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:

  • Members of the public are given a greater say over a decision that affects them and their community;
  • The people making decisions in government receive valuable insights about how members of the public would make the difficult trade-offs and decisions they face, helping them to make effective and legitimate decisions;
  • Decisions made as a result are likely to be more trusted, legitimate and sustainable, because they are reached in a transparent way and supported by a diverse group of residents;
  • People who take part in assemblies are likely to report improved levels of political trust and a lasting drive to take part in other parts of civic life.

How do citizens’ assemblies work?

There are five steps in each assembly:

  1. Decision-makers identify an issue to put forward to an assembly. They agree a remit and set the question to be addressed;
  2. Residents are invited to join the assembly through a “civic lottery”. People are randomly selected to be invited to take part. From those who agree, a group is selected that matches some of the characteristics of the wider community;
  3. The group of participants hears from experts, interest groups and people with lived experience of the issue;
  4. Neutral facilitators support the group to deliberate on what they’ve heard, considering the different evidence, arguments and options;
  5. The group agrees a collective recommendation (or set of recommendations) that it puts to decision-makers.

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:

  • Saturday 7 and Sunday 8 September 
  • Saturday 5 and Sunday 6 October. 
Each day will begin at approximately 10am and finish by 5pm.

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:   

  • The Sortition Foundation promotes the use of stratified, random selection in decision-making. It is responsible for recruiting people to take part in the Assembly; its aim is to ensure the Assembly is broadly representative of the Greater Cambridge community.      
  • The Involve Foundation (‘Involve’) is a UK-wide public participation charity. Involve will run the Citizens’ Assembly - facilitating and designing the process by which the Assembly members learn, consider and come to recommendations about the topic. They will also write the report on the outcomes of 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?

Invitations were sent to 10,000 postcodes across Greater Cambridge and the wider Travel to Work area; they were selected at random from the Royal Mail database. We had 211 registrations for the citizens’ assembly and from that number the Sortition Foundation was able to recruit the 60 people for the assembly. 

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?

We will seek to achieve representation of 5% students in line with demographic data for the area. This may include students at sixth forms, through to other colleges, undergraduate and postgraduate. In addition we are seeking representation from Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire together with any regular travellers from the wider Travel to work area. 

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?

The full membership of the Advisory Group, including a short biography of each member, can be found on the website at https://www.greatercambridge.org.uk/cityaccess/greater-cambridge-citizens-assembly/advisory-group/

How were the members of the Advisory Group chosen?