Devon Citizens’ Assembly

The Devon Climate Emergency has committed to establishing a Citizens’ Assembly to enable views of the general public to play an important role in the production of the Devon Carbon Plan.

The Assembly was due to be held in July 2020 however this was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. DCE is still committed to holding this assembly, likely online, to ensure the public can contribute to the production of the Devon Carbon Plan.

Regardless of the future format, the assembly will have the opportunity to develop informed opinions and collectively discuss and review policy recommendations on decarbonising Devon. The assembly will comprise a representative sample of Devon’s citizens who will be paid for their involvement.

The Response Group and the University of Exeter are committed to working together to ensure that the assembly is delivered according to best practice, building upon the latest expert knowledge and research. This will ensure the assembly operates on a legitimate and credible basis.

Prior to the delay, the University of Exeter undertook a rapid review of evidence and best practice, which made recommendations on how the citizens’ assembly should operate. Download the document or view it below.

Developing a Net-Zero Citizens’ Assembly for Devon

A Rapid Review of Evidence and Best Practice

Prepared for the Devon Climate Emergency Response Group and the Devon Net Zero Task Force

Written by Professor Patrick Devine-Wright1and Dr Alice Moseley2, University of Exeter

We are grateful for the research assistance provided by Jean-Pierre Roux3

November 2019

This report is written for the Devon Climate Emergency Response Group and the Devon Net Zero Task Force. The aim of the report is to review previous research and practices on citizens’ assemblies in order to help inform the design of the Devon Net Zero Citizens’ Assembly, taking place in 2020. The Devon Net Zero Citizens’ Assembly is being convened in order to discuss and generate recommendations to feed into the Devon Carbon Plan which will set the course of action across Devon for reducing carbon emissions to net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. It is part of a broader process that begins with a Call for Evidence phase of activities, including a series of Expert Hearings that are being conducted (Nov-Dec 2019) prior to the Citizens’ Assembly on key topics which have been identified by the Devon Net Zero Task Force as critical to achieving carbon emissions targets within Devon, notably ‘Food, Land and Sea’; ‘The Built Environment’; ‘Mobility and Transport’; ‘Energy and Waste’; and the crosscutting themes of ‘Spatial Planning’, ‘Behaviour and Cultural Change’ and ‘Procurement/Industrial Strategy’. The purpose of the Hearings is to generate information and learning about possible policy options to be considered by the Citizens’ Assembly to tackle Climate Change. A Youth Forum and a Public Call for Evidence areal so being undertaken (Oct 2019-early 2020) in order to collect views from diverse sources, age and social groups about how best to decarbonise Devon4.The first part of this Rapid Review introduces the concept of the Citizens’ Assembly and focuses on principles and practices associated with conducting Citizens’ Assemblies, including issues such as selecting participants, sustaining member involvement, the role of the advisory committee, the selection of experts and different assembly formats. Examples are provided throughout, including from previous Citizens’ Assemblies on Climate Change and other topics, from different parts of the UK and elsewhere. The second part provides more explicit advice and recommendations, flowing from the first part, to guide the design of the Devon Net Zero Citizens’ Assembly. These set out how we think the assembly should be implemented and evaluated in some detail. The report has been produced by academics at the University of Exeter. It draws on a variety of sources including peer-reviewed academic literature, ‘grey’ literature (i.e. reports produced by practitioners, think tanks or expert organisations in public involvement that are not peer-reviewed), and official documentation, evaluations and reports produced by previous citizens’ assemblies. It also draws on the helpful advice and comments provided by a group of experts who attended a workshop on the design of the Citizens’ Assembly that was held at the University on 14th November 2019.

These recommendations arise from the rapid review of evidence and a stakeholder workshop conducted at the University of Exeter. Each summary recommendation is followed by the report section number where the full recommendation with accompanying actions can be found.

Oversight and Accountability (Section 2.1)

•The Devon Climate Emergency Response Group should have oversight and ultimate responsibility for the operation of the Citizens’ Assembly.

•The Devon Net-Zero Task Force, as an independent body, should decide how many and which witnesses to call, following the guidance outlined in this document.

•The Devon Climate Emergency Secretariat(currently Devon County Council’s Environment Group) should organise the assembly’s delivery, including procurement of recruitment and facilitation services in close liaison with the Devon Net-Zero Task Force.

•A Chair should be recommended by the Devon Net-Zero Task Force and appointed by the Devon Climate Emergency Response Group to oversee the process and be present at all Assembly sessions.

•The witnesses called to give evidence should be diverse. This includes researchers and academics, representatives of stakeholder organisations and individuals with personal, lived experience of the issues under consideration.

•Assembly sessions should be conducted in private, with observers and evaluators present, and are recorded and live-streamed.

•The Task Force should be transparent about how it has used the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly in writing the Devon Carbon Plan. Where its recommendations are not taken up in the Carbon Plan, the reasons for this should be clearly explained by the Task Force. (Section 2.9)

Which question should be deliberated upon? (Section 2.2)

•How can we achieve a net-zero Devon as rapidly and as fairly as possible? Responding to this, participants could be encouraged to register their informed opinions on: WHO needs to act; WHAT actions need to be taken by each of these groups/ levels; WHERE these actions should take place; and WHEN actions should be taken.

Who should take part?

•Participants should be aged 16 years and over and be representative of the entire Devon population according to demographic characteristics.(Section 2.3)

•100 citizens should be recruited to participate in the first instance, with the expectation that some will drop out over the course of the Assembly meetings due to natural attrition(e.g. illness). (Section 2.4)

•Participants should be provided with a £100day rate and associated travel and childcare costs should be paid.(Section 2.5)

How should deliberation be conducted?

•We recommend that the assembly meet in different locations that are representative of different areas in the county (for example Barnstaple, Plymouth, Exeter and Tavistock).

•We recommend that the assembly meets on four separate days at weekends over a seven-week period. (Section 2.6)

•Written and verbal information should be provided to all participants in varied formats, employing ethical guidelines.(Sections2.7and 2.8)

•The authorship of information presented to the assembly should be clearly cited (e.g. arising from the Thematic Hearings, submitted evidence, specific research studies) so that the rigour of information presented is assured of its quality. (Sections2.7and 2.8)

•Discussion should be structured around different formats and with professional facilitation. (Sections2.7and 2.8)

•Participants should have the opportunity to vote on preferred actions and recommendations.

•The wellbeing of participants should be taken in to account through various support mechanisms.(Section 2.7)

•Enhancing the legitimacy of the process requires dedicated communicative actions to ensure transparency with the wider public.(Section 2.11)

How should the Assembly be monitored?

•Monitoring and evaluation is essential in order to signal the legitimacy of the process, and to learn and share lessons. This requires consent for and participation in various methods of data collection. (Section 2.9)

•We recommend that the Devon Net Zero Citizens’ Assembly is rigorously monitored and has sufficient resources to track the process and its outcomes across time. (Section 2.9)

•We recommend that the Evaluation Report is published online and shared across stakeholders, witnesses and citizen participants, as well as with any other body or organisation out with Devon. (Section 2.9)

1.1 Citizens’ Assemblies: What are they?

Citizens’ Assemblies are a type of ‘mini-public’. Mini-publics are based upon ideas developed by Robert Dahl, a political scientist, who advocated using direct involvement of randomly selected citizens in policy making to consider different policy topics, based on principles of rotation and lot stemming back to Athenian Democracy(Dahl, 1989). Mini publics involve bringing together a group of citizens –selected randomly in order to be representative of the wider population –to ‘deliberate’ on a specific top icon which they are provided with information (by experts, and other stakeholders), to inform a decision-making process or public opinion. Deliberation, in essence, involves ‘engaging with alternative arguments with an open mind’ (Niemeyer, 2013: 435). There are many types of mini-publics, varying in size and format, but all with the same basic underlying purpose. Examples of mini publics include citizens’ juries, planning cells, consensus conferences and deliberative polls, as well as Citizens’ Assemblies. These mini-publics are part of a family of institutions designed to enhance citizen involvement in political decision-making, sometimes described as ‘democratic innovations’ (Smith, 2009).These innovations collectively belong to a form of governance known as ‘participatory governance’, which gives citizens a more direct role to feed into the public policy process. Mini-publics like Citizens’ Assemblies are used to complement rather than replace systems of representative democracy, and to improve the relations between citizens and decision-makers (Hendriks, 2006). They tend to be used in policy areas which are of high public interest, of constitutional importance, or which may be politically sensitive or divisive. They typically consider issues where decisions have to be made but where the different possible policy options involve difficult trade-offs (Renwick et al.,2017). Their purpose is to provide a citizen perspective on issues as part of a process in which participants have been given both the time and the tools to make considered judgements, following discussion and deliberation with fellow citizens. In this respect they differ from opinion polls or referenda. One of the main benefits of citizens’ assemblies, according to proponents, is that their recommendations can command high public legitimacy. This is due to the rigour with which the participants are selected, the informed nature of the deliberations and variety of perspectives considered, and the richness of the debates that take place. Citizens’ Assemblies have been described as ‘potentially the most radical and democratically robust’ type of mini-public (Escobar and Elstub, 2017), partly because of their size, the length of time that can be involved compared to other mini-publics, the informed nature of the deliberations, and their potential for influencing public policy. Citizens’ Assemblies are a relatively new form of democratic engagement, with the first assembly recorded in 2004in Canada(the British Columbia Citizens Assembly, see box below). However their use is growing, most recently in connection with a need for new policies and approaches to tackle climate change. There is also increasing interest in using these mechanisms to improve the quality of public engagement in the political process, by allowing citizens the opportunity to take part in more detailed and nuanced discussions than might occur otherwise, in an era of ‘sound bite’ news reporting and polarised political discourse.

Example: British Columbia Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform

In the case of British Columbia in Canada, where the assembly’s job was to consider the case for electoral reform, members were involved in a process which took 11 months (Smith, 2009). For the first 4 months, over a series of weekends, participants learned about different electoral systems. A total of 50 hearings then took place over a period of 2 months, with evidence provided by fellow citizens and by interest groups. Over 1600 written submissions were also received. Then, over three months, members met to discuss and debate different options for electoral reform before making a recommendation, which was then put to the public in a referendum.

1.2 Deliberative democracy and the theory behind Citizens’ Assemblies

Deliberative democracy is a strand of democratic theory which emerged in the 1990s that views the legitimacy of political decision-making as being bound up with the idea of deliberation between free and equal citizens. Citizens are considered to have relevant knowledge and perspectives to contribute to policy processes, free from the strategic and political considerations of elected decision-makers. Unlike elite and adversarial styles of policy making, deliberative and participatory approaches ‘seek informed and considered input from people who have no particular knowledge of, or association with, the issue’(Hendriks,2005: 3).Deliberative mini-publics also aim to provide a forum for minority viewpoints to be considered, since sufficient time and opportunity is given for these views to be aired, listened to and considered, rather than minority viewpoints simply being over-ruled by the majority (De Jongh, 2013).Finally, deliberative democrats argue that using deliberative processes such as mini-publics can enhance trust in the political process by improving relationships between citizens and policy makers. Deliberative public spaces are considered to provide an arena where views and opinions can be transformed: there is argued to be a ‘moralising’ effect of public discussion, since people are forced to constrain their self-interest in public and consider the collective good (Miller 1992). According to Miller (1992: 62): “discussion has the effect of turning a collection of separate individuals into a group who see one another as co-operators”. While there is debate around whether reaching consensus is a goal of deliberative democracy, finding common ground is certainly an important aim. There is evidence from research that preferences can shift during processes of public deliberation (Fishkin,2009) and opinions de-polarised (Dryzek et al.,2019). However, the conditions must be right for preference shifts to occur. There are a number of good practices surrounding the use of deliberation, including the following:

  • Allowing everyone to be heard (equality of participation)
  • Permitting a comprehensive range of perspectives to be considered
  • Respectful listening and taking one another’s perspectives seriously
  • Avoidance of certain individuals dominating discussion through effective facilitation and moderation
  • Reflection on one’s own beliefs in light of others’ views
  • Sufficient time to undertake the deliberations
  • Avoiding unnecessary conflict such as deliberatively provocative statements, also known as ‘flaming’

Designing effective deliberative processes involves attempts to ensure the above conditions are met, as far as possible. However, there are challenges in achieving these ideal conditions for deliberation during citizens’ assemblies (De Jongh, 2013). For instance, some assembly members may be more articulate than others, often those who are more highly educated or wealthy, which can lead to the views of these people dominating discussions and being given more weight. Moreover the manner in which the issues are considered can be influenced by group dynamics. The time required to listen carefully to the full range of perspectives can in reality be insufficient. Where time is insufficient, participants may end up feeling more uncertain at the end of the deliberation (John et al., 2019). More generally, deliberative processes can be costly, resource intensive and time consuming, and scaling up or institutionalising democratic innovations is challenging. Despite these challenges, evaluations from citizens’ assemblies generally show a series of very positive outcomes including high levels of satisfaction with the process amongst participants, an increase in knowledge and understanding, perceptions that deliberation was of high quality, and enthusiasm for the greater use of these mechanisms of deliberative democracy applied to other topic areas (Renwick et al., 2017; Pow and Garry, 2019; Devaney et al., 2019b).

