
- An organising team is created, developing a concrete plan.
- A random group of participants is selected, representing the entire community.
- Meetings of panelists, which can be divided into:
- educational meetings, during which experts help panelists increase their knowledge on the topic.
- discussing and debating the recommendations.
- voting on the recommendations.
- Sharing decisions with the whole community.
- Decision-makers implementing the recommendations of the Assembly.