Citizens Assemblies - XR's FAQ Sheet

What is a Citizens Assembly?

A group of randomly selected citizens intended to provide a representative sample of the population, put together to deliberate and make decisions about a specific issue.

How can random selected citizens be representative?

The selection of the members of a Citizens Assembly is done through a process called 'sortition'. This is similar to how people are selected for jury service. However, in a jury, it is possible (although highly improbable) that all 12 were of the same gender for example. Not in this case, as additional measures are taken to make sure that the assembly is representative of the population.

The first step is to send out invitations to *set number* of randomly selected households. Those who respond register their details such as gender, geography, age, ethnicity and education. These respondents are then arranged into groups based on these criteria. The next step is to randomly select from these groups, until the make-up of the Assembly is broadly representative of the UK as a whole.

What do these participants do?

Participants in a Citizens’ Assembly have access to impartial evidence, a balanced body of experts, as well as a range of proposals from different interest groups. They will have the space to discuss their own opinions and what others think. This includes asking for any necessary clarifications and assessing the pros and cons of potential policies. The opportunity to hear from experts, while having the space to understand the proposals alongside other participants allows for deep engagement with the issue. Ultimately, with the aim of the Citizens Assembly is to produce policy proposals reflective of the public interest. Not a necessarily reflection of what they do think, but a reflection of what they would think if they were given the time, room for discussion and access to information.

Who chooses these so called ‘experts’?

Experts will be proposed by XR, independent bodies and stakeholders prior to the Citizens’ Assembly. Crucially, it is the Citizens' Assembly that chooses the experts they want to hear from. For example, if they decide they want to know more about how it would impact the economy, they could ask for that particular expert. If this is perceived to be insufficient, the assembly can continue to call for experts, until they are satisfied they have enough, relevant information. There can be an open call to experts and stakeholders but they have to be acknowledged experts in the field.

How do I get my voice heard?

Prior to the assembly, members of the public, representative groups and citizens are invited to make written submissions on what will be discussed and the question that will be proposed. This enables a wider body of citizens to be able to participate and are considered by the Citizens’ Assembly. Rules do apply to ensure transparency, such as not accepting any anonymous submissions and publishing suggestions online.

How do these discussions turn into anything useful?

The deliberation phase involves participants coming to some conclusions/recommendations about what they have learned. The participants draft recommendations collectively and then vote on them. All of this is included in the report, which encapsulates the recommendations of the assembly.

The key thing to remember is that Citizens’ Assemblies value deliberation over debate. It is a collaborative discussion on a wide range of sources and perspectives. It is not a two sides trying to convince the other that they are correct. This encourages participants to come up with solutions most favourable to the common good. Although it is very unlikely there will be unanimous agreement on what the outcome is; it is an exercise in democracy, not conformity. There is, however, a mutual understanding of why and how a conclusion was reached, as they had been subject to the same process.

Why does XR want one?

We do not feel that the current government is able to make decisions that are radical enough to deal with the climate emergency we are currently facing.

We also do not believe that the government truly represents all of the UK's citizens, and is only concerned with the interests of a small select group.

Using a citizens assembly would mean that a group of people representing the country's people can make decisions that politicians are currently too afraid to make. They can take on the decisions (recommendations) made by the Citizens Assembly without having to worry about what it will do to their political career (after all, they won't be the ones who came up with the recommendations, they are merely meant to implement them). And the interests of all people, wherever they are based and whatever social, economic, racial, cultural or gender background they have, will be taken into account.

Who will be on the Citizens Assembly?

We won't know until the sortition process has taken place. There will be a certain amount of 'segmentation' in the process of randomly selecting the people because we do want this body to be truly representative of the population. So for example, 50% randomly selected people will have to be male and 50% female. Locations will need to be taken into account, so that not everyone selected is from London for example. A great deal of planning will have to go into how to make the random selection truly representative.

For Extinction Rebellion this means: none of us may end up being on the Citizens Assembly. Any fears of our movement taking over and running the show are therefore unfounded.

What power will it have?

The Citizens Assembly will have an advisory role to the government, a bit like a special task force or even a referendum. It will not be legally binding. However, this is where Extinction Rebellion does get involved: we demand that the government guarantees that it will implement the recommendations that come out of the Citizens Assembly.

Will it replace the government?

No. Although many of us who are part of Extinction Rebellion do believe that our current political system is broken, this is not the aim of the Citizens Assembly. It will be purely in addition to the government, put in place to navigate the route to carbon neutrality by 2025.

In regards to the urgency of '0 by 2025', there is no time now to fundamentally overhaul a government. Time is a luxury we do not have.

Who will pay for it?

The UK government.

How long will it last?

The sortition process - 

The call for experts -

The Citizens Assembly -

Implementation process -

What will be the outcome?

A roadmap towards a zero net carbon society by 2025 for the UK government to implement.

Who will implement the ideas?

The UK government

Why is this just for the UK? Shouldn't all countries be doing this?

Yes, and we hope that the numerous Extinction Rebellion groups setting up in countries all over the world will be equally successful at demanding their own national Citizens Assemblies for the Climate Emergency.

Who will run and oversee the process?

Sortition Foundation? Citizens Assemblies experts with proven track records from previous ones?

Are there any examples of other Citizens Assemblies?

Yes! 

G1000 in Belgium

Irish Citizens Assembly https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/

Canada - Grandview-Woodland Citizens’ Assembly (2012), Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Long-term Residents' Assembly for the development of priorities and urban planning recommendations for a 30-year community plan Read more: https://www.masslbp.com/celebrate25

DIEM 25 (Democracy in Europe Movement by 2025) includes sortition in it's platform for change and its national groups.

Participedia collects information on almost all of these forms of engagement: https://participedia.net/

What is the difference between a 'People's Assembly' and a 'Citizens Assembly'?

In a people’s assembly the participants are self selected whereas in a Citizens’ Assembly  they are selected

Is there any further reading, viewing and listening about this?

Read

10 Reasons Why We Like Sortition Citizens' Assemblies https://www.sortitionfoundation.org/10_reasons_why_we_like_sortition_citizens_assemblies 

The Irish Citizens' Assembly https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/ 

Watch

SORTITION - An Interview with Keith Garrett of the Sortition Foundation (Real Media) https://youtu.be/IRUVWcvreU8 

Citizens Assembly Workshop (Webinar) 10 January 2019 https://zoom.us/recording/play/FRsDFBJk65k8KP4L-ButeChWyE5gZjYorznQPueoO5OJAaHiGYNa1uFx-2mx7Yap?continueMode=true 

Brett’s TED talk - https://www.ted.com/talks/brett_hennig_what_if_we_replaced_politicians_with_randomly_selected_people?language=en

Listen

ResPossCast Episode 2 - Can a citizens assembly tackle the climate emergency? (Resolution:Possible) https://soundcloud.com/user-697239002/resposs-cast-can-a-citizens-assembly-tackle-the-climte-emergency