1.3 How and where have Citizens’ Assemblies been used before?

Citizens’ assemblies have been used in countries such as Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the UK (Fournier et al. 2011; Flinders et al. 2016; Renwick et al. 2017; Farrell et al. 2019). Table 1 outlines key features of a sample of Citizens’ Assemblies in each of these contexts. In some cases the findings of the Citizens’ Assemblies have been used to shape questions put to a national public referendum (e.g. topics on electoral reform in Canada and equal marriage in Ireland). In other cases they have been used on a smaller scale as ‘pilot assemblies’, such as in the UK, where there have been citizens’ assemblies to consider issues such as English devolution (Flinders et al. 2016) and the type of Brexit that citizens would like to see (Renwick et al. 2017). In each of these latter cases the results of the assemblies have been fed into parliamentary select committees to inform ongoing policy development in these areas. The Irish Citizens Assembly ran from late 2016 until early 2018, and followed an earlier mini-public, the Convention on the Constitution, which also ran in Ireland from 2012-2014 in a similar way to a Citizens’ Assembly. Each of these mini-publics comprised 99 members and an Independent Chair. While the Convention was comprised of 66 members of the public and 33 members of parliament, the Irish Citizens Assembly’s 99 members were regular citizens, not politicians. The two mini-publics considered a range of topics, including equal marriage, abortion, climate change, fixed term parliaments, and policy responses to an ageing population. Because of the way in which these two mini-publics (specifically the topics of equal marriage and abortion) were tied to national referenda, scholars have argued that there has been a degree of ‘systematization’ of deliberation into the Irish constitutional review process, although not full institutionalisation, as it remains to be seen whether these mechanisms will continue to be used in the future (Farrell et al.,2019). In June 2019the Scottish Government announced its future intention to create a Citizens’ Assembly to consider Scotland’s future. A stratified random sample of up to 130 citizens (a minimum of 100) aged 16 and over will be selected reflect the adult population in terms of age, gender, socio-economic class, ethnic group, geography and political attitudes. Two independent convenors will be chosen to run the assembly, which is due to meet over six weekends. It will consider three topics: what sort of country the Citizens’ Assembly members would like to build; how Scotland should respond to the challenges of the 21stcentury, including challenges in a post-Brexit context; and, what further work ought to be carried out to provide information to make informed choices about the country’s future. The Scottish Government has made a public commitment to ‘act on the recommendations of the Assembly within 90 days’, by producing an action plan within this time period.

TABLE 1:

1.4 Citizens’ Assemblies on Climate Change

Table 2outlines recent citizens’ assemblies focused on the topic of climate change. At the time of writing within the UK, assemblies on this topic have taken place in Oxford and Camden in London. Along with these cases, Devon will be amongst the first in the UK to conduct a Citizens’ Assembly focused directly on Climate Change, and it will be the first higher tier authority to do so. Cambridgeshire County Council has recently conducted a citizens’ assembly focusing on congestion and air quality(September,2019). The national Irish Citizens Assembly considered climate change as part of its work, over the course of two weekends in Sept-Nov 2017. The topic of the assembly was ‘how the State can make Ireland a leader in climate change’ and it generated 13 recommendations which were sent to Parliament in a report in April 2018and considered by a special parliamentary committee. Some local areas are using other forms of mini-publics to address the issue. For example, the Leeds Climate Commission with Shared Future CIC, for instance, has run a Citizens’ Jury of 25 people which met from September to November2019 over eight evenings and one full day to consider how to respond to the Climate Emergency. The jury has produced a final report with recommendations for the Leeds City Council’s Climate Emergency Advisory Committee5.In the UK at a national level, in June 2019a group of six Select Committees of the House of Commons committed to conducting a Citizens Assembly on Climate Change to inform political debate and policy making, including input into future select committee activity6.The national Citizens’ Assembly is due to take place in Jan-March 2020 over 4 weekends, with 110 citizens taking part, selected to reflect the demographic make-up of the UK. The Assembly will consider “the fair sharing of the potential costs of different policy choices”. The commitment to a Citizens Assembly was made in the context of MPs’ passing a motion to declare an Environment and Climate Change Emergency in May 2019, and the UK government’s target of producing net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Given that 261District, County, Unitary & Metropolitan Councils in the UK have declared a Climate Emergency7, it is likely that interest in Citizens’ Assemblies will grow. The ‘third demand’ of Extinction Rebellion has also created a swell of interest in their use. In section 2 of this report, we provide more detail on the types of topics addressed, the range of expert witnesses involved, and the formats used in the recent Climate Change Citizens’ Assemblies and other deliberative public for a on climate change.

TABLE 2:

1.5 Key principles and basic format of Citizens’ Assemblies

Citizens’ Assemblies incorporate a number of key principles: the provision of information(from experts, including different stakeholders), learning amongst participants, consideration of varied and diverse viewpoints, discussion, weighing up evidence, and making recommendations(often following a voting process). Another important element of Citizens’ Assemblies is that members have an equal opportunity to speak and be heard during the Assembly meetings(one of the key principles of deliberative democracy). Trained facilitators assist to ensure that certain voices to not dominate discussions and that everyone is encouraged to speak and make a contribution. Even in well-conducted assemblies with fair and impartial facilitators present, there is a risk that certain members can dominate discussions, as some participants in the Northern Ireland Citizens Assembly felt had occurred at times during their assembly meetings on Social Care (Pow and Garry, 2019). The authors of the evaluation of the NI Social Care Citizens’ Assembly recommended that future assemblies should instruct table facilitators to intervene more robustly if certain members dominate discussion.

The precise format of previous Citizens’ Assemblies has varied(see figure 1 for a sample outline of a CA process). They typically entail providing information to Assembly participants both outside of and during the Assembly meetings. Information delivered outside of the Assembly can be provided as a pack and posted, can be provided online, or in extra meetings or hearings that take place in advance of or between the main Assembly meetings. The idea behind this is to increase the knowledge of the members on the key topics covered by the Assembly. In many cases(e.g. as happened the Irish Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change), members of the Citizens’ Assembly are provided with a summary of key themes arising from a previously undertaken, wider public consultation or call for evidence. In an evaluation of the Irish Climate Change Assembly, it was noted by some members that there was limited use made of the public submissions during their deliberations (Devaney et al.,2019a). Finding effective ways to distil, synthesise and utilise information from public calls for evidence within Assemblies is an area for future Citizens’ Assemblies to consider carefully. Inside the Assembly meetings, presentations are given by a range of experts providing different perspectives on the issues under consideration, with members able to ask questions for clarification. Members break out at different parts of the day into small groups which are moderated by trained facilitators. These groups consider the evidence presented by the expert witnesses on the day, as well as any evidence collected as part of the wider process. They discuss the evidence, give their own perspectives, and listen to the perspectives of others in the group. The facilitators usually collect a summary of themes arising in the group discussions and feed these back to Assembly members, who then make recommendations about policy priorities and options, often following rounds of voting to refine and narrow the options. Assemblies meet on several occasions, usually over a period of weeks or months, or even up to a year in some cases, making recommendations at their final meeting. There is always a written report of the Assembly’s findings and recommendations, and this can be fed into the policy process in different ways. For instance, the report authors may present these to relevant policy making or scrutiny committees, or as was the case Ireland, can put options to a public referendum. Although one of the demands of Extinction Rebellion is that a UK national Citizens’ Assembly should define policy on this issue, previous UK climate change assemblies have been given more of an advisory role(see Table 2). It is also the case that not all recommendations of citizens’ assemblies have been subsequently implemented by policy makers (see Table 1). Ultimately the goal is to ensure that public authorities at minimum take account of the priorities and recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly in developing their policies or strategies. A key principle for good practice is that in order for assembly members to feel their contribution is valued, and to ensure the process is seen to have been worthwhile, it is important that those who have commissioned an assembly report back to assembly members and the wider public about how the findings have been used to inform policy development. When recruiting assembly members and publicising the work of the assembly, it is important that it is made clear how the assembly’s findings will be used.

FIGURE ONE:

1.6 Procuring the sample

An important principle of Citizens’ Assemblies is the use of randomisation in sample procurement. Ideally, everyone should have an equal chance of participating, with a random sample selected from the entire population of interest (e.g. all adult citizens of a County or District, depending on the geographical unit of interest). Those who are randomly selected are then approached to take part on a voluntary basis. Of those who respond positively to the invitation, a subsample of the desired size is then selected with stratification conducted as appropriate. In the Oxford City Climate Change Assembly, the 2011 Census postcode address file was used to obtain the sample so that everyone is the city had an equal chance of being selected; a similar approach was used in the Irish Citizens’ Assembly8. An alternative is to use the Electoral Register, which in the UK is updated annually by local authorities9. This approach was used in Citizens’ Assemblies in Canada (British Columbia and the Netherlands) and the Netherlands. In these latter cases, an initial selection meeting was also conducted for those who expressed an interest, with the names of those attending put in a hat with the required number of participants selected randomly (see Renwick et al. 2017, p18 for discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of this approach). However, resource constraints or practical difficulties with obtaining up-to-date details of the entire population of an area can make this population-based approach difficult. One alternative is for a survey company to be used to procure the sample from an existing survey panel of a large sample of members of the public, such as those already used by opinion polling companies. This was the approach used in the Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit (Renwick et al., 2017). Here, a recruitment survey was sent to 5000 individuals selected by a survey company (ICM), with those who expressed an interest were then contacted and re-contacted using a stratification grid, until the relevant quotas of participants has been achieved. As Renwick et al. suggest, this approach has the advantage of being cheaper than the population-based approach, but the disadvantage that only members of the survey company’s panel have the chance to participate. An added advantage was that using a survey company allowed those conducting the Brexit Assembly to more easily construct a matched control group which they wanted to obtain as part of their research into the Assembly’s effects. Whichever approach it used, those selected must first be approached to participate, for example by post, online or on the doorstep (the latter process was used in the Irish and Scottish Citizens’ Assemblies). Since some individuals will drop out over the course of a multi-day process (e.g. due to illness), it is important to ensure that sufficient numbers are likely to be present at the final meeting when policy recommendations are made. There are two ways to achieve this: by ‘over-sampling’ the total number of participants at the beginning or by recruiting a back-up panel of potential replacements, each with the same demographic characteristics as the sample of assembly participants. It should be borne in mind that even when using random samples, there is an element of self-selection in the process of Citizens’ Assembly procurement. Data indicate that those who accept the invitation to participate may be different to those that decline, for example having more of a civic orientation, more interest in and engagement with other forms of politics (Renwick et al.,2017).Those who attend may not therefore reflect the general population in terms of social and political attitudes. It is important therefore to collect data on these attitudinal variables, where feasible, to allow assessment of the generalisability and external validity of the Assembly’s findings.

1.7 Stratification

Simple random sampling from a population or representative sample of a population via an existing survey may not achieve the necessary balance in terms of reflecting the wider population. The relatively small sample size involved (circa 100 for Citizens’ Assemblies) makes chance imbalances statistically likely, even in a randomly selected sample. Stratified random sampling is commonly used for this reason. When conducting stratified random sampling it is important to define the key characteristics on which one wants to achieve balance, and this will vary according to the topic. Stratification is usually conducted by key demographic variables like age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, as well as to ensure geographical representation of the wider population. For example, the sampling strategy of the Irish Citizens Assembly stratified according to age, gender, social class, and regional spreadincluding urban/ rural split (with the population based on those registered to vote, as identified in the Census Data & QNHS Population Estimates). The Oxford Citizens’Assembly on Climate Change stratified on the key characteristics of age, gender, disability, ethnicity and area of the city.

Although less common, some Assemblies have also stratified to ensure representation in terms of political views (e.g. in the Brexit Citizens’ Assembly members were selected to reflect the 52/48 Brexit referendum result, while the Adult Social Care Funding Citizens’ Assembly members were selected to achieve a balance of opinion on whether government should cut, maintain or increase taxes). In the Oxford Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change, the variables socio-economic group, employment status, educational attainment and political viewpoint were monitored but were not used as selection criteria for inclusion.

The Irish Citizens’ Assembly purposefully excluded those who had been involved with advocacy or interest groups on the topics addressed. However, advocacy and interest groups selected by the Advisory Committee were able to give their views as part of the presentations during the Assembly. Interest groups were also invited to give submissions to the public Call for Evidence. The Irish Assembly did not exclude people who had previously expressed views on the topics being considered by the Assembly, since it was assumed that the random process of generating the Assembly membership would result in a range of views being represented. However, as the Final Report of the Citizens’ Assembly on Referenda & Fixed Term Parliaments states “the Chairperson of the Assembly did ask that Members refrain from publicly commenting on issues while they are being considered as a mark of respect to their fellow citizen Members and to protect the integrity of the Assembly process.”

Table 3 provides a sample of approaches used to recruit participants for citizens’ assemblies, along with recruitment and attrition rates where these data are available. As shown in the final column on the right, achieving sustained involvement can be challenging. In the Irish Citizens Assembly none of the meetings achieved a full turnout, with an average 85%attendance rate of those who had been recruited (calculated from data provided in Farrell et al.,2019). It is possible that those who fail to turn up will be systematically different to those who attend (e.g. being less engaged in the issue, with caring responsibilities or in precarious employment). Some Assemblies have therefore created a waiting list of participants with demographic characteristics similar to the assembly members, to fill spaces at short notice if attrition occurs. All Assemblies should make efforts to sustain high levels of participation, for instance considering issues such as payment, accessibility, timing and length of commitment.

TABLE 3:

1.8 Selecting the Chair

The vast majority of Citizens’ Assemblies have an appointed independent Chair. This person would often open the event and outline the parameters and purpose of the assembly, introducing the speakers, and ensuring the process runs smoothly and transparently. The Chair does not necessarily facilitate the Assembly meetings, and this may be delegated to expert public facilitation groups or researchers with expertise in citizen engagement or deliberative democracy. The chair may oversee the entire Citizens’ Assembly process, including the appointment of its Advisory Committee, although this role may also be performed by an overarching Coordinating or Steering Committee. In the Irish Citizens Assembly the Chair was a Supreme Court Judge whereas in the Scottish Citizens Assembly a former MEP and a third sector leader were selected as Co-chairs. In the Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change conducted in Oxford, the Chair was the leader of Oxford City Council. The most important attributes of a Chair are that they are impartial and seen to be so, that they have the time to be involved, and that they have good communication and inter-personal skills. Whilst unusual, it is possible for Citizens’ Assemblies to be conducted without a Chair, providing there is a team of facilitators jointly responsible for delivering the Assembly. The Citizens’ Assembly on the Funding of Adult Social Care was one such example. Here, a team of professional facilitators supported the process, with two lead facilitators and seven table facilitators at each weekend. Two academics were involved as Expert Leads over the course of the Assembly meetings.

Chairs or Lead Facilitators of previous Citizens’ Assemblies have included:

  • Former politicians
  • Members of the judiciary
  • Third sector leaders
  • Local authority leaders
  • Academics & public engagement specialist organisations (e.g. Involve)
  • Theologians

1.9 Selecting and expert advisory committee

An advisory, or stewardship committee is established, to oversee the process of selecting the evidence, choosing speakers and monitoring the nature of the evidence presented to members, for instance ensuring that the evidence is balanced and communicated appropriately. The membership of this committee will typically include both independent experts and, sometimes, campaigners or activists from different perspectives (this, however, may depend on the nature of the topic and the aims of the assembly). Members of the committee should have the necessary expertise and knowledge of the topic to be able to select appropriate speakers to present evidence, and be impartial enough to ensure that balance is achieved in terms of different perspectives on the issues under consideration.

