What are citizens’ assemblies?
In a Citizens’ Assembly, members of the public are brought together to consider a public issue and make a recommendation on what action should be taken on that issue.
They do this by listening to evidence, discussing the evidence they hear, and reaching a conclusion together on what steps the government should take next. The Assembly’s recommendation is then given to decision makers in government who decide what will happen next.
Assemblies are made up of members of the public – not politicians or people who work in government.
Assembly members learn in depth about an issue, hearing from expert witnesses and people with experience of the issue. Together, they then discuss the issue and reach a collective decision on what they think should be done.
Why hold a citizens’ assembly?
There are a number of benefits to holding a citizens’ assembly:
How do citizens’ assemblies work?
There are five steps in each assembly:
What topic will the Greater Cambridge Citizens’ Assembly address?
The Greater Cambridge Citizens’ Assembly will address the question: How do we reduce congestion, improve air quality, and provide better public transport in Greater Cambridge? The idea for a citizens’ assembly on transport issues goes back to late last year when GCP applied for funding from the Innovation in Democracy programme
The Greater Cambridge Citizens’ Assembly will be able to consider the results of the Choices for Better Journeys engagement, along with other evidence about how to reduce congestion and better support public transport to improve people’s daily journeys.
Will the Greater Cambridge Citizens’ Assembly also address climate change or other specific or local issues affecting Cambridge or Cambridgeshire?
The Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) has specific responsibility for transport and it's important that the citizens’ assembly’s recommendations are on topics about which GCP can take decisions.
The effect of transport on climate change is an important issue and as such will be part of the evidence, but it will presented alongside wider issues and impacts that the Assembly will need to hear about in order to come to recommendations on measures to enable better public transport, reduce congestion and address air quality.
The citizens’ assembly will not seek to find solutions about individual roads / infrastructure or rewrite public transport timetables or address other local issues. It will seek to provide recommendations on the broader question about what is needed to reduce congestion, improve air quality and provide better public transport.
The learning from this citizens’ assembly could open the door to further citizens’ assemblies or deliberative public engagement that address climate change directly, as other local councils are doing. A local authority, with responsibility for a wider set of issues, would be more appropriate than GCP to establish a climate assembly.
Could a restructuring of local government be a recommendation from the citizens’ assembly?
The assembly may come up with a number of different recommendations. The focus will be around addressing congestion, air quality and funding for public transport and we would expect recommendations to address those questions primarily.
Are two weekends sufficient to hear all the evidence?
While citizens’ assemblies vary in length, they are usually a minimum of 2 days. This citizens’ assembly will last for four days, spread over two weekends. A balance has to be made between time for Assembly Members to hear evidence and time to deliberate to come up with recommendations.
When and where will the assembly be held?
The Greater Cambridge Citizens' Assembly will take place over two weekends in Cambridge:
Who has commissioned the Greater Cambridge Citizens’ Assembly?
The Greater Cambridge Partnership has commissioned the Citizens’ Assembly. The partners of the Greater Cambridge Partnership are Cambridge City Council, South Cambridgeshire District Council, Cambridgeshire County Council, the University of Cambridge and representative of the business community.
The Greater Cambridge Partnership is one of three successful local authorities in England to be awarded up to £60,000 and support from the UK Government's Innovation in Democracy Programme to run this Citizens' Assembly. The Innovation in Democracy Programme is being managed by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).
Who is running and funding the event?
Greater Cambridge Partnership has been awarded funds and support from the UK Government's Innovation in Democracy Programme to hold this Citizens' Assembly. Two independent organisations are delivering the Assembly:
What will happen after the citizens' assembly? Who decides how (or which of) the recommendations are implemented? What is that process like?
The headline recommendations from the citizens' assembly will be published as soon as possible after the Assembly has finished meeting and the full report published in late October/ early November. The report will be discussed at the public meetings of the Greater Cambridge Partnership's Joint Assembly and Executive Board in November/December 2019. The Executive Board will use the report to inform their decisions on how to tackle traffic congestion and improve air quality and public transport in Greater Cambridge and will respond to the report recommendations.
Does the GCP Board have to accept and act on the citizens ‘assembly’s’ recommendations? Will the GCP Board just ignore the recommendations?
Recommendations are not binding. It is the right of GCP Board to act on the recommendations as it chooses, but it has committed to the Citizens’ Assembly process and involving a group of citizens coming to recommendations on the topic. The GCP Board will observe how citizens come to their conclusions, and will respond to the recommendations publicly.
How will you make sure the Assembly is accessible?
We want the Assembly to be accessible for all people and will provide additional support where we can to enable those who have registered and selected to take part. This includes participants with disabilities, who require carer support or who have caring responsibilities that might otherwise prevent their participation.
The venue selected for the Assembly has step-free access, disabled lavatories and a hearing loop in the event room. We will endeavour to make all adjustments needed to ensure all selected participants can fully take part in the Assembly.
How do you select people to become members of the Assembly?
Potential members of the Citizens’ Assembly are selected through a “civic lottery”. Invitations will be posted to households in the area randomly selected from the postcode database. From those who register interest, a sample is randomly selected which resembles the local population in miniature (e.g. by age, area, ethnicity, gender and socio-economic group).
