Below are some answers to the frequently asked questions we often hear about citizens' assemblies.

These include:

  • What is a citizens' assembly?

  • Why are citizens' assemblies sometimes referred to as mini-publics?

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of citizens' assemblies?

  • How long does it take to organise a citizens' assembly?

  • What does it cost to hold a citizens' assembly?

What is a citizens' assembly?

A citizens’ assembly is a group of the public who are brought together to consider a public issue in depth over multiple days and meetings.

Assembly members hear evidence, question witnesses and deliberate with one another, before reaching recommendations on what they think should be done. Citizens’ assemblies put the trade-offs faced by decision-makers in front of members of the public and ask them to arrive at workable recommendations.

The people who take part are randomly selected so they reflect the wider population – in terms of demographics (e.g. age, gender, ethnicity, social class) and sometimes relevant attitudes (e.g. preferences for a small or large state).

Citizens' assemblies adopt a three-step process involving: 

  1. learning – assembly members hear evidence from witnesses; 

  2. deliberation – assembly members carefully consider what they have heard, weighing up the pros and cons of different courses of action; and 

  3. decision making – assembly members develop recommendations and/or make decisions on what they think should be done.

See our draft citizens’ assembly standards for more details on the key features of citizens’ assemblies.

Why are citizens' assemblies sometimes referred to as "mini-publics"? 

Citizens’ assemblies are one form of a mini-public. Citizens’ juriespublic dialoguesconsensus conferences and deliberative polls are other examples of deliberative methodologies using mini-publics. 

The term mini-public simply means that the participants in the assembly are recruited to be reflective of the wider population in terms of demographics (e.g. age, gender, ethnicity, social class).

What are the advantages and disadvantages of citizens' assemblies? 

Like any public participation model or method, citizens’ assemblies have both pros and cons that make them suitable for some circumstances and not others.

Advantages

Disadvantages

  • The process can be high profile and provide a good way of drawing attention to an issue

  • It can bring out diverse perspectives on complex and contested problems

  • Decision-makers are brought face-to-face with citizens or those with lived experience of an issue

  • Learning phase and deliberation with peers can help participants to understand, change and develop their opinions;

  • Offers policymakers an insight on public opinion on a contested issue based on the public having access to thorough and unbiased information and time for deliberation.

  • Gaining a broadly representative group of people can be challenging and expensive

  • The process for developing and planning an assembly is intensive and demanding on human and time resources

  • Running a citizens’ assembly is a highly complex process requiring significant expertise

  • There is a danger of being seen as a publicity exercise if not followed by real outcomes

How long does it take to organise a citizens' assembly?

Organising a citizens' assembly is a significant commitment and requires time to get right. The exact amount of time will depend on the size and complexity of the process, including how many times it meets. Key considerations are the time required for:

  • Getting agreement on the scope and question;
  • Establishment of an advisory group;
  • Recruitment of assembly members;
  • Identifying and securing experts/witnesses;
  • Number of assembly meetings;
  • Reporting requirements.

The diagram below gives an indicative timeline for a local citizens' assembly that meets over two weekends.

An indicative timeline for a local citizens' assembly

What does it cost to hold a citizens' assembly? 

There are lots of factors to build into a citizens' assembly direct costs including: 

  • Recruiting assembly Members and paying their expenses and gifts

  • Suitable venue and accommodation including refreshments (for assembly members and the wider team) 

  • Fees for the organisation convening and facilitating the assembly – in the preparation, design, delivery and reporting

  • Expenses (and sometimes fees) for expert leads and speakers 

Key variables in costs will be determined by 

  • The number of assembly members you want (and therefore a knock-on cost in terms of recruitment, payments, expenses and venue size) 

  • How long your process will take - i.e. how many weekends (and therefore knock on costs in terms of payments, expenses and venue costs)

The table below provides an indicative budget for a local citizens' assembly, consisting of approximately 50 participants for 32 hours of learning, deliberation and decision-making. Costs are given as ranges, as they are dependent on the specifics of the circumstance.

An indicative budget for a local citizens' assembly
Items Approximate Costs Notes

Participant costs

£20,000 – £30,000

  • Development of the invitation, mail out to randomly selected households and stratification of respondents
  • A gift (~£75 per day) for participants to recognise and reward their involvement
  • Reasonable travel expenses

Witness / expert costs

£500 – £1,500

  • Reasonable expenses for those invited to speak
  • Reasonable expenses for advisory group members

Venue, catering and accessibility

£7,500 – £15,000

  • Suitable venue
  • Tea and coffee breaks and lunch
  • Provision for BSL, hearing loops, braille, interpretation and caring costs

Preparation and design

£15,000 – £25,000

  • Designing the assembly process
  • Liaison with the advisory group
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Background research
  • Developing materials and liaison with participants

Assembly meetings

£20,000 – £30,000

  • Lead facilitation
  • Small-group facilitation
  • Support staff
  • Travel, accommodation & subsistence

Reporting and participant liaison

£3,000 – £6,000

  • Writing up of report of recommendations
  • Ongoing liaison with participants