In the Irish Assembly, the expert committee on the topics of “the Manner in which Referenda are Held” and “Fixed Term Parliaments” was entirely comprised of academics, who had combined expertise in constitutional law, deliberative democracy, electoral behaviour, political institutions, and political communication. Similarly, the expert committee of the Dutch Civic Forum was comprised of academics specialising in topics that the assembly was considering, mainly political scientists. The expert committee for the Climate Change Assembly in the Irish Citizens’ Assembly consisted of academics with research expertise in the following areas: political science and the politics of climate change; environmental law and sustainable development; climate science; adaptation. Key attributes of the expert advisory committee considered by the Irish Citizens Assembly included (i) possession of relevant knowledge and expertise; (ii) impartiality/ objectivity in relation to the topics being considered by the Assembly; (iii) willingness and availability to participate. The Irish Assembly’s Terms of Reference for the Expert Advisory Group illustrate the nature of the work undertaken by this group:

  • Supporting the Chairperson and Secretariat in constructing a fair, balanced and comprehensive work programme for the Assembly on each of the topics;
  • Providing background expert advice on the issues being discussed;
  • Advising on the criteria for selecting specialists/ experts to appear before the Assembly;
  • Recommending names for the specialists/ experts to appear before the Assembly, for ratification by the Steering Group;
  • Working with the Chairperson and Secretariat to select speakers from civil society and advocacy groups.

1.10 Selecting expert witnesses

This processof selection is normally undertaken by the Expert Advisory Committee. Here, it is important to ensure a wide range of perspectives, including experts with relevant specialist knowledge (e.g. academics, researchers or scientists), but also stakeholders with different perspectives on the issues being considered. This might include those with interests that will be directly affected by the policies being considered, including ‘target groups’ of a policy, such as citizens who are service users, or businesses that will be affected by policy changes or that will be expected to implement them. Speakers may also include activist groups that have a public role in influencing the policy agenda and advocacy groups who work on behalf of particular societal groups. In appendix 4 we provide a list of potential expert witnesses that might be relevant for a climate change citizens’ assembly.

1.11 The payment of honorariums

The majority of the Citizens’ Assemblies cited in this report have provided a small honorariumor ‘gift’ to compensate participants for their time, usually as a monetary reward or sometimes as vouchers. One of the reasons behind this practice is a simple acknowledgement of the significant time and commitment involved, and because payment can help sustain participant involvement. Importantly, it helps to deliver inclusivity, by ensuring that people on low incomes can participate and are not deterred by the prospect of foregone earnings; it may also increase the likelihood that those with caring responsibilities take part. This is line with current practice on citizen participation initiatives used in the health and social care sectors, where citizen participants are often paid for taking part in research activities like focus groups and interviews. A further reason for providing payment is that without this, only those who are intrinsically motivated by the topic may volunteer, resulting in a sample is biased towards those with more pro-social or communitarian views or with stronger views on the topic at hand. While citizens’ assemblies involve random selection, citizens may then accept or decline the invitation to participate, meaning that there is a degree of self-selection (Smith, 2009).The flip side, however, is that some people may take part purely for the financial incentive, and may therefore not be committed to the process.

An exceptional case where no honorarium was paid was the Irish Citizens’ Assembly (although in this case travel expenses were paid, as well as childcare costs for parents). It has been suggested that the lack of an honorarium may have contributed to the high turnover of participants (see Farrell et al.,2019)10. On the other hand, in a recent focus group with ten members of the Irish Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change, there was a view held amongst participants that non-payment of an honorarium was appropriate and should be continued. However, it is possible that members may not have wanted to express the view in the public context of a focus group that payment should be made. The Scottish Citizens’ Assembly has recently taken the decision to provide an honorarium in light of concerns that the Irish Assembly’s lack of may have contributed to higher drop-our rates amongst those with caring responsibilities and those on low incomes because of the financial burdens involved.

1.12 Assembly topics

It is important that there are clear and focused topics and questions for Citizens’ Assemblies to address. The evaluation of the Irish Citizens’ Assembly on climate change which drew on focus groups with Assembly participants (Devaney et al.,2019b) revealed that citizens felt the main question of the Assembly11 was too broad, making it difficult to address. Participants would have welcomed more focused discussion on specific topics such as carbon tax, public transport and issues associated with livestock and food production, in order to generate more meaningful recommendations.

The boxes below provide a basic outline of the topics considered in the recent Oxford and Camden Citizens’ Assemblies on Climate Change. As can be seen, the Oxford Assembly took a thematic approach, focusing on topics such as buildings, transport, renewable energy, biodiversity & offsetting and waste. The Camden Assembly took a very practical, action-oriented approach, asking citizens to consider what actions could be taken at different levels: in homes, neighbourhoods, by the council and at national level.

Oxford Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change (Sept 2019)12

The Oxford Climate Change Citizens’ Assembly comprised 50 citizens, each provided with a pre-briefing pack summarising key areas The overall topic the Assembly addressed was to consider “measures to reduce Oxford’s carbon emissions to net zero and, as part of this, measures that reduce Oxford City Council’s own carbon footprint to net zero by 2030”. The key question was as follows:

“[The UK Government has legislation to reach ‘net zero’ carbon by 2050]. Should Oxford be more proactive and seek to achieve ‘net zero’ sooner than 2050 and what trade-offs are we prepared to make?”

This question was broken down into the following topics: buildings, transport, renewables, biodiversity and offsetting, and waste reduction.

Buildings: how do we ensure our buildings are fit for the future?

Transport: How do we develop a sustainable transport system for net zero?

Renewables: How do we transform our energy system to ensure it comes from renewable sources?

Biodiversity and offsetting: the role of biodiversity and offsetting on the journey to net zero

Waste reduction: How do we reduce our waste to deliver net zero?

Source: Oxford City Council (2019): Participants Briefing Pack: Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change. www.oxford.gov.uk/citizensassembly

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Camden Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change (July 2019)13

The Camden Citizens’ Assembly included over 50 randomly selected citizens from Camden who met over two evenings and one Saturday, and was facilitated by the public engagement organisation Involve. The broad question addressed by the Assembly was as follows:

“We are now facing a climate and ecological crisis. How can the council and the people of Camden help limit the impact of climate change while protecting and enhancing our natural environment? –What do we need to do in our homes, neighbourhoods, council and country?”

The Assembly was tasked with developing recommendations at three levels of action: home, neighbourhood, and the city council. Three panels discussed each of these themes during the course of the Assembly, with presentations and discussion on each of these.

The Assembly discussed and considered a sample of 200 ideas that had been generated by a public consultation using the Council’s ‘Commonplace’ platform as well as evidence collected from engagement events with schools.

According to the official report of the Assembly, the Assembly’s findings will “set the direction of a new Climate Action Plan for Camden to be published in 2020”.

1.13 Providing information to Assembly members

The format of information provision to Assembly members can vary. There is no single best way to provide information to assembly members and the approach taken will depend on the topic, the time and resources available, and the number and geographical spread of members. However, important principles would include the following:

•Allow sufficient time for Assembly members to read, view and process information;

•Provide information in digestible formats, minimising unnecessary jargon and explaining key terms (e.g. including a glossary);

•Ensuring information is focused around the topics to be addressed by the Assembly, and not burdening participants with excessively long documents;

•Providing information in a range of formats, being mindful of issues such as the need for inclusivity (e.g. people with learning needs or visual impairment, those with first language is not English)

Most of the information for Assembly members is provided at the main Assembly meetings themselves, but these are sometimes supplemented with hearings or events taking place outside of these, particularly for longer running Assemblies that take place over several months or over the course of a year. Information can also be posted in advance of, or between meetings, such as summaries of themes that have arisen from wider consultation or at the Assembly meetings themselves.

1.17 Communicating with the public

Wider communication with the public about the aims of individual Citizens’ Assemblies, their processes and their findings helps to enhance the transparency and legitimacy of assemblies. Assemblies are a concept not well known to the majority of members of the public and so publicity and information about their purpose and processes is important to aid public understanding and foster learning about the potential for the tool to be used in different areas of public policy. Greater transparency is likely to positively impact on the perceived legitimacy of citizens’ assemblies and their findings. Recent assemblies such as those in Ireland, and the climate change assemblies in Oxford and Camden as well as the Brexit Assembly, exhibited high degrees of transparency. For example, Camden and Oxford published the timetables, speakers and presentations on their local authority websites. The Brexit Assembly website also includes these details as well as reports about media coverage of the event alongside presentation materials and a full evaluation of the event. Several assemblies, including the Brexit Assembly, the Irish and the Oxford City Assembly included video footage of the presentations on their websites, and many include additional information such as the materials supplied to participants, and the composition of the Advisory Committee(see Parsons 2019 for an overview of how digital tools can be used to enhance Citizens’ Assemblies). Councils such as Camden have publicised the details and voting results of council meetings where the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly were endorsed14. This kind of practice can show participants and the wider public how the exercise feeds into the broader democratic process, and build support for, and discussion about, the wider role of citizens’ assemblies in democratic politics. Communicating the findings and recommendations of a citizens’ assembly and information about the responses of Councils and public authorities to these, can help enhance citizens’ sense that their commitment to participation is worthwhile and makes a difference and potentially help to build trust in democratic processes in an era of political disaffection.

1.18 Monitoring and evaluation

Evaluation of how an assembly takes place and what outcomes it leads to is a key aspect of best practice on public deliberation (Involve, 2019). Effective evaluation can enhance the legitimacy of the process and ensure that lessons are learnt, feeding into the local use of public deliberation for other topics and to the design of citizens’ assemblies conducted elsewhere. Much of the evidence base reviewed in this report stems from evaluation research (e.g. Farrell et al., 2019; Renwick et al., 2017) and it is important that methods of evaluation used are rigorous, for example use of both qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection and analysis(Devine-Wright and Cotton, 2017). Evaluation research has addressed key questions at different levels, including specific aspects of process (e.g. were participants given appropriate evidence or sufficient time to consider the issues) and outcome (did the process lead to greater knowledge and increased trust amongst participants?) as well as more general assessment of the impact of the process upon policy making and public discourse (Devine-Wright, 2017).

These recommendations arise from two sources. The rapid review of evidence, as documented above, and a stakeholder workshop conducted at the University of Exeter on November 14th. The workshop was attended by representatives of local authorities, activist groups, researchers and a variety of community-based organisations, and sought to gather participants’ views on the format and nature of the Devon Net Zero Citizens’ Assembly, including the questions addressed and the general approach taken. Below, we distil key recommendations for the implementation of the assembly.

2.1 Oversight and accountability

Other citizens’ assemblies have used an Assembly Advisory Committeeto oversee thedelivery of the assemblies in orderto demonstrate separation between the organisations that have commissioned the assembly(in Devon’s case, the organisations on the Devon Climate Emergency Response Group) and their operation.

It is recommended that the Devon Net-Zero Task Force, as an independent body, adopts the role of the Assembly Advisory Committee. In doing so, the Devon Net-Zero Task Force would decide how many and which witnesses to call, following the guidance outlined in this report. In line with other citizens’ assemblies, we recommend that the witnesses called should include researchers and academics as well as representatives of stakeholder groups that have relevant expertise, including those with lived experience of the issues under consideration. See Appendix 4 for a list of possible types of expert witnesses that could be drawn upon.

The Devon Climate Emergency Response Group should have oversight and ultimate responsibility for the delivery of the citizens’ assembly. The Devon Climate Emergency Secretariat (currently Devon County Council’s Environment Group) should organise the assembly’s delivery, including procurement of recruitment and facilitation services in close liaison with the Devon Net-Zero Task Force.

We recommend that an independent Chair is appointed to oversee the process, someone who will garner respect and be present at all sessions of the Assembly. The Devon Net-Zero Task Force should recommend a chair to be appointed by the Devon Climate Emergency Response Group.

We recommend that the Assembly sessions are conducted in private, with observers and evaluators present, and are recorded and live-streamed.

2.2 What is the question to be deliberated upon?

The challenge is to coin a question that is general enough to encompass the net zero challenge, that is accessible and communicable to the public and that registers key aspects of a process of systemic change (e.g. futurity, emergency, fairness). Stakeholders at the workshop felt that an emphasis on both mitigation and resilience in the over-arching question was unnecessarily complex and negatively framed. It was also felt that explicit mention of a time-frame was not necessary, but could be explored in more specific sub-questions. Comparatively, there was a feeling that other UK climate change assemblies had posed questions with too much complexity. Taking on board this advice and the rapid review findings, we recommend the following over-arching question for public deliberation:

How can we achieve a net-zero Devon as rapidly and as fairly as possible? Responding to this, participants in the Devon Citizens’ Assembly could be encouraged to register their informed opinions on:

  • WHO needs to act (e.g. councils, businesses, communities, citizens),
  • WHAT actions need to be taken by each of these groups/ levels (e.g. councils, businesses, communities, citizens)
  • WHERE these actions should take place; and
  • WHEN …With the aim to deliver mitigation both rapidly and fairly.

The WHERE question ensures that both local and non-local dimensions of mitigation are discussed in the Assembly. Devon’s emissions from consumption occur elsewhere (e.g. purchase of products manufactured overseas) and some consideration of the impacts of external actions in Devon,and Devon actions elsewhere,is necessary. The outcome could be a vision of what life in Devon in 2030 (or equivalent date) could look like –how people are cooking, eating, traveling, staying warm and cool, earning a livelihood etc. –which can be shared more widely across the county as part of a process of social transformation.

2.3 Who should take part?

To ensure legitimacy, participants should be representative of the Devon population as a whole. In practice, this involves selection by stratification, using the following characteristics: age, gender, ethnicity, disability, socio-economic status and location of residence (as monitored by the District Council areas). To ensure sufficient youth representation –a key aspect of the assembly’s legitimacy – we recommend that the minimum age of participants should be set at 16 years. We do not think that it is appropriate to select participants on the basis of their views on climate change. Instead, we recommend that a monitoring approach is undertaken, identifying pre-assembly beliefs and opinions on issues such as environment and climate change concern, natural or anthropogenic causality, active participation in environmental organisations and occupation (with particular reference to land and agriculture related pursuits). This will allow us to fully understand the backgrounds of those participating, and to capturebaseline measuresto assess whether beliefs and opinions change over time.

