Standards for citizens' assemblies

Not all assemblies of citizens are citizens’ assemblies – and neither do they need to be. There is a vast toolbox of public participation methodologies that can be used to involve people in decision-making in a variety of ways.

While it’s important that standards do not curb innovation, it’s critical that methods are not watered down beyond recognition. 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. 

Where these circumstances exist, a citizens’ assembly can make a substantial contribution to helping to resolve an issue — but it must be properly resourced and well run to enable it to succeed.

It's with this in mind that we developed some draft standards for the citizens’ assemblies that we design and run. These are based on our own practice, understanding of the international practice and a range of standards that have already been developed across the globe (including by us). They are intended as a starting point for discussion with other practitioners, experts and commissioners to refine them over the coming weeks and months. We hope that they might form the basis for some collectively agreed standards among practitioners and commissioners in the UK. 

Draft standards for citizens' assemblies

The standards below are organised into “essential” and “desirable” features of ten criteria:

  1. Clear purpose
  2. Sufficient time
  3. Representative
  4. Inclusive
  5. Independent
  6. Open
  7. Generative learning
  8. Structured deliberation
  9. Collective decision-making 
  10. Evaluated

We consider the essential features to be the fundamental things that make a citizens’ assembly a citizens’ assembly. The absence of any one of these features would require detailed justification and would only be warranted in exceptional circumstances. The desirable criteria are the additional features that we consider to be current good practice.

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

2. Sufficient time

The time available is proportionate to the question / purpose

There are multiple meetings with time between for reflection

There is sufficient time for each of the three phases of the citizens’ assembly: learning, deliberation and decision-making

The assembly lasts for at least 30 hours (4 days) in total

The assembly lasts for 45 hours (6 days) or more
3. Representative

40 or more assembly members are recruited 1

A pool of potential assembly members is created through random selection, using a recognised market research recruitment methodology

Assembly members are selected from this pool using random stratified sampling based on demographic criteria to ensure that they are broadly representative of the wider population

100 or more assembly members are recruited 

The pool of potential assembly members is created through a full civic lottery / sortition process

Where relevant, assembly members are selected using attitudinal sampling (as well as demographic sampling) to ensure that they are broadly representative of the wider population

4. Inclusive

Assembly members are reimbursed for all reasonable expenses

A gift of at least £50 per day is given to assembly members

The accessibility requirements of assembly members are met on request

Carers of assembly members are welcomed and provided for

There is a ratio of max 9 assembly members per group facilitator

Presentations by witnesses are accessible, avoiding jargon and not assuming prior knowledge

A gift of at least £75 per day is given to assembly members

Information / materials are provided in a range of different formats

The care costs of any assembly members are reimbursed and/or caring facilities are provided onsite (e.g. a creche)

The accessibility requirements of assembly members are anticipated and met

There is a ratio of max 7 assembly members per group facilitator

5. Independent

The assembly is impartially facilitated (both lead and group facilitation)

Key decisions about the citizens’ assembly agenda and design are reviewed by an independent advisory group to ensure their balance and impartiality

The assembly is run at an arm’s length from the commissioning body
6. Open

The recruitment methodology, advisory group membership, speaker lists, agendas and briefing materials are published in full

The process plan / design is published

The assembly’s conclusions are published in full

Decision-makers publicly respond to the recommendations

All evidence sessions are live-streamed
7. Generative learning

Assembly members hear balanced, accurate and comprehensive information and evidence

Assembly members hear from diverse witnesses with a range of views

Assembly members determine their own questions for witnesses and have sufficient time to question them

Witnesses are briefed so that they clearly understand that their role is to stimulate and support discussions among the assembly members, not to lead or direct them

The learning phase supports the subsequent deliberation and decision-making phases, enabling assembly members to arrive at informed and considered judgements

Assembly members select at least some of the evidence and/or witnesses they wish to hear
8. Structured deliberation

Assembly members are supported through a facilitated process to consider and weigh-up different perspectives

Assembly members are given time to discuss issues with as many of their fellow participants as possible

The assembly process is well structured, with a clear progression through learning and deliberation, to decision-making

The assembly process is designed and led by professional facilitators

The assembly process allows time for plenary feedback and summing up, so that assembly members can hear views from across the assembly

Facilitators are well briefed and provided with any necessary training ahead of the citizens’ assembly

Small group discussions are facilitated by professional facilitators, with experience of deliberative processes
9. Collective decision-making 

A defined decision and/or set of recommendations is reached as an integral part of the process

Assembly members consider all key trade-offs and their decisions / recommendations are internally consistent

Decisions and/or recommendations are agreed collectively by assembly members

Reports of the assembly outline the rationale behind decisions / recommendations

Assembly members are given a variety of ways to express their views – both collectively, through the discussions, and individually through other methods, such as voting, post-it notes, postcards or flip charts

Where relevant, a minority report with dissenting opinions is produced

Assembly members are involved in writing the report of their recommendations

Assembly members are involved in presenting their recommendations to decision-makers

10. EvaluatedAssembly members are surveyed to collect their views on their experience and the quality of the process, including the impartiality of facilitation, the balance of evidence and the opportunities to participate

An external evaluation is completed of the process and its impact


  • 1Other deliberative processes, such as citizens’ juries and citizens’ panels, involve fewer participants