1. Clear purpose

What does the standard say? 

1. Clear purpose

There is a clear question / set of questions for the assembly to address, which has / have a range of different possible solutions

The scope for making a difference to the policy or decision is explicitly declared at the start and things that are out of scope or cannot be changed are clearly outlined

Decision-makers make a public commitment to consider and respond in detail to the recommendations

There are a clear set of trade-offs for the assembly to address

There is support for the citizens’ assembly from across key political divides

The assembly is commissioned by a public authority with responsibility for the issue in question

How do I decide whether to run a citizens' assembly? 

As with other forms of public engagement, there are a number of different things you need to consider before deciding if you should run a citizens' assembly; specifically:

Has the decision already been taken?

Unless the decision is genuinely open and undecided you should not commission a citizens' assembly. You need to be very clear about the scope of the assembly and which elements of the policy questions have already been decided and which the public can meaningfully influence. 

Are decision-makers prepared to act on its outcome?

The assembly must only consider questions which fall directly within the competency of the body commissioning it. While the assembly might identify additional recommendations for other bodies, the commissioning body must be able to act on the core of the recommendations. It must be willing to communicate the additional recommendations to the responsible body/ies. 

In addition, the commissioning body must be willing to take the assembly’s recommendations into account as it makes its final decision. 

Is a citizens’ assembly the most appropriate method?

A citizens’ assembly is a specific democratic tool to be used in specific circumstances. Their power comes from their robust process, which gives a representative group of the public time and support to engage with a topic in depth. But this process makes them time and resource-intensive compared to many other methods of engagement, so citizens’ assemblies should be reserved for the really knotty issues that require challenging trade-offs to be made. There is a vast toolbox of public participation methodologies that can be used to involve people in decision-making in a variety of ways.

Are sufficient resources available to ensure the assembly can run effectively?

These resources include the financing required to cover the costs of designing and running the assembly, supporting participants to attend, covering the event costs and ensuring that participants have the information, in easily understandable formats, they need to make an informed decision. 

Resources also includes the time needed to recruit participants, design the engagement process and for the assembly to report into the policy decision process. See here for an insight from an organisation that has commissioned one. 

What do I need to do to develop a citizens' assembly? 

The way a deliberative process is planned and designed, and the techniques used, depends on the circumstances, such as:

  • the purpose of the process, and its scope;
  • the numbers of people to be involved;
  • the resources required;
  • the timescale of the process;
  • the geographical spread (local, national, international);
  • the point in the policy cycle at which the process takes place;
  • how complex, contentious or technical the topic is; and
  • what the mix of specialists and public participants needs to be.

Deliberative public engagement processes can take place on any scale – from ten participants (for example, citizens’ juries) to thousands of participants (such as citizens’ summits). A process may be a one-off event, or part of a series of activities running over several years. See here for more information.