Participants should be aged 16 years and over and be representative of the wider Devon population according to characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, disability, socio-economic status and location of residence.

As discussed in section 1,there are two main methods for obtaining the sample, a population-based approach or to use an existing online sample of a survey company. Either approach would be legitimate but if resources permit, we suggest the former approach. To achieve this, an experienced survey company should be engaged to recruit from the Devon population using 2011 Census Data supplement by more up-to-date household or population registers. This is the most commonly used approach for obtaining Citizens’ Assembly samples, and would ensure that every adult in Devon who appears in these public registers has an equal chance of participating.

2.4 How many citizens should take part?

The overall number needs to be sufficiently large to deliver a diverse and representative sample, yet small enough to be practically feasible and affordable. A small number is likely to involve a preponderance of urban dwellers from Exeter and Plymouth, reducing the rural reach of the assembly, which would be a major deficiency given the importance of land use and agriculture for mitigation in Devon. Since best practice ranges from 50 to 160 participants (see Part 1), we recommend that the Devon Citizens’ Assembly should aim to recruit 100 participants in the first instance, given that this total number of participants may be 5-15% less than this on any one specific occasion (e.g. due to illness, caring responsibilities). We do not think that a back-up sample offers value to the process, since it will involve inputting individuals into latter stages of the deliberations who have not taken part in, and had the opportunity to learn from, the earlier stages. We believe that a larger initial sample, but without a back-up match, will bring more value to the process in comparison to a smaller initial sample (e.g. n=60)with a pre-arranged back-up.

100 citizens should be recruited to participate, with the expectation that some will drop out over the course of the Assembly meetings. A back-up sample is not necessary.

2.5 How should participation be recognized and rewarded?

Given the necessity to recruit individuals who may not normally take part in public consultations or take an interest in environmental issues, it is essential to ensure participants experience no financial cost that might deter attendance at assembly sessions, and have a financial incentive to participate. Therefore, we recommend that travel (and child care, if necessary) costs of citizens are fully met, alongside an honorarium payment that at least matches the minimum wage (e.g. £9.30 per hour of time inputted including travelling time to and from the venue15). For practical purposes, we would recommend this is rounded up to suggest a day rate is paid for each participant of approximately£100.

Participants will be provided with a day rate which is at least equivalent to the minimum wage for their time inputted, and that associated costs are also paid (e.g. travel, childcare).

2.6 How many days should the CA involve?

We recommend that the Devon Net Zero Citizens’ Assembly meets on 4 separate days: one ‘introduction’ half-day, two and a half ‘content’ days and one ‘concluding’ day. The spacing of days can be organised in a number of ways, but our recommendation is that the optimum design is to hold each assembly meeting on a single weekend day (e.g. a Saturday) to avoid conflicting with workdays. We also recommend that the days are spaced out across a 7 week period of time, with one week break in between the 4 meetings. This will avoid deterring those who would be unable to give up an entire weekend, provide a sufficient amount of contact time to engage with the complexities of the topic and the process, as well as ensuring time for reflection and learning in between attended sessions.

We recommend each day to involve the following activities:

TABLE 2:

Because synthesis is a complex topic for deliberation, each session during days 1-3should conclude with a summary of key points raised and discussed, as well as potential overlaps and tensions between different topic areas. This can then be returned to and consolidated on Day 4.

We recommend that the assembly should meet in four different locations that are representative of different areas in the county (for example Barnstaple, Plymouth, Exeter and Tavistock) provided that suitable locations (e.g. with webinar facilities) can be identified in each place.

For details of a suggested draft template for the assembly days, see Appendix 5.

2.7 How should the deliberation be conducted?

Aim: The purpose of the deliberation, specifically how findings are to inform the Devon Carbon Plan, should be clearly communicated to participants beforehand and throughout the process.

Ethics: Ethical guidelines should be followed, for example that participants give informed consent to participate and for their views to be recorded and monitored over time; to be assured of their anonymity if requested, and to have the freedom to withdraw at any stage.

Communication: Written information should be provided to all participants in advance and in between sessions, to ensure informed consent and encourage learning, reflection and deliberation. Information should also be provided to participants at the end of the process, including details of Assembly recommendations and how the finding are being used to inform the Devon Carbon Plan.

The authorship of presented scientific information should be clearly cited (e.g. arising from the Thematic Hearings, submitted evidence, specific research studies) so that the rigour of information presented is assured of its quality and relevance.

All information provided, whether presented verbally or in writing, should be communicated in plain English in order to be widely accessible16.

All citizen participants should have the opportunity to hear from and to question witnesses on key themes.

Discussions:

  • The deliberation should be structured to include plenary and small group discussions (circa 8-10 participants in the small groups).
  • Small group membership should be rotated to allow participants to engage with different people over the course of the Assembly meetings.
  • All discussions should receive expert facilitation and notes of all discussions should be taken (2 facilitators on each group).
  • Discussions to be facilitated to allow everyone to be heard (i.e. equality of participation) and to avoid certain individuals dominating discussion.
  • They should aim to permit a comprehensive range of perspectives to be considered.
  • All participants should listen respectfully and take one another’s perspectives seriously, even if very different from their own.
  • Participants should be encouraged to reflect on their own beliefs in light of others’ views.
  • Sufficient time should be provided to undertake the deliberations.
  • Unnecessary conflict, for example arising from deliberatively provocative statements/ ‘flaming’, should be avoided.
  • Participants should have the opportunity to vote on preferred actions and recommendations.

Wellbeing: Clear signposting to break-out spaces and counselling services should be provided, for example if the material being deliberated upon proves anxiety producing.

Individuals with specific needs required (e.g. breastfeeding mothers, people with a disability)should be allowed to bring a non-participating aide. Allow participants should be given opportunities to move around, circulate and meet other participants, including possibly some time outdoors and in break-out rooms.

2.8 Providing information to Participants –before, during and after the Assembly

When the sample is being procured, those being invited to participate should be provided with a pamphlet or booklet explaining the aims of the assembly and detailing what participation entails. It is recommended that summaries of themes emerging from the Expert Hearings and from the Public Call for Evidence are provided to participants either before or at the appropriate stages of the assembly (e.g. when each of the different topics are being deliberated). The formats for information provision during assembly meetings should be varied, taking account of the different learning styles of participants and to ensure high levels of engagement with the content. Examples could include:

  • Presentations given by expert witnesses and stakeholders -a range of presentation styles used, including facts and figures and findings from research but also personal stakeholder testimony delivered in creative and personalised ways
  • Panel discussions of these presentations with Q&A
  • Display boards containing key findings and themes from the public submission of evidence, the Thematic Hearings, and additional consultation events taking place as part of the wider process, for members to view during breaks
  • A display or summary with findings from the schools and youth engagement day on climate change undertaken at the Devon Youth Parliament in Nov 2019
  • Space for post-it notes to be displayed; flipcharts around the room
  • Short, creative exercises to break up the group work (e.g. whole room activities, one-to-one discussions, and individual moments of reflection)

2.9 Outcomes and Impact

The Devon Net Zero Citizens’ Assembly will play an advisory role, with recommendations feeding into the Task Force in writing the Devon Carbon Plan. The Task Force should be transparent about how it has used the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly. Where recommendations are not taken up in the Carbon Plan, the reasons for this should be clearly explained, in order to ensure the legitimacy of the process. There may be other policies, regulations or strategies alongside the Carbon Plan that act as ‘entry points’ for the CA findings and recommendations to feed into local policy. Any of these additional policy impacts should also be communicated to the public.

2.10 Monitoring and evaluation

Monitoring and evaluation is essential in order to signal the legitimacy of the process, to learn and share lessons that could be applied both locally and elsewhere in future deliberative occasions. This requires the cooperation of stakeholders, witnesses and citizen participants to grant consent for and participate in interviews, surveys or other necessary methods of data collection to track opinions over time.

We recommend that the Devon Net Zero Citizens’ Assembly is rigorously monitored and has sufficient resources to track the process and its outcomes across time.

Research questions could include:

  • How did the citizen participants find the experience of taking part? For example:
  • Was the time provided to discuss and reflect on the topics considered to be sufficient?
  • Was the information provided considered trustworthy and accessible?
  • Did it lead to an increase in trust in stakeholders and the broader process?
  • How did stakeholders assess its contribution to the Net Zero process?
  • Is the CA method likely to be valuable to DCC for other policy topics?
  • What lessons can be learnt and shared with other councils that are considering implementing a CA on climate change?

Specific actions should include:

  1. Citizens
    • Surveys distributed to all participating citizens in advance of the Assembly to collect baseline data on knowledge of and attitudes toward climate change, political engagement and trust in stakeholders;
    • Assess whether these beliefs change over time through repeat surveys distributed during off weeks and after the final session;
    • Short form surveys distributed at the end of days 1-3 to get quick response and feed into the design of subsequent days;
    • In-depth interviews with a diverse subsample following the end of the Assembly.
  2. Witnesses
    • Short form surveys distributed via email after each day to get quick response and feed into design of subsequent days;
    • Follow up interviews with a subsample;
  3. Stakeholders
    • In-depth interviews with a subsample of Task Force and DCERG representatives both before and after the CA has taken place.

The outputs could include the following:

  • A webinar of ‘lessons learnt’ for other local authorities (November 2020)
  • Liaison with UK Citizens Assembly
  • A final report submitted by December 2020

We recommend that the Evaluation Report is published online and shared across stakeholders, witnesses and citizen participants, as well as with any other body or organisation out with Devon.

2.11 Communication with the public

As noted in section one, transparency is an important principle of Citizens’ Assemblies, as this helps to enhance wider public involvement and legitimacy of the Assembly itself and decisions which are taken consequently. In order to enhance transparency, we recommend that a number of key principles are followed with some suggested actions:

  • Ensure clarity of purpose and manage expectations –communicate with the public about the aims and objectives of the Assembly, including a clear statement about how the Assembly findings will be used
  • Ensure clarity of process –provide public information about the process that is undertaken, including information provided to participants, the structure of the days, and any voting rounds and results, the composition of the advisory group and how expert witnesses were selected
  • Transparency in the process of evidence gathering at different stages of the process, e.g. through:
    • Public Call for Evidence: Publishing all (anonymised) submissions of evidence from the public call on the Assembly website and a summary of theme so
    • Expert Hearings:
      • Livestream the proceedings of the Expert Hearings which are used as part of the wider process, and post the recordings on the Assembly website.
      • Opening up the expert hearings to observers, allowing the public to pose questions, and provide information about the topics of hearings and speakers on the Assembly website
    • Assembly Meetings:
      • Provide material on the website about the timetable of the Assembly meetings, the key topics addressed and the speakers, their presentations, and the conclusions drawn by theAssembly
      • Live stream the presentations and panel sessions from the Assembly meeting days and retain these on the website for posterity
  • Communication with the wider public:
    • Keep the public up-to-date via media, social media, website
    • Share learning with other local authorities undertaking similar exercises and take advantage of opportunities for peer-to-peer learning
    • Contribute to the wider public debate on carbon emissions and debates around net zero, including feeding in lessons to the national Citizens’ Assembly process on climate change

2.12 What is the Citizens’ Assembly likely to cost?

This review was not charged with providing a detailed estimate of costs; however, our review suggests that, assuming a Citizens’ Assembly with 100 participants, 12 witnesses and an independent chair, it is likely to cost in the region of £150,000 (see Table 4).

TABLE 4 :

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An Tionol Saoranach/ The Citizens Assembly (2018). Third Report and Recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly: How the State can makeIreland a Leader in Tackling Climate Change. Accessed 05/11/2019.https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/How-the-State-can-make-Ireland-a-leader-in-tackling-climate-change/Final-Report-on-how-the-State-can-make-Ireland-a-leader-in-tackling-climate-change/Climate-Change-Report-Final.pdf

An Tionol Saoranach/ The Citizens Assembly (2018). Submissions to the Citizens’ Assembly on the third topic for consideration: How the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change. Signpost Document for Assembly Members: Key issues raised and themes covered. Accessed 06/11/2019.https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/Submissions/How-the-State-can-make-Ireland-a-leader-in-tackling-climate-change/Signpost-Document/

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Pow, J. & Garry, J. (2019). Citizens’ Assembly for Northern Ireland: Summary of Participant Evaluations. Involve/ Queen’s University Belfast. (March 2019).

Renwick, A., Allan, S., Jennings, W., McKee, R., Russell, M. & Smith, G. (2017). A Considered Voice on Brexit: The Report of the Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit. The Constitution Unit, University College London.

Robinson, J., with Robinson, M., Pepper, J. & Caldwell, A. (2019). Climate Emergency Summit: Shaping the World You Want to See. Report of An Event hosted by the Royal Geographical Society. Report date: 26/08/2019.

Slovic, P. (2007). If I look at the mass, I will never act: Psychic numbing and genocide. Judgement and Decision Making.(Vol 2, No 2) University of Oregon.

Smith, G. (2009). Democratic Innovations: Designing Institutions for Citizen Participation. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Willingham, D.T., Hughes, E.M., Dobolyi, David G. (July 2015). The scientific status of learning styles theories. Teaching of Psychology.42(3): 266–271.

