XR’s Position on Local/Regional Citizens’ Assemblies
May 30, 2019 by Jamie Lowe
It is heartening to see deliberative democracy taking root across the UK with places such as Oxford and Cambridge committing to citizens’ assemblies; a principle and practice we hope will flourish across the country—and world—as it is integral to changing the system that has brought us to the edge of extinction.
A citizens’ assembly is one amongst many forms of deliberative methods that involve citizens in the governance of their country, cities, towns and villages. There are many forms of deliberative processes that all involve discussing and debating with peers, such as citizens’ panels, citizens’ summits, citizens’ juries, deliberative workshops and liaison groups. During the April Rebellion, Extinction Rebellion used People’s Assemblies—a more informal process that does not involve random selection (i.e. sortition) and can be conducted by a trained facilitator anywhere, at any time. While these approaches all share a desire for wider participation in decision making, they vary in terms of reach (i.e. number and diversity of participants), types of stakeholder involvement (i.e. who organises, presents and takes part), scale of information provided for deliberation (e.g. In depth presentations from experts, outline of a problem to be resolved), and outcome (e.g. whether the decisions are binding or not). Therefore it is important to distinguish between these citizens’ engagement tools.
A citizens’ assembly is a specific process that includes organisation by an independent, non-partisan body, random selection of members, a clear question and mandate, and learning from experts and stakeholders to list a few key characteristics. To ensure the term ‘citizens’ assemblies’ is not delegitimised, anyone undertaking a citizens’ assembly should meet these basic standards (developed by Marcin Gerwin and other experts around the world).
A key aspect of local/regional citizens’ assemblies is that the assembly members should make decisions that concern their local/regional policy and governance, rather than national level. This avoids the difficulty of incorporating decisions of local/regional level citizens’ assemblies with those of a national citizens’ assembly.
XR is concentrating on advocating for a National Citizens’ Assembly and is suggesting that other less costly and time consuming deliberative processes take place at the local level. Cash strapped local councils are unlikely to be in a position to commission citizens’ assemblies for Climate and Ecological Justice. XR encourages councils to hold deliberative conversations in the community in libraries, community centres etc using citizens’ forums, juries, deliberative workshops etc.
To enable people involved with local citizens’ assembly projects to share knowledge and discuss best practice, we have set up an online area here: https://discourse.citizensassembly.org.uk/. Please come along, create an account, tell us what you are doing and ask questions!
Written by the National Citizens’ Assembly Working Group