At a glance

Policy stage: 
Level of involvement: 
Cost: 
High
Length of process: 
Over several weekends
Number of participants: 
50 - 250
Participant selection: 
Representative sample
Online / Offline: 
Offline

A Citizens’ Assembly is  a fairly large body of citizens that come together to deliberate on an issue, or set of issues of local, regional or national importance. Participants are usually selected to create a ‘mini-public’ that is broadly representative of the demographics of the population.

A video from the Citizens' Assembly on Social Care, UK.

 

The participants learn about a topic through a combination of presentations from experts and facilitated workshops (although they are also often provided with learning materials that introduce them to the topic being discussed before the Assembly starts).

This is followed by a dialogue phase which encourages participants to explore their own opinions on what they have heard and develop a wider understanding of the opinions of others. Experts will usually participate in this phase to provide additional information and clarification (but not opinions).

The deliberation phase of the Assembly involves participants coming to some conclusions on what they have learnt through the assembly process. Most large Assemblies will do this through voting systems, but smaller Assemblies might use consensus decision making processes.

Citizens’ Assemblies usually tend to be quite high-profile events. The relevant decision makers will often be present at the Assembly allowing citizens to present their findings directly.

Used for

This method can be used most effectively when the goal is:

  • Examining broad policy objectives/ horizon scanning to create new ideas and propose solutions;
  • Assessing policy options to develop reccomendations;
  • Gaining insight from the public about the efficacy of existing practice.

Participants

  • 50 - 250
  • Usually recruited to be broadly representative of the population of interest

Costs

High.

Main costs:

  • Recruitment of participants
  • Facilitation
  • Participant expenses
  • Planning
  • Communication and promotion

Strengths

  • Process can be quite high profile and provide a good way of drawing attention to an issue
  • Can bring out diverse perspectives on complex and contested problems
  • Decision-makers 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 policy makers an insight on public opinion on a contested issue based on the public having access to thorough and unbiased information and time for deliberation

Weaknesses

  • Gaining a broad representative group of people can be challenging and expensive;
  • Very intensive and (human and time) resource demanding processes
  • 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

More information

A FAQ sheet explaining more about Citizens' Assemblies can be found here.

Examples

Citizens Assembly on Social Care (Involve 2018) 

Citizens Assemby on Brexit (The Constitution Unit 2017) 

Irish Citizens Assembly (Houses of the Oireachtas 2016-2018)