Timetable of the Oxford Climate Change Citizens Assembly (weekend one of two)17

Agreed list of actions following the Camden Climate Change Citizens’ Assembly18

Recommendations from the Irish Citizens Assembly on Climate Change (2017)19

The recommendations were reached by ballot paper voting and follow two weekends of deliberation which focussed on the energy, transport and agriculture sectors, international best practise and existing national policies and activities. A total of 13 questions appeared on the ballot and the recommendations were reached by majority vote. The following recommendations were made by the Assembly;

  • 97% of the Members recommended that to ensure climate change is at the centre of policy-making in Ireland, as a matter of urgency a new or existing independent body should be resourced appropriately, operate in an open and transparent manner, and be given a broad range of new functions and powers in legislation to urgently address climate change. *
  • 100% of the Members recommended that the State should take a leadership role in addressing climate change through mitigation measures, including, for example, retrofitting public buildings, having low carbon public vehicles, renewable generation on public buildings and through adaptation measures including, for example, increasing the resilience of public land and infrastructure.
  • 80% of the Members said they would be willing to pay higher taxes on carbon intensive activities **
  • 96% of the Members recommended that the State should undertake a comprehensive assessment of the vulnerability of all critical infrastructure (including energy, transport, built environment, water and communications) with a view to building resilience to ongoing climate change and extreme weather events. The outcome of this assessment should be implemented. Recognising the significant costs that the State would bear in the event of failure of critical infrastructure, spending on infrastructure should be prioritised to take account of this.
  • 99% of the Members recommended that the State should enable, through legislation, the selling back into the grid of electricity from micro-generation by private citizens (for example energy from solar panels or wind turbines on people’s homes or land) at a price which is at least equivalent to the wholesale price.
  • 100% of the Members recommended that the State should act to ensure the greatest possible levels of community ownership in all future renewable energy projects by encouraging communities to develop their own projects and by requiring that developer-led projects make share offers to communities to encourage greater local involvement and ownership.
  • 97% of the Members recommended that the State should end all subsidies for peat extraction and instead spend that money on peat bog restoration and making proper provision for the protection of the rights of the workers impacted with the majority 61% recommending that the State should end all subsidies on a phased basis over 5 years.
  • 93% of the Members recommended that the number of bus lanes, cycling lanes and park and ride facilities should be greatly increased in the next five years, and much greater priority should be given to these modes over private car use.ix.96% of the Members recommended that the State should immediately take many steps to support the transition to electric vehicles. ***
  • 92% of the Members recommended that the State should prioritise the expansion of public transport spending over new road infrastructure spending at a ratio of no less than 2-to-1 to facilitate the broader availability and uptake of public transport options with attention to rural areas.
  • 89% of the Members recommended that there should be a tax on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture. There should be rewards for the farmer for land management that sequesters carbon. Any resulting revenue should be reinvested to support climate friendly agricultural practices.
  • 93% of the Members recommended the State should introduce a standard form of mandatory measurement and reporting of food waste at every level of the food distribution and supply chain, with the objective of reducing food waste in the future.
  • 99% of the Members recommended that the State should review, and revise supports for land use diversification with attention to supports for planting forests and encouraging organic farming.

Question 1* Such functions and powers should include, but not be limited to those outlined below.

  • To examine any legislative proposals, it considers relevant to its functions and to report publicly its views on any implications in relation to climate change; the relevant Minister must respond publicly to the views expressed in a report prior to the progress of the legislative proposal;
  • To propose ambitious 5 year national and sectoral targets for emissions reductions to be implemented by the State, with regular review and reporting cycles;
  • To pursue the State in legal proceedings to ensure that the State lives up to its legal obligations relating to climate change.

Question 3** Subject to the following qualifications

  • Qualification 1: Any increase in revenue would be only spent on measures that directly aid the transition to a low carbon and climate resilient Ireland: including, for example, making solar panels more cheaply and easily available, retrofitting homes and businesses, flood defences, developing infrastructure for electric vehicles.
  • Qualification 2: An increase in the taxation does not have to be paid by the poorest households (the 400,000 households currently in receipt of fuel allowance).
  • Qualification 3: It is envisaged that these taxes build year-on-year.

Question 9*** Electric Vehicles

  • Develop an expanded national network of charging points;
  • Introduce a range of additional incentives, particularly aimed at rural communities, to encourage motorists towards electric vehicle ownership in the short term. Such measures should include, but not be limited to, targeted help-to-buy schemes, reductions in motor tax for electric vehicles and lower or free motorway tolls.
  • Measures should then be introduced to progressively disincentives the purchase of new carbon intensive vehicles such as year-on-year increases in taxes on petrol and diesel, motor tax and purchase taxes for petrol and diesel vehicles.

List of potential expert witnesses

Sector-based representatives:

  • Farmers (conventionalfarmers as well as organic farmers, including livestock, arable & vegetable farmers, and those engaged in carbon capture activity such as agroforestry)
  • Local aviation industry
  • Public transportation companies (buses, trains, taxis)
  • Businesses, large and small, including those that have been engaged in offsetting and in carbon reduction
  • Energy companies

Third Sector/ Activist groups:

  • Social purpose organisations/ social enterprises engaged in projects which support carbon reduction, reduction of waste, etc.
  • Activist and campaigning groups, political groupings or parties

Public and elected officials:

• Elected members and officials with relevant expertise from within Devon County or Devon’s District Councils, with responsibilities for environment and climate, transport, planning, food, recycling and waste, energy

Key stakeholder groups:

  • Young people (e.g. youth activists such as Fridays for Future, Devon Youth Parliament representatives)
  • People with disabilities (e.g. disability charities)
  • Older people (e.g. older people’s charities)

Researchers and academics:

  • Climate scientists, soil scientists, agricultural researchers, bio-scientists (local or regionally based research institutions, e.g. Rothamsted Research, Centre for Rural Policy Research, Environment Agency)
  • Environmental policy experts, including those focused on mitigation and adaptation, energy policy, transport policy, food, land use and rural policy, urban policy
  • Social scientists with expertise in globalisation, consumption, global inequality, political communication, local governance, human geography and public policy, deliberative democracy
  • STEM scientists with expertise in technological solutions, innovations, carbon sequestering.
  • Economists with expertise in de-carbonising the economy
  • Academics from across disciplines with expertise in topics such as leadership, innovation, behaviour change, community engagement and transformation, communications, systems thinking, complexity and spirituality

Potential outline structure for Assembly meetings

Structure of day 1

Morning: Introduction

  • Welcome to the process
  • Introductions and ice-breakers (small groups)
  • The position of the CA in the wider process
  • How will the CA work in practice with questions from citizens

Lunchbreak (with lunch provided at no cost to the participating citizens)

Afternoon:

  • Introduction to Climate Change
  • Introduction to mitigation
  • Reaching Net Zero from a Devon perspective
  • Introducing the key themes for deliberation
  • (expert witnesses x 3-2 hours)

Structure of days 2-3: Thematic sessions x 4 or 6

Morning:

  • Introduction to the theme (15 min)
  • Expert witnesses (n=3) present to the full group including Q&A (3 x 20 minutes)
  • Small group discussions (1 hour 4 topics x 15min)

Lunchbreak

Afternoon:

• Plenary –feedback from each group + voting on recommendations related to each theme (45min)

Structure of day 4: Conclusion

Morning: Synthesis –looking across all preferred policies/actions (45min)

•Discussion –plenary and small group (1.5 hours)

Afternoon:

  • Voting (45min)
  • Conclusions and next steps
  • Final activity, celebration and thanks

UPDATE:

The University has undertaken further research on the viability and accessibility of running the Citizens’ Assembly online due to the current Covid-19 pandemic. View more information on the University of Exeter’s research on a net-zero Citizens’ Assembly here.

Devon Climate Emergency Response Group has accepted the report’s findings and is proceeding to organise an online Citizens’ Assembly with 70 participants in summer 2021. You can view the full report below or download as a PDF.

Rapid Review: The Feasibility of an Online Citizens’ Assembly to support Devon’s Transition to Net Zero

A Rapid Review of Evidence and Best Practice Prepared for the Devon Climate Emergency Response Group and the Devon Net Zero Task Force

Written by: Dr Rebecca Sandover1, Dr Alice Moseley2, Professor Patrick Devine-Wright3

University of Exeter

November 2020

Following the declaration of a Climate Emergency by Devon County Council in 2019, a Devon Net Zero Citizens’ Assembly was planned for 2020 to discuss and generate recommendations to feed into the Devon Carbon Plan which will set the course of action across Devon for reducing carbon emissions to net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. The process began in late 2019/ 2020, with a Public Call for Evidence and a series of Expert Hearings having taken place to help generate evidence to put before a Citizens’ Assembly. However, restrictions imposed during 2020 owing to Covid-19 meant that the face-to-face Assembly had to be re-thought if it was not too be delayed too far into the future. Devon County Council and the Devon Climate Emergency Response Group began to consider the feasibility of an online Citizens’ Assembly as an alternative. This review of evidence has been commissioned by those parties to help feed into decision-making around this. The key questions the review considers are a) whether an Online Citizens’ Assembly could offer the quality of debate required to give policy makers confidence in its findings and recommendations; b) and if so, to consider what an online Citizens’ Assembly might entail. This second review should be read in conjunction with the first Rapid Review of Evidence (Devine-Wright and Moseley 2019) which provided a review of evidence and best practice on Citizens’ Assemblies.

This review of evidence and practice on online deliberation finds high quality deliberation is possible online providing certain steps are taken. We outline in this report what these steps might include. Online deliberation is by nature slightly different to face to face deliberation but there is a growing understanding about how to conduct online deliberation well. Some adaptations have to be made as compared to a face to face assembly, as described below, but the basic processes that occur in person can also happen online: provision of information to participants, group discussions and quizzing of those who present information, and arriving at recommendations and findings through a voting or issue prioritisation process. Our review provides an assessment of both the benefits and challenges of an online assembly, as well as counter-measures to ameliorate challenges. We then make some suggestions about assembly design and format including issues associated with recruitment, design, session formats, facilitation and moderation, information provision, decision-making and outcomes, inclusivity and wellbeing. Our review draws on research evidence as well as recent practitioner guidance on online deliberation.

Key benefits of an Online Citizens’ Assembly include the following (section 3 of the report):

  1. Inclusivity and access benefits – greater convenience for some participants and speakers to fit around other commitments, logistically easier than running an Assembly in a dispersed rural County in multiple locations
  2. A wide range of formats for learning, deliberation and decision making available online supported by digital technologies, with innovative approaches evolving all the time
  3. Potential cost savings associated with reduced travel, catering and accommodation, and a lower carbon footprint
  4. Good evidence that learning and knowledge development can occur online and that opinion change is possible
  5. Additional political/ civic engagement benefits

There are also some specific challenges, which can be mitigated with certain countermeasures (section 4 of the report):

  1. Ensuring Access to Technologies of Online Participation: achieved through provision of equipment, digital skills training and technical support during the assembly, with potential cost increases associated with these
  2. Ensuring Deliberative Quality:
    • a) Ensuring civility and equal participation: Achieved through facilitation and moderation as well as appropriate group size
    • b) Embedding learning and quality of discussion: Achieved through a mix of synchronous and asynchronous sessions

There are further considerations that should be taken account of when developing an online Citizens’ Assembly (section 5 of the report):

  1. Procuring the Sample: Use similar approach to recruiting for a face to face assembly (i.e. stratified random sampling for inclusiveness and diversity), collect data on frequency of internet use & consider stratifying to ensure no overrepresentation of digitally engaged individuals; consider whether total number of participants may need to be adjusted downwards in view of online participation
  2. Design: Platforms, Digital Skills and Equipment: ensure participants are trained up in using the digital equipment, make use of digital tools, attention to platform design, make use of available online group decision-making and voting tools
  3. Session Formats: shorter and possibly more frequent meetings; simplicity of sessions; mix of whole group and small group meetings; mix of synchronous and asynchronous activity
  4. Facilitation and moderation: make use of available facilitation tools and techniques to enhance deliberative quality; adapt norms and rules of discussion to online format
  5. Providing information to Assembly members: provide short, easily digestible information in a range of formats; recognise differences in learning and reading preferences as well as accessibility needs
  6. Ensuring Inclusivity: recognise digital exclusion and take steps to mitigate this; build trust amongst participants; support confidence in digital skills and developing an online voice for participation
  7. Wellbeing of participants and safeguarding: creating a safe and welcoming space; support where needed; privacy and safeguarding issues; recognition of potential challenges of participating from a home environment

Over the past few years there has been growing interest in the UK and elsewhere of nationally led deliberative democratic processes of public engagement, notably Citizens’ Assemblies4. In particular Citizens’ Assemblies have been seen as way to explore how we take steps towards Net Zero after the widespread declarations of a climate emergency across the UK in 2019. A recent example of a nationally-led Citizens’ Assembly focused on the climate emergency was the 2020 UK Climate Assembly that had 108 assembly members and was held initially in London and Birmingham over three weekends before switching to online deliberation for the fourth and final weekend (see Appendix 1: fig 1). The Scottish Climate Assembly held its first online meeting with assembly members on 7th November 2020 (see Appendix 1: fig 2), and takes place across 6 weekends over 5 months. However Citizens’ Assemblies are not only becoming a popular means for deliberating complex issues at a national level. Local authorities, cities and regions in the UK are also commissioning Citizens’ Assemblies and Citizens’ Juries focused on climate change and pathways to Net Zero. Examples include the Leeds Citizens’ Jury on Climate Change held over 9 sessions in 2019, the online Kendal Climate Jury which took place over 9 sessions over 4 months in 20205, and the Online Climate Assembly for Ardur and Worthing taking place over five Saturdays from Sept-Dec 20206 (see Appendix 1: figs 3 and 4).

Deliberative Democracy, which lies at the heart of Citizens’ and Climate Assemblies and Juries is understood as a process that involves bringing people closer to the decision making processes of government. These processes encourage people to critically assess and explore issues from a range of perspectives. Through a sustained process over time, deliberative democratic approaches aim to bring forth informed and meaningful outputs (MosaicLab7). Inclusiveness and civility of discussion, according to Smith et al (2013) are important conditions for the effective operation of deliberative democracy.

Carson and Elstub 2019:2 explain that:

‘Deliberation requires that participants: (a) become well informed about the topic, (b) consider different perspectives, in order to (c) arrive at a public judgement (not opinion) about “what can we strongly agree on?”’

With the current uncertainties of covid-19 and the resulting impacts on social interactions, the momentum that had been building around deliberative processes might be lost by the time face-to-face meetings are possible again. Organisations such as Involve, Shared Future, Democratic Society and others have been exploring how to maintain the momentum of interest in deliberative democracy using online processes. They have produced a range of resources to support councils and others to successfully conduct online Citizens’ Assemblies and Juries. Involve report that there is an appetite amongst local authorities to accelerate the move to online deliberations as the impacts of covid-19 have heightened the urgency to progress climate change policies and actions (Lansdell 20208).

