From the 19 – 21 July I had the pleasure of being part of the team which delivered the first ever citizens’ assembly to be commissioned by the National Assembly for Wales. Meeting at the beautiful Gregynog Hall in Mid Wales, we brought together 56 people from across Wales to deliberate on how people in Wales could be more involved in shaping their future.
In my role as a table facilitator, I was lucky to enjoy an inside look at what it is really like being at a citizens’ assembly.
Here are my top four take-aways from that weekend:
- People and experts need to be talking to each other. One of the great things about citizens’ assemblies is the information and evidence given by experts, challenging participants to digest a lot of new information. The point where you could really see the value of all that information was when the expert speakers came and sat on a table each and discussed the issues with people. Participants asked challenging questions and developed their own ideas about how people in Wales can shape their future. This was one of many moments where it felt like this citizens’ assembly was doing something truly important.
- The importance of listening. As a table facilitator you get to help everyone be heard. This isn’t just the fair thing to do but actually essential for the quality of deliberation. On my table I saw everyone bouncing ideas off each other and this briought out not just what people thought, but why. This sort of detail is crucial in a deliberative process like a citizens’ assembly as this can go back to the National Assembly for Wales and offer valuable insight into the range of perspectives held by people in Wales.
- People want to have a say. I think it’s safe to say that people don’t feel as involved as they should be in influencing the decisions which affect their lives. This citizens’ assembly evidences the fact that people want to have a say. Over 300 people were interested in participating in this citizens' assembly and like other assemblies we have run, they came from all different walks of life. Participants in this citizens' assembly were a broadly-representative cross-section of people in Wales with a range of ages, genders, ethnicities, educational backgrounds, from the different regions of Wales, and varying Welsh language skills. Having seen first-hand how well this weekend went, I’d say that can only be a good thing.
- People enjoy themselves. We said at the start of the weekend that we hoped people might actually have fun, and (I think) they did! Perhaps it’s something about the shared experience of working together as part of a citizens’ assembly or perhaps it’s just a credit to all the participants, but people seemed to really get on and enjoy themselves. Despite a good day’s work, everyone was still chatting and laughing during dinner, then plenty of people enjoyed a drink in the bar or a walk around the beautiful grounds together. By Sunday afternoon some were even making plans to meet up again in the future.
Democracy doesn’t have to be a battleground, you might even enjoy it.
Look out for the report which should be available to the public around late September 2019.