Participants are also paid a small sum, called an honorarium, for taking part. This is to help encourage and enable a wide range of people to take part.
How many invitations were sent out to invite people to apply to be on the citizens’ assembly? How many acceptances did you receive?
What did the invitations look like?
10,000 households were sent invitations to the Greater Cambridge Citizens' Assembly. They then had to reply to register their interest. Please note that the registration process is now closed.
The invitation documents can be found on the website at https://www.greatercambridge.org.uk/cityaccess/greater-cambridge-citizens-assembly/
If 211 people applied, and there are only 60 places, is the membership of the citizens’ assembly representative of the local population? Can we see the demographic breakdown?
The Sortition Foundation used a stratified sampling method to make sure the members of the assembly include people of different ages, ethnicities, socio-economic groups and genders. It also stratified on how regularly people travelled and by what means. By doing this, the Assembly will be more reflective of the local population than a self-selecting group is likely to be. You can find out more about the method at https://consultcambs.uk.engagementhq.com/greater-cambridge-citizens-assembly. Sortition and stratified sampling is recognised around the world as a reliable way to make engagement exercises more inclusive.
The full demographic breakdown will be published after the first citizens’ assembly meeting. We will know the exact demographic breakdown only after the first citizens’ assembly has started because there may be last-minute dropouts (although we are working to prevent this).
What will be the geographical balance of the citizens' assembly? Will it include residents from outside the Greater Cambridge Partnership area who travel into Cambridge for work or other purposes?
The sortition process has achieved membership of the citizens’ assembly which is balanced to include people who live in Greater Cambridge and the wider travel to work area.
The methodology can be found on the website at https://consultcambs.uk.engagementhq.com/greater-cambridge-citizens-assembly
How do you intend to reach the majority of residents?
Membership of the citizens’ assembly will consist of 60 people chosen following a civic lottery of postal addresses. People were also invited to make submissions to the Evidence Survey and they can share their experiences of travelling in and around the area, and can apply to be observers at the Assembly. Information is on the website at https://consultcambs.uk.engagementhq.com/greater-cambridge-citizens-assembly
What percentage of students will take up the city portion/representation of the assembly?
What is the role of the Advisory Group?
The Advisory Group’s role is to provide advice and oversight to ensure the Assembly’s plans, evidence and materials are accurate, balanced and unbiased.
The Assembly will be considering traffic congestion, air quality and public transport an issue identified by our Choices for Better Journeys engagement exercise and of vital significance to many people in Cambridge who experience this issue in different ways.
In appointing the Advisory Group we have sought to recruit a range of expertise and perspectives.
Who are the members of the Advisory Group?
How were the members of the Advisory Group chosen?
Who on the Advisory Group represents environment and climate change?
Why is the RAC Foundation on the Advisory Group?
The Assembly will be looking at measures to reduce congestion, particularly from commuters. It was felt that it was important to have that representation as part of the group. The RAC Foundation is a transport policy and research organisation which explores the economic, mobility, safety and environmental issues relating to roads and their users.
Have Advisory Group members been asked to declare and publish their interests? Can we have an assurance that no-one working for a consultancy bidding for GCP/Combined Authority work will participate on the Advisory Board?
Will the Advisory Group meet in public? Will papers and minutes be made public?
Are Advisory Group members paid and/or offered expenses?
How many submissions were made to the call for evidence?
Why weren’t the suggestions for evidence published as soon as they were submitted?
Who will give evidence to the assembly? Will it be the Advisory Group?
How will you select examples of ‘particular lived experience?
Will members of the public be able to observe the citizens’ assembly in action?
How will applications to be an observer be assessed?
Spaces to observe the citizens’ assembly are limited.
Applications to be an observer will be assessed against criteria which are included in the guidelines for observers; these have been published on the website in the documents section https://consultcambs.uk.engagementhq.com/greater-cambridge-citizens-assembly
What can an observer do at the assembly? Why can’t observers report on what happens at the citizens’ assembly?
The guidelines for observers have been published on the website in the documents section: https://consultcambs.uk.engagementhq.com/greater-cambridge-citizens-assembly
Scrutiny of the Citizens’ Assembly, from different groups – including politicians, interest groups and the wider public– is an important part of this process. If the depth of learning, deliberation and decision-making Assembly Members take part in is seen by different stakeholders - it helps to demonstrate that its recommendations are well-considered.
Observers will be able to watch the evidence giving and the discussion but they won’t be able to take part in the deliberations, nor will they be permitted to interact with Assembly Members – this is to ensure Assembly Members are able to speak freely during deliberations and to preserve the integrity of the citizens’ assembly process.
Observers can report on the process of the Assembly and how it works and will be able to ask to interview those involved in running the process and may be able to seek permission to interview members, but the substance of discussions and recommendations decided by the Citizens’ Assembly should not be disclosed.
Regarding the reporting of results of votes and outcomes, this is just a temporary restriction and request to respect an embargo to ensure that all results are published with their full detail and context at the same time, and also after votes have been fully verified. This is common practice across citizens’ assemblies and other deliberative processes.
The outcomes of the assembly will be reported in the autumn.