‘…overwhelmingly people’s attention is now turning to how to bring these processes online. Despite challenging circumstances there is energy to explore new ways of doing things; online platforms, tools and skills; and work is being reformulated, adjusted and getting underway.’ Lansdell 2020

Since March 2020 we have been learning to conduct our businesses, meetings and even social lives via online platforms. However, transferring large, intensive processes such as Citizens’ Assemblies to an online format raises many questions that need addressing. This rapid review will set out the latest academic and practitioner thought on the opportunities and challenges of holding online public deliberation in order to inform the decision about whether and how to move the Devon Net Zero Citizens’ Assembly online. It will explore two related key questions: ‘Can an online deliberation offer the quality of debate required to give policy makers confidence in its findings/recommendations; if so, what does that deliberation look like?’

Online Deliberation has been a focus of academic studies for the past few decades, initially focused on digital public engagement, e-government and considering the impacts of web 2.0 on people’s abilities to discuss views online (See Appendix 2 for examples of digital democracy). We will draw on a selection of these older papers to ground our review in the history of this topic. However in order to provide key insights and recommendations for DCERG we will predominantly explore findings from more recent academic studies, where available, as well as practitioner guidelines. Much of the existing academic research literature on online deliberative engagement relates to text-based approaches to online deliberation (e.g. chat rooms, discussion forums and bulletin boards) as only recently have ‘face to face online’ tools such as zoom and MS Teams been widely available. As online deliberation in the form of Citizens’ Assemblies is an emerging area of research there are limited academic studies on this specifically. However academics are working closely with practitioners and commissioning bodies to learn more about how best to run online Citizens’ Assemblies, using a range of technologies of participation including ‘face to face online’ tools. The growing wealth of resources produced by practitioner organisations are therefore also referred to here.

The central message of the research literature on online deliberation is that online deliberation is achievable and there are even some unique benefits of online deliberation, but for these benefits to be realised and for genuine deliberation to occur, important design issues must be addressed. Therefore when considering an online deliberation model it is important to underline that “the key ingredients of good deliberation, like respectful listening, clearly communicated information and a well-designed deliberation process remain as important as ever” (Ward 2020)9. This will help ensure that the process meets the definition of deliberation provided by Carson and Elstub (2019) quoted above, of participants becoming informed, considering other perspectives and reaching an agreed judgement or set of judgments (see Appendix 3 for practitioners’ perspectives on setting standards for Citizens Assemblies both face to face and online).

Scholars claim that running citizen deliberations online is entirely feasible (Strandberg & Grönlund 2018, Fishkin 2009, 29; Manosevitch 2010; Price 2009), whilst practitioners highlight that the shared newness of the online deliberation experience provides a level playing field for assembly members (Ellis 2020)10. A systematic review of research on online deliberation (Friess and Eilders 2015) notes that certain design issues are critical to the quality of online debates and the extent of deliberation achieved. These include issues related to moderation and facilitation amongst others. These themes, along with other important factors identified in the wider academic and practitioner literature, are discussed in the sections below.

3.1 Possibility for enhancing inclusivity and access: The online deliberation process has advantages such as providing flexibility in its format and operation, along with the potential for lower running costs (see below). In particular there are logistical benefits linked to the geographies of participation such as transport issues.

‘…a major benefit of online discussion boards is that they essentially erode physical obstacles and allow people to engage in political conversations regardless of where they live and when they can find the time to participate.’ Grönlund et al. 2009: 189

Reduced travel would be a significant advantage for a dispersed county like Devon, where the face to face Citizens’ Assembly would have had enormous logistical challenges. In particular with the call for Devon Net Zero Assembly sessions to take place across the county, the logistical impact on transport would have been significant, together with a potential negative impact on members’ participation due to the time implications of a dispersed multi-venue format. A reduction in the physical constraints of running an assembly, and constraints associated with participants’, expert speakers’ and facilitators’ access and time could be a significant benefit for a large, rural county such as Devon (Grönlund et al. 2009, Strandberg & Grönlund 2018, Fishkin 2009, Manosevitch 2010, Price 2009). These findings are supported by the latest practitioner experiences of online deliberation that highlight its benefit in terms of the recruitment of expert witnesses and presenters (Involve 2020). Price (2009) affirms that engaging in online deliberation is more convenient and less costly, which may increase the participation of socially disadvantaged groups, who are less likely to own a car, for example.

Although issues of digital divides are important (discussed below in section 4.1) and a frequently cited concern with online democratic engagement is that existing inequalities in offline civic and political engagement may simply be replicated online (see Smith et al. 2013), there is also a school of thought that online participation may lead to more egalitarian discussions, with the semi-anonymous and online nature of encounters making those with less confidence more able to contribute and reducing the dominance of the most vocal individuals (Price 2006). This is something which is reflected in our own recent experiences of online teaching, with some students reporting that they feel less inhibited to speak out than in face to face contexts.

3.2 Flexible formats for covid-19 context: The context of covid-19 has resulted in many individuals, community groups and other organisations developing a range of skills in using online conferencing technologies. Local authorities, businesses, event organisers and others are developing flexible formats for running online events, engagement processes and more. The flexibility of using synchronous (live) or asynchronous (e.g. pre-recorded, information or discussion based) approaches is enabling organisations to innovate in their engagement, consultation and deliberative processes. The jury is still out on the widespread development of digital skills in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic. Whilst some recent practitioner experiences point to the continued existence of a skills divide in digital technologies (Involve 2020), others refer to community groups developing online engagement skills and becoming more comfortable with digital technologies who had previously avoided online engagement processes (Lansdell 2020).

With this in mind we can begin to consider potential formats for an online Devon Net Zero Citizens’ Assembly.

Synchronous live sessions could include:

  • Live online presentations with Q&A sessions
  • Live online debates between panels of experts
  • Live online testimony from service users, members of the public or experts by experience
  • Live online group discussions (all delivered on Zoom or MS Teams, with chat function enabled and other digital tools used for interactivity, and professional facilitation of the discussions)

Asynchronous activities could include:

  • Pre-recorded lectures, presentations
  • Discussion forums for participants and between participants and expert witnesses
  • Bulletin boards with information to view in advance
  • Short films or documentaries
  • Use of collaboration platforms/ microsites
  • Microgroups meeting online (e.g. Zoom) to discuss their learning between main sessions

Expert facilitation would be essential to ensure all these tools are deployed in a civil manner and with assembly members’ equal ability to have their voices heard. All of the above (synchronous or asynchronous activities) can be enhanced by the use of interactive digital tools such as whiteboards, word clouds and online voting (see section 5.2), although digital tool overload is something which should be avoided.

3.3 Encouraging Learning and Political Engagement: Knowledge gained and opinion changes have been observed in online deliberations which underscores the importance of exploring new knowledges during the deliberation process. Successful online deliberations have been shown to extend ‘participants’ repertoire of arguments, introduce them to new perspectives and lead to shifts in preferences’ (Coleman & Moss 2012:9). Based on a Deliberative Polling research project Iyengar et al 2005 found that online deliberation has the potential to make participants significantly more informed and knowledgeable. Their study simulated making participants more knowledgeable about US presidential election nomination candidates via online deliberation. The process involved participants reading briefing materials and having 5 hours of online deliberation spread over a few weeks. Findings included participants becoming more knowledgeable about candidates and evaluating material on election policy issues to a significantly greater degree. These findings are supported by Grönlund et al. (2009) who found that participants’ opinions changed as a result high quality online deliberation in their experimental online Citizens’ Assembly that considered whether there should be another nuclear power station in Norway. On the other hand, a large scale experimental study of asynchronous online discussion forums in the UK by Smith et al. (2013) found less evidence of opinion change, with only weak shifts in preferences. A key finding in this study was that those who do not engage in discussions (i.e. ‘lurkers’ who watch but do not post) are even less likely to change their opinions. The authors conclude that for any preference shift to occur (even a weak one) “active engagement appears to be critical”.

Other scholars have found that online deliberation appears to develop political engagement, increase social trust, community engagement, and voting (Price & Cappella 2002). Their research highlighted that by engaging in online deliberations on political issues in the US, participants were more likely to take part in community activities, such joining a community association, doing jury service and to vote. These academic findings on online deliberation are supported by latest practitioner thinking that see well run online citizens’ assemblies enabling high quality deliberation that extend participants’ knowledge (Involve 2020).

3.4 Cost savings & environmental benefits: Research has suggested that online deliberations can be conducted at lower cost in comparison to face to face events (Rhee and Kim, 2009, Strandberg & Grönlund 2018, Gerwin 2020)11. In contrast, latest practitioner evidence highlights that significant costs remain and should not be under-estimated (Involve 2020). Savings can be made on travel costs and potential overnight accommodation for participants and guest speakers, venue hire and catering. However, honorariums for participants would still need to be provided to compensate their time and potential loss of earnings, and the costs of facilitating the deliberative events and processes are not likely to be reduced. Indeed, there will be additional costs associated with online engagement such as providing equipment or training to participants, or for specialist software and hardware for those running or designing the events, and it is likely that even more work will have to be undertaken in the design phase to ensure that technologies, resources and activities maximise quality of learning, discussion and inclusion.

One of the limitations of deliberative public engagement exercises more generally is that they are considered expensive and resource intensive compared to some other forms of democratic engagement, which limits their institutionalisation and wider use by central government, local councils and other public bodies. In the long term online deliberation may represent a more affordable means of conducting public deliberation which could be continued in a post-covid environment should it prove to work well. Purchases of technical equipment such as hardware and software are one off costs as the items can be re-used in future deliberation events, and updated as needed and according to budgets, or could potentially by hired/ borrowed and returned.

The environmental footprint of an online assembly is likely to be much lower than that of a traditional face to face event due to the lack of travel to and from venues, with the majority of activity being conducted in people’s own homes or in local office premises such as workplaces or community halls.

Summary of benefits: In summary, there are several benefits associated with online deliberative public engagement activities that have been reported in research and in practitioner reports: (i) Online formats can have inclusivity benefits and facilitate access for a wider range of participants; (ii) they may encourage experimentation with innovative and creative methods of communication, information provision and platforms for debate; (ii) they have been shown to facilitate learning of participants, improve knowledge and are capable of producing shifts in opinion; (iv) they may have some cost benefits in comparison to face to face deliberation events and are likely to have environmental benefits; (vi) online deliberation can lead to greater civic and political involvement and the development of social trust. Involve network of deliberative democracy practitioners concluded in October 2020 that:

‘Online platforms have had a positive impact on participant experiences, allowing continued engagement between sessions. This has been really successful at keeping momentum going and gaining a rich level of detailed data from participants. It has also brought participants closer together as they use the portal to share photos and stories.’

Whilst running an online deliberation process presents a number of challenges (which will be explored in depth below) this section has set out the benefits it poses for The Devon Net Zero Citizens’ assembly. For The Devon Net Zero Citizens’ Assembly a prime benefit is a very practical one: an online format solves the logistical challenge of running geographically dispersed, multi-venue, face to face assembly meetings which would be required to ensure the inclusivity of different parts of Devon.

There are some acknowledged challenges in running online deliberative processes, however scholars and practitioners are increasing identifying counter-measures to reduce the constraints to running effective deliberative processes online. In the sections below we discuss some of the challenges involved and specify counter-measures that can help mitigate these in order to obtain maximum value from online deliberation.

4:1 Access to Technologies of Online Deliberation: The ease of participants’ access to technologies is essential to consider, such as their access to hardware and differing abilities in computer skills, which can impact on their abilities and willingness to engage in an online deliberation. There are three main issues to consider when working to ensure assembly members can participate in online deliberation:

  • i- Technologies: smart phones, computers, tablets. Participants in online deliberation processes such as Citizens’ assemblies need to be able to join in asynchronous and synchronous sessions via digital technologies such as smart phones, laptops or computers with audio-visual capabilities (cameras, microphones either inbuilt, plug-in or bluetooth). In the 2020 UK Climate Assembly online sessions some participants joined video conferencing meetings though a telephone based, dial-in process. There is no evidence as yet on whether those dialling in (and cannot experience the full audio-visual experience) are at a disadvantage or participate less than those participants using laptops, computers or smart phones to join. Practitioners are concerned about these disparities of participation and are recommending or implementing online Citizens’ Assemblies and Juries where all participants are loaned digital technologies to provide a level playing field of participation (see counter measures below). Grönlund et al. (2009) assert that tackling technical access to digital technologies lies at the heart of running a successful online deliberation process.
  • ii- Skills/capabilities to use them (plus Tech support). When considering access to online deliberation it is also essential to consider participants’ differing computer skills or media habits that can affect their abilities to engage in online deliberation (Strandberg & Grönlund 2018). Despite the recent need to conduct our lives online in response to the covid-19 pandemic, a digital divide in terms of skills and experience with digital technologies, remains (Involve 2020). This can impact on who responds to an invitation to take part, which in turn the demographic spread of assembly members could form a bias towards younger populations, although this has not been a feature of recent research12:

‘…“computer-savvy” citizens could dominate online deliberations, violating the normative ideal of communicative inclusion.’ Strandberg & Grönlund 2018:3

  • iii- Infrastructures: wifi/broadband signal quality. It is well known that households experience variable speeds and quality in access to broadband and mobile coverage in the UK and that this is exacerbated in rural communities such as Devon, creating a digital divide:

‘There can be no denying the enhanced challenges of rural connectivity delivery. With broadband, there is an inherent geographical challenge. Often, more difficult terrain and spread-out populations mean greater engineering challenges to overcome compared to those in densely populated, more commercially viable, urban areas.’ Carmichael 202013

Tackling technical access to digital technologies is central to running a successful online deliberation process. In Grönlund et al.’s (2009) study that compared face to face vs online deliberation processes considering whether Norway should build a new nuclear power plant found that reliable digital technologies were essential for online deliberation. When the technology fails, trust can be lost amongst participants which can erode trust in the whole process. In Grönlund et al.’s (2009) study participants left the process due to lack of effective digital technologies, including access to broadband. Therefore, functioning digital technologies with effective backup and technical support is of utmost importance for online experiments.

