Citizens Assembly FAQS
+ What is a citizens’ assembly?
A citizens’ assembly is a group of people who are brought together to discuss an issue or issues and reach a conclusion about what they think should happen.
The people who take part are chosen so that they reflect the wider population. This is in terms of demographics (e.g. age, gender, ethnicity, social class) and sometimes also relevant attitudes (e.g. their existing views on the topic the citizens’ assembly is considering).
Citizens’ assemblies give members of the public the time and opportunity to learn about a topic. Participants hear from a wide range of specialists and get to question them. The specialists can include, for example, academics, researchers, people with direct experience of the issue and campaigners. Through this process participants hear balanced evidence on the topic. They then discuss what they have heard with one another and decide what they think.
Citizens’ assemblies usually last for one or more weekends. Independent facilitators are there at all times to help ensure everyone’s voice is heard. The conclusions of the citizens’ assembly are written up in a report that is presented to decision makers.
+ Have there been citizens’ assemblies before?
The first citizens’ assembly took place in Canada in 2004. The government of British Columbia set it up to discuss whether or not to change British Columbia’s voting system. The citizens’ assembly recommended a new system, and this was put to voters in a referendum.
Other citizens’ assemblies have taken place elsewhere in Canada, as well as in Australia, United States, Ireland, the Netherlands and Poland, among other countries. The recent citizens’ assembly in Ireland looked at issues including abortion, equal marriage and the opportunities and challenges of an ageing population.
In the UK, citizens’ assemblies have looked at issues including:
• How adult social care in England should be funded long-term; • The future of social care in Northern Ireland; • What trade and migration policy should be after Brexit; • Devolution; • Issues to do with the water, postal and energy sectors; • Priority issues for the NHS.
Events similar to citizens’ assemblies but on a smaller scale have often been held in the UK and elsewhere. These are sometimes called citizens’ juries, as they are similar to juries in criminal trials. In a citizens’ jury, twelve or more members of the public hear the evidence before discussing the issues and making recommendations.
+ What question will this citizens’ assembly address?
The question this citizens’ assembly will address is, ‘How can people in Wales can shape their future?’ It will focus specifically on how people should or should not be able to do this through the work of the National Assembly for Wales.
+ Why hold this citizens’ assembly?
The National Assembly Commission has decided to hold this citizens’ assembly as part of its 20th Anniversary celebrations. The Commission is a cross-party group of five Assembly Members. They are responsible for ensuring the provision of property, staff and services to support all Assembly Members.
Public engagement is at the heart of the National Assembly for Wales’ ways of working. The Assembly aims to include the public in everything it does. This includes opportunities for the public to contribute to committee consultations, submit public petitions and attend workshops and events.
This citizens’ assembly is another way in which the Assembly can engage with 60 people representative of the people of Wales and consider how best to respond to the issues that are important to them.
+ Where and when is the event being held?
The citizens’ assembly will take place in Newtown between Friday 19 July 2019 and Sunday 21 July 2019.
+ Who is funding and running the Citizens’ Assembly?
The National Assembly Commission is funding the event. It has asked two organisations to help it deliver the citizens’ assembly:
The Sortition Foundation promotes the use of stratified, random selection in decision-making. It is responsible for recruiting people to take part in the assembly;
The Involve Foundation (‘Involve’) is the UK’s leading public participation charity. It is responsible for delivering and writing up the event itself.
+ Who will participate in the citizens’ assembly and how were they recruited?
The Sortition Foundation recruited participants for the citizens’ assembly using a process known as sortition. This is the gold standard way to recruit participants for citizens’ assemblies and has been used across the world. It this case it worked by:
• Randomly selecting 10,000 addresses from across all of Wales from Royal Mail’s address database;
• Sending an invitation to participate in the citizens’ assembly to all these addresses;
• Using stratified random sampling to identify 60 individuals from those who accepted their invitation who together are representative of Wales’ population aged 16 and over in terms of:
- Educational level
- Geography (which region of Wales people live in)
- Welsh language skills
- Whether or not people voted in the 2016 National Assembly for Wales election
It is these 60 people who will be the participants of the citizens’ assembly.
+ Was everyone eligible to take part in the citizens’ assembly?
The following people are not eligible to take part in the citizens’ assembly: employees of the National Assembly for Wales and National Assembly Commission, Members of the National Assembly for Wales, Members of the UK Parliament, Local Authority Councillors, Members of the European Parliament and paid employees of any political party.
People are also unable to take part if they are under 16 years of age. While more than one adult for a household could accept the initial invitation to take part, only one adult from any one household could be selected to be a participant.
+ What will happen during the citizens’ assembly?
Participants will hear from expert speakers about how people can currently shape their future through the work of the National Assembly for Wales. They will then hear evidence on how this could be done in future, including on options from around the world. Participants will question speakers and discuss the evidence they hear with one another. We will publish a full list of expert speakers here as soon as it is available.
Participants will then work through a series of exercises, involving small groups discussions, as well as some voting and ranking of options, in order to come to a set of conclusions.
Professional facilitators will lead the citizens’ assembly weekend and there will be facilitators on each table. It is their role to make sure that all participants are heard and feel comfortable. Facilitators only explain and answer questions about the citizens’ assembly’s process, for example questions about what participants are meant to be doing at any one time. Any questions about the issues under discussion are referred to the citizens’ assemblies Expert Leads.
These are :
Dr Huw Pritchard, Lecturer in law at Cardiff University and member of the Wales Governance Centre.
Professor Graham Smith, Professor of Politics and Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster.
+ How will you ensure that the evidence presented to the citizens’ assembly is balanced, accurate and comprehensive?
The citizens’ assembly has two experts: Professor Graham Smith, Professor of Politics and Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster and Dr Huw Pritchard, lecturer in law at Cardiff University and member of the Wales Governance Centre, who is supporting by putting together background information for the citizens’ assembly.
The initial evidence base compiled by the Expert Leads will be checked thoroughly by:
The National Assembly Commission, in terms of accuracy about the ways in which people in Wales can currently shape their future through the work of the National Assembly for Wales;
The expert speakers who will present to the citizens’ assembly, who are leading academics and practitioners in this field. They will together advise on the comprehensiveness, accuracy and balance of the evidence the assembly will hear on both current opportunities for people in Wales to shape their future and how this could work in the future.
We will publish a full list of expert speakers here as soon as it is available.
+ How do you ensure that the citizens’ assembly is accessible?
We cover all costs for participants attending the citizens’ assembly. This includes travel expenses, accommodation and meals. Participants also receive a thank you gift of £200 in order to encourage and support their participation. This both recognises the time that participants are giving up to take part and ensures that a diverse range of participants can take part.
The relevant areas of the venue that we are using for the citizens’ assembly are fully accessible. All accessibility requirements of participants are taken into account. This includes, where needed, providing materials in Braille or large print and sign language interpretation. We also cover the cost of carers, respite care and childcare where needed.
The proceedings of the citizens’ assembly are carefully designed to enable the full participation of all participants. Small group work ensures that all participants are able to contribute and have time to reflect and develop their own opinions.
Exercises and facilitation techniques are specifically chosen to support participants to engage with complex information and feel able to put their opinion forward. Participants do not need to have any prior knowledge of the subject matter.
+ What will happen to the conclusions of the citizens’ assembly?
The National Assembly Commission will publish the conclusions of the citizens’ assembly in a report. It will use the conclusions to inform its work.
The Commission will also respond to the recommendations at a public meeting in September 2019.