Counter-measures to challenges of accessing digital technologies for Online Deliberation: Practitioners running current online Citizens’ Assemblies and Juries recommend that participants are equipped with internet accessing technologies and equipment such as tablets with LTE internet (‘Long Term Evolution’- providing 4G wireless broadband), so that participants’ will not need to have a router at home (Shared Future 2020, Involve 2020). In addition, providing members with webcams and headsets could help provide a level playing field for engagement. Practitioners recommend making equipment available for all who need them. However if a standardised approach to the technologies of participation is taken, i.e. all members use the same technologies, equipment and digital platforms, it will be simpler to provide training for members to use these resources, as well as easing the technical support process whilst the assembly is in progress. Whilst this would be a significant up front cost, this equipment could be re-used in multiple online public participation processes.

4.2 Quality of deliberation: One of the challenges posed by online formats for public deliberation is to ensure that the quality of debate and deliberation meets the standards of face to face deliberation, and the criteria for genuine deliberation, e.g. those identified by Elstub and Carson (2019:2) of (a) becoming well informed about the topic, (b) considering different perspectives, in order to (c) arrive at a public judgement (not opinion) about “what can we strongly agree on?”.

Strandberg & Grönlund (2018: 6) assert that ‘there are still rather few studies actually measuring discursive quality in online deliberation’. They also note that there is disagreement amongst scholars about: ‘which indicators… best gauge the deliberative quality of online deliberations’. However, they note that ‘some common denominators do appear to exist…rationality, equality, reciprocity, reasoned justifications, civility are often used.’ An outstanding and important question is, can these ideals be achieved online, and how best can this be done?

We have seen in section 3.3 that there is good evidence that participants in online deliberation can and do learn and gain knowledge; but what is the evidence on whether people listen to the opinions of others, act with civility and provide reasoned justifications in order to reach conclusions? From the empirical research we have reviewed, it appears to be possible for quality deliberation to occur online, providing certain conditions are met. Key amongst these are facilitation and moderation.

Ensuring civility and equal participation: Facilitation and moderation Facilitators can play several roles in online deliberations such as supporting participants’ learning journey and in maintaining the quality and civility of discussions through moderation (Strandberg & Grönlund 2018, Grönlund et al. 2009; Smith et al. 2013). Strandberg & Grönlund 2018 found that facilitated discussions prevent opinion polarization whereas a lack of facilitation results in examples of severe opinion polarization. Facilitation is crucial for ensuring that everyone has an equal say and that individuals are not dominating discussion.

Scholars see moderation practices as having significant positive impacts on the quality of online deliberative discussion. Moderation practices can range from a form of pre- moderation (where written contributions are screened and some are prohibited) or postmoderation (where written posts are removed) (Coleman & Moss 2012). In addition, a skilled moderator can police the tone of discussion and facilitate the discussion by inviting contributions:

‘They can recruit new participants to join deliberation, introduce new topics, encourage alternate viewpoints, and respond to participants’ questions and com- plaints. As such, moderators may be viewed as important “democratic intermediaries,” in Edwards’s (2002) terms, which promote and enhance the deliberative quality of discussion.’ Coleman & Moss 2012:8

One concern that is sometimes raised with online deliberation as compared to face to face deliberation is the greater possibility of participants making offensive remarks or engaging in uncivil behaviour. However this risk can be mitigated with careful design and moderation. Smith et al. (2013) found very little evidence of ‘flaming’ or inflammatory comments being made in an asynchronous discussion forum where controversial topics were discussed, which they put down partly to the use of a moderator, clear rules of engagement, and also to the fact that the forum was introduced by a Secretary of State, which would have set a tone of seriousness and importance.

Embedding learning and quality of discussion: Synchronous and asynchronous sessions There is debate amongst scholars around whether synchronous or asynchronous online sessions are better for stimulating quality deliberative discussions. Synchronous sessions take place in ‘real time’ whereas asynchronous sessions occur over a period of time, allowing participants to dip in and out of debates and discussion. Overall, evidence points towards asynchronous activity as promoting better quality deliberation, as highlighted in Friess & Eilders’ (2015) systematic review of online deliberation and research by Strandberg & Grönlund 2018:4 who argue that ‘online deliberation is more likely to be of a higher discussion quality when conducted in an asynchronous way.’ One reason, as Janssen and Kies (2005) note, may be that synchronous discussion forums can result in ‘small talk’ and jokes at the expense of deliberation. Other scholars affirm that asynchronous sessions allow participants more time to reflect and have time to justify their contributions (Janssen & Kies, 2005, p. 321). A further benefit of asynchronous activity is that participants have more options about when to participate (Janssen & Kies, 2005; Coleman & Moss 2012), which can have major inclusivity benefits for those with work or caring responsibilities. This could apply both to the citizen participants and those who are invited to give presentations or contributions. Practitioner guidance has noted how ‘microsites’ (online engagement platforms) provide a good opportunity for asynchronous engagement to take place between live sessions (Involve 2020).

However, it should be noted that many of the research studies which explore asynchronous versus synchronous online activity were conducted at a time when predominantly textbased approaches were used, i.e. asynchronous online bulletin boards and discussion forums vs synchronous chat rooms. Synchronous activity online now includes face to face engagement via platforms such as Zoom or MS Teams. These forums are very different in nature to chat rooms that have a text only format, and with cameras turned on, participants can see each other’s visual cues and body language which brings them closer to an offline experience, while the lack of anonymity and face to face element may increase civility and listening, and encourage debate.

Furthermore, despite the noted benefits of asynchronous learning activity and debate in terms of deliberative quality, there are also many benefits of ‘live’ synchronous sessions, particularly for promoting a sense of community, excitement and energy in discussions, as well as real time opportunities to quiz experts and discuss materials that have been viewed asynchronously. Practitioners have suggested that activities which promote a sense of shared experience and belonging, such as sharing mugs or snacks can help create a sense of occasion (Involve 2020). Live, online activity of this nature where participants engage simultaneously in a shared experience may provide important mutual learning and bonding benefits.

Overall, a mix of methods of online engagement is now possible and synchronous and asynchronous methods may complement one another quite well. For an online Citizens’ Assembly, small group sessions are likely to be an important part of the online deliberation phase, as suggested by Gerwin (2020):

“Small group conversations are essential for the online deliberation phase. Facilitators have an important role to play, such as collecting insights from smallgroup breakouts and sharing them between groups. The aim here is to ensure that knowledge spreads evenly amongst participants”.

However asynchronous activity between sessions can be used by participants to follow up on the discussions from the online sessions, ask further questions to other participants, thus deepening and embedding their understanding, and potentially also sustaining interest and the momentum of the learning and deliberation process.

Measures to ensure deliberative quality: Several measures have been identified promote the deliberative quality of discussion. These include expert facilitation, appropriate group size to ensure everyone has a chance to speak and be heard (i.e. not too big), moderation to police the tone of discussions and check on uncivil content, use of asynchronous activities that allow participants the time to reflect and adjust their opinions in response to learning new information or hearing different views but also the use of live face to face online discussions to provide a different type of discussion and debate.

Summary of Challenges and Risks: Some of the main challenges of online deliberation are technical and these issues are rapidly being addressed by practitioners working in the field. Whilst a digital divide is still a reality in rural Devon, online Citizens’ Assemblies and Juries taking place elsewhere are deploying digital technological equipment and technical support to create inclusive processes. With a clear strategy in place for addressing these issues, the Devon Net Zero Citizens’ Assembly will be able operate effectively via an online format.

Ensuring quality of deliberation is another key challenge. However there is nothing inherent about the online medium that makes high quality deliberation unattainable. What is critical are the conditions of the discussion. Quality deliberation can occur when discussion spaces are well organised and facilitated, carefully moderated, and designed to ensure inclusiveness, civility and learning. It must however be acknowledged that in online environments the naturalistic flow of conversation that occur in face to face settings is hard to replicate. However, using face to face online formats moves a step close to this and these formats can be used fruitfully alongside other asynchronous formats which can generate good learning outcomes and facilitate reflection.

5:1 Procuring the Sample: In face to face and online Citizens’ assemblies alike, a random sample of people are brought together to represent a microcosm of the whole population. Other measures in the procurement process are also taken to ensure that a diversity of views is represented in the mini-public. From face to face to online Citizens’ Assemblies, there is little divergence of approaches. Therefore, points made in our 2019 Rapid review still stand:

‘An important principle of Citizens’ assemblies is the use of randomisation in sample procurement. Ideally, everyone should have an equal chance of participating, with a random sample selected from the entire population of interest (e.g. all adult citizens of a County or District, depending on the geographical unit of interest). Those who are randomly selected are then approached to take part on a voluntary basis. Of those who respond positively to the invitation, a subsample of the desired size is then selected with stratification conducted as appropriate.’ (Devine-Wright & Moseley, 2019:15)

However there are specific challenges of recruiting for an online Citizens’ assembly. Grönlund et al. (2009) found that they had a low take up of invitations to join the online Citizens’ assembly ‘…In the online mode, only 2.5 percent volunteered initially’. The digital technologies used for recruitment may be a factor shaping this lower take up as:

‘Each person had to log on to our website manually. This requires technical skills and motivation and could result in skewed distributions, both demographically and in terms of political interest.’ Grönlund et al. 2009: 193

This can result in a skewing of the sample towards younger, male and more technically competent assembly members. The authors found that sending out reminders to sign up for the online citizens’ assembly did result in a higher take up. It should be noted that this experiment was conducted over a decade ago and competency in digital skills has improved in recent times, particularly during the covid-19 crisis.

A central issue to consider when setting up The Devon Net Zero Citizens’ Assembly is legitimacy which is often established via representativeness. Therefore the numbers of assembly members, along with demographic indicators, such as where they live, is extremely important (Tarling, Devine-Wright & Williams 2018). Carson 2017 considers these issues for deliberative mini-publics and asserts that stratified random sampling as a method of recruitment is important in order to create as inclusive and diverse an assembly as possible. Recruitment to the assembly is essentially voluntary and therefore whilst principles of inclusion and diversity must be established in the process of sample procurement, the actual composition of assembly members may waver from an absolute representation of Devon publics.

For recruiting to the Devon Citizens’ Assembly, we recommend that invitations are sent by post to a random sample of using the Royal Mail postal directory, seeking expressions of interest. Those interested should be provided with a range of means to register their interest (e.g. email, phone, online). Reminder invitations may be necessary. A short survey of those interested can be created to collect basic demographic data to ensure a broadly representative sample of the key characteristics considered important to be reflected in a Devon Citizens’ Assembly (see our previous Rapid Review, Devine-Wright and Moseley 2019 for more details). Frequency of internet usage should be considered as an additional screening variable, to ensure that the sample is not dominated by those who are more frequent internet users.

It should be noted that online processes may not work so well with a large number of participants (the face to face Devon Assembly originally envisaged up to 100 participants). This may well be an unmanageable number to take part in an online Citizens’ Assembly, depending on how it is organised. The Adur and Worthing Online Citizens’ Assembly will involve 45 participants (note that this area had a total of approximately 800,000 residents in 2011, Census data14), while recent online Citizen’s Juries have tended to include around 20 members (e.g. Leeds and Kendal). The UK Climate Assembly had over 100 participants, but this Assembly began as a face to face process before Covid, and moved online part way through (see Appendix 1: figs 1 – 4).

Working out the optimum number of participants in the Devon Citizens’ Assembly is challenging. There are several issues to take into account: the number and complexity of topics that the assembly will be asked to address; the budget available; the minimum regarded to be a legitimate number of participants from certain geographical areas; and the quality of facilitation brought to bear during the Assembly. Taking all of these factors into consideration, we would tentatively recommend as a minimum 60 assembly members with sufficient number of trained facilitators to operate as 7/8 small groups who each consider all of the topics put to the assembly. In terms of geographical representativeness, one option could be to recruit a total of 70 participants, comprising 10 assembly members from each area of Devon (i.e. Plymouth, Torbay, Exeter, plus the 7 other district councils). Whilst this would over-represent rural areas in terms of statistics, it may satisfy concerns that rural areas will not be adequately represented and ensure that the principle of inclusion is fully met, particularly given that the Assembly members will spend considerable time working in small groups of 7-8 individuals. Added to a consideration of geography, ensuring inclusion of Devon citizens from lower socio-economic grades is also strongly recommended as these members of society are often under-represented in conventional policy engagement processes, yet potentially are the most impacted by large scale changes such as energy infrastructure siting or added costs to transport/food production/ electricity supply etc.

5:2 Design: Platforms, Digital Skills and Equipment: Models for conducting online deliberation have until recently copied the format of face to face processes. However Strandberg & Grönlund 2018 assert that experimentation with formats and models is required to explore further the optimal online process. It is clear that this is already beginning to happen, and significant learning and practice wisdom has been generated and accumulated since Covid.

Digital Skills training: A pre-assembly process to deliver Digital Skills training and review participants’ access to equipment is becoming a common feature of online Citizens’ assemblies and juries (see The Kendal Climate Jury5). It is recommended by practitioners to have a two week programme of digital skills training. This will encourage a level playing field in terms of participants’ knowledge of digital technologies, equipment and software. Basic features of this training should include: how to access the internet, how to download online conferencing software, how to join a meeting, how to mute and unmute and to share screens etc. In conjunction, this training phase is also an opportunity for participants to get to know each other and to begin to share their experiences of being an assembly member. The training and familiarisation phase will help less digitally experienced participants to become comfortable with speaking and interacting online. Volunteers or staff can work directly with assembly members to assist the training phase and then provide ongoing technical support (Gerwin 2020).

Making use of digital tools: There are a range of tools available for assisting with engagement of participants and information sharing during online deliberative processes. Involve have collated information on 52 digital tools for collaboration. Their resource includes an exploration of digital tools based on a categorisation according to 12 different uses or functions15:

  • Argument visualisation
  • Co-drafting
  • Commenting / feedback
  • Crowd-mapping
  • Decision-making
  • Discussion forum
  • Ideas generation
  • Interactive Q&A
  • Interactive whiteboard
  • Knowledgebase
  • Video-conferencing
  • Voting / prioritisation

(See Appendix 4)

Whilst there are many tools available, these should be used sparingly so as not to overwhelm participants, many of whom may be inexperienced with them. We suggest choosing 1 or 2 tools maximum that require participant use for each phase of the process (e.g. learning, discussion, decision-making). Trained facilitators, however, may be able to make use of a wider range of these to provide summaries of information, argument visualisation, results of votes etc. Finalising collective decisions can take place through a mixture of discussion, opinion sharing and voting. For an online process, members can vote by filling in electronic ballots or using one of the existing group decision making tools (Gerwin 2020).

Design of platforms: Research on online deliberation has identified a number of online practices and architectures, which include social as well as technical features, that make deliberation more likely to work. The formatting of platforms is important to encode visual cues and assist the flow of deliberation. Words and visual elements can help ‘to “configure” a particular form of the use of the technology. For example, they can encourage participants to adopt forms of civility and perhaps even restraint that are consistent with common understandings of deliberation (Coleman & Moss 2012). Grönlund et al. (2009:193) in an experimental online deliberation process that explored views on a new nuclear power plant in Norway, specifically avoided the over use of text-dominated approaches which could reduce the civility of engagements. Their approach involved: “using video images, sound and moderators” …”we aimed at improving deliberative quality and making the online mode more comparable with the face-to-face mode.” Grönlund et al. (2009:193)”

New directions on the design of online deliberation are focusing on how innovation in argument mapping and visualisation can improve the deliberation process and avoid potential ‘cognitive overload’:

‘Maps that can visualize the logic of the various positions and arguments within a deliberative exchange. These maps make it supposedly easier for interlocutors to understand and chart their way through large and complex public discussions.’ Coleman & Moss 2012:9

These argument visualisation mapping tools allow participants and facilitators to see how arguments and evidence are interlinked, and where there may be areas of agreement and divergence (Parsons 2019; Hughes 2020). Various tools are available, some more complex than others but simple online mapping style tools and whiteboards can be used to serve a similar function.

5:3 Session formats: When running an online deliberative process and considering the potential to deploy a mix of live and pre-recorded sessions, there is great versatility in session formats.

Practitioners also advise that all sessions should be kept relatively short. Guidance varies but most guidance suggest online sessions could be 1-2 hours long. Longer sessions such as half days could be used, providing there are sufficient breaks. These sessions, which can be organised in small groups, will be essential for the learning and deliberation phases, and may be related to participants’ discussion of material. These discussion sessions could occur at regular intervals over several weeks or months. Gerwin (2020), for instance, suggests sessions taking place 2–4 times a week over a two month period. Other, national, online Citizens’ Assemblies (e.g. in Scotland and England) have taken place over longer periods but meeting less frequently (e.g. 6 weekends over 5 months in Scotland). In comparison to face to face Citizens’ Assemblies, online assemblies are likely to have shorter meetings but meet more often, to ensure sufficient time for coverage of the core themes (see Appendix 1: fig 4).

Keeping session formats simple helps increase the accessibility of the process. To support these aims, it has been suggested that digital tools such as virtual whiteboards should only be used if all participants can see them, access them and are comfortable in using them (Allan 2020).

Live whole-group sessions are useful for question-and-answer with experts and stakeholders. During these Q&A sessions participants can break into small groups to discuss the material before reconvening in the whole-group plenary. When running small groups online, it is important to follow the same good practices that take place in face to face assemblies. It has been recommended that small groups/break groups should have around 7–8 people per group, plus a lead facilitator and a co-facilitator to ensure the quality of debate is maintained and everyone’s voice is heard (Gerwin 2020).

As discussed in sections 3.2 and 4.2, there are benefits to both synchronous asynchronous activity; a mix of both is likely to support effective learning, reflection and deliberation, whilst also allowing some flexibility for participants to view some of the online material in their own time. This suggestion for a mixed approach is echoed in recent practitioner thinking (e.g. Hughes 2020).

5:4 Facilitation and Moderation: The importance of facilitation and moderation has already been highlighted as necessary to ensure deliberative quality. However facilitators can also use a number of tools or techniques to encourage the learning phase of the processes. This may include providing offline or gamified tasks, such as creating lists or voting on what information the participants’ most enjoyed or found most interesting. They can also facilitate a study group call where participants can share their learnings (Gerwin 2020).

Group discussions online may require a slightly different forms of facilitation as compared to face to face facilitation. Ward (2020) notes a tendency in online group deliberation for participants to direct their comments at the facilitator rather than each other. He suggests one way to overcome this is to invite participants themselves to start off discussion topics and to ask them to invite someone else to speak after they have. He also notes the importance of allowing room for silence between participants, since they seem to have a greater tendency to wait longer to speak so as to avoid cutting other people off.

5:5 Providing information to Assembly members: For online Citizens’ Assemblies and Juries, many practitioners emphasise the importance of having a bespoke website for members that functions as an easily accessible space to host all online material for consideration, private and moderated discussion forums and more. Hosting all material in one place is an important step in taking a systematic and standardised approach to the assembly process. Kendal Climate Jury is using a Facebook page for this, whilst Adur and Worthing have a bespoke microsite which is part of the council’s website5,6.

Within an online deliberative setting there is some evidence that just reading material on the topic under discussion is not sufficient to alter participants’ viewpoints (Smith et al. 2009). To achieve the effective embedding of information a variety of techniques are required such as watching recorded videos of experts debating issues, being able to pose questions to an expert panel and more. An increase in knowledge amongst online assembly members has been observed but has not been rigorously studied (Strandberg & Grönlund 2018). Therefore information should be presented in a range of formats. It should also be recognised that people have different reading preferences and for longer documents, some people may prefer a physical copy to an electronic copy. Draft recommendations and their supporting analysis could be printed as a booklet by the organisers and delivered to participants for personal reflection before decision making (Gerwin 2020). Overall, however, it is recommended that material for the learning process should be short and easily digestible and this would apply to both synchronous and asynchronously provided information (Gerwin 2020, Allan 2020, Ward 202016).

Issues such as literacy and language factors, visual and hearing impairments should also be taken into consideration. For some participants, electronic screen readers, braille, captions, BSL or interpreters for instance may be required (Involve 2020). These should be available to all who need them.

5:6 Ensuring Inclusivity: (Also see sections 4:1; 5:2) Digital participation requires sustained engagement work and processes of building trust and the development of good relationships amongst assembly members, facilitators, and organisers. Linked to this, commissioners and organisers need to understand who is, and who is not, participating, and to take steps to understand clearly the reasons for this (McBride & Zacharzewski 2020)17.

“In Scotland, following in the steps of a Digital Participation Charter and Scottish Government funding that has supported projects to tackle digital exclusion since 2014, COVID-19 ramped up a response from cross-sector collaborators to organise support for those most at risk and digitally excluded, coordinated through the No One Left Behind Digital Scotland programme.”

Mitigating digital exclusion will be important in a rural county such as Devon. Steps should be taken to ensure that it is clear to anyone who wants to participate that they will be provided with the training and equipment needed to allow them to participate fully. Once recruited, all participants should be supported to ensure they can play a full part and are supported with any technical glitches that occur which impact on their participation.

Once people are recruited, there are many further steps that can be taken to promote inclusion. Involve (2020) in their Inclusion and Wellbeing checklist outline some key principles for inclusion in online deliberative engagement. These include measures to make people feel welcome and included (e.g. opportunities to build trust through more informal online interactions, e.g. a virtual coffee break), assistance with digital confidence and the building of confidence in participants’ ‘online voices’, noting down who is missing from online sessions and following up on this, agreeing on conversation guidelines to ensure that group discussions are not dominated by certain individuals, technical support during online sessions, and ensuring diversity in the support and facilitation team. They also note the importance of recognising that people will be logging in from home and may have other home-based responsibilities and that they may have differing working space limitations at home. Finally, they suggest designing the sessions with mental health and wellbeing in mind, acknowledging that online participation can be draining and that sessions should be short enough with sufficient breaks and opportunities for informal interactions.

5:7 Wellbeing of participants and safeguarding: Detailed discussion of and learning about climate change can sometimes create anxiety or even what is sometimes labelled ‘climate grief’. For this reason, public deliberation events often include spaces or rooms for quiet reflection, time out or even support, should participants need this. However, it is very difficult to create such a safe or quiet space in an online environment. The UK Climate Assembly when it moved online provided an online quiet room but have reported that little use was made of this by participants. It is important to consider how, in an online environment, support can be provided if participants feel overwhelmed or unsettled by any aspect of the process. This could perhaps be via a buddy system, facilitators who are designated with de-briefing roles, or a whiteboard or discussion forum where participants can express feelings of through text, or even pictures or sound.

Allan (2020), reflecting on the move to online of the UK Climate Assembly, has outlined safeguarding issues that are important in the online environment, firstly, protecting the full identity of participants through using first names only (eg ‘Joe ‘or ‘Joe B’); secondly, conducting due diligence over data protection issues associated with different platforms; and third, safeguarding measures for any participants who are under 18, such as specifying a minimum number of people that should be present in a virtual break out room.

Involve’s (2020) online inclusion and wellbeing checklist suggests some other important safeguarding issues relevant to online face to face formats such as Zoom. These include disabling private chat features for public participants, disabling recording, reviewing password access and the security of platforms, and asking participants not to take pictures of their screen. They also note that DBS checks should be used for any facilitators moderating small groups with participants aged under 18. To enhance wellbeing, they suggest including opportunities for physical movement, flagging up of relevant support lines, and a contact for factilitators who may feel a participant is in need of support as well as creating a welcoming online space.

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Shared Future, (2020). Climate Assemblies and Juries. Shared Future and PCAN


Smith, G., John, P., & Sturgis, P. (2013). Taking Political Engagement Online: An Experimental Analysis of Asynchronous Discussion Forums. Political Studies, 61(4), 709–730. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9248.2012.00989.x


Strandberg, K., & Grönlund, K. (2018). Online Deliberation. The Oxford Handbook of Deliberative Democracy), 364–377. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198747369.013.28


Stromer-Galley, J., Bryant, L., & Bimber, B. (2015). Context and Medium Matter: Expressing Disagreements Online and Face-to-Face in Political Deliberations. Journal of Deliberative Democracy, 11(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.16997/jdd.218


Tarling, G., Devine-wright, P., & Williams, G. (2018). Global Citizens Advisory Panel – Rapid Evidence Review. University of Exeter, 1–102.


Ward, D. (2020). Experiences of facilitating online: Innovating, adjusting and keeping things the same, Involve https://www.involve.org.uk/resources/blog/opinion/experiencesfacilitating-online-innovating-adjusting-and-keeping-things-same accessed 06/10/20

Figure 1 Recruitment Case Study – Climate Assembly UK
Figure 2 – Recruitment Case Study – Scottish Climate Assembly
Figure 3 Recruitment Case Study – Kendal CJ
Figure 4 Online CA Case Study – Adur & Worthing CA

  1. Examples of Digital Democracy (i.e. non-deliberative processes)

Nesta’s 2017 Report on Digital Democracy explores the work of pioneering innovations in digital democracy in Europe and beyond. However the case studies, which fall into the e-government category of online deliberation, highlight how the rapid pace of innovation has changed online deliberation in the past few years:

  • a) Decide Madrid, a platform for public participation in decision making, was launched by Madrid city council. Decide Madrid has four main functions: proposals and votes for new local laws; debates; participatory budgeting; and consultations. Decide Madrid’s participation platform has been in operation since September 2015. Since then it has registered tens of thousands of proposals and projects, two citizen consultations have been held (in February and October 2017) and two editions of participatory budgets in which citizens have decided on how to spend 160 million euros of municipal budgets.
    • Decide Madrid uses free software that other institutions can make use of. It’s citizen participation platform uses ‘CONSUL’, which is free, open source software. This means that anyone can use the code, copy it, modify it and redistribute it.
  • b) Parlement et Citoyens is an initiative developed by civic tech group, Cap Collectif, working closely with a number of French parliament representatives, to involve the public more closely in the law-making process before bills are submitted to parliament.
  • c) The Icelandic Pirates are part of the Icelandic parliament winning 10 out of 63 parliamentary seats in 2016. The Pirates stood on a platform promoting authenticity, transparency, open debate and participation in the creation of party policy by anyone. Their political stance forms a countermeasure to the financial crisis and political corruption in Iceland. The blending of offline and online methods of engagement plays an important part in the party’s efforts to achieve these goals.
  • d) The vTaiwan process was established by a civil society movement called g0v, at the invitation of the Taiwanese Minister for Digital Affairs. It followed g0v’s major role in the 2014 Sunflower Movement protests; started over a controversial trade agreement with China. The process was designed as a neutral platform to engage experts and relevant members of the public in large-scale deliberation on specific topics.
  • e) The Brazilian Chamber of Deputies’ LabHacker and eDemocracia: The eDemocracia portal was set up in 2009 by the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, the aim being to make legislation more transparent, to improve citizens’ understanding of the legislative process, and to make the chamber more accessible and interactive. Many of the experiments for the eDemocracia portal are conducted within the chamber’s own innovation lab – ‘LabHacker’ – which hosted hackathons and collaborative pilots with civil society and parliamentary staff.
  • f) The UK Parliament Select Committee’s Evidence Checks invited citizens to scrutinise the evidence which underpins Government policy in specific areas to determine how robust that evidence is and to highlight where the gaps are. Evidence Checks have also since been undertaken by a number of Select Committees. Using simple web forum technology, the forum acts as a basic way of capturing written submissions that are published instantly.
  1. Citizens’ Assembly standards: Resource created by Involve for setting standards for Citizens Assemblies Summary: The standards 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

These are the essential features that are fundamental to running a citizens’ assembly. The absence of any one of these features when running a CA would require a 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.

A pdf version of the standards will be attached to the Rapid Review.

  1. Digital Tools for Collaboration Resource produced by Involve which is a database of 52 digital tools and their uses for online deliberation.

A CSV version of the table will be attached to the Rapid Review

The Involve post on Digital tools includes an exploration of the tools based on a categorisation according to 12 different uses or functions: – Argument visualisation – Co-drafting – Commenting / feedback – Crowd-mapping – Decision-making – Discussion forum – Ideas generation – Interactive Q&A – Interactive whiteboard – Knowledgebase – Video-conferencing – Voting / prioritisation

National Climate Assembly

On a national scale, there has been a UK wide Climate Assembly UK which brought together 100+ people from all walks of life and all shades of opinion to discuss how the UK should reach net zero greenhouse gases by 2050.

The assembly members met over six weekends in Spring 2020. They heard balanced evidence on the choices the UK faces, discussed them, and made recommendations about what the UK should do to become net zero by 2050. Their final report was published on Thursday 10 September 2020.

DCE has been observing this process carefully to see how it can help shape the Devon Citizens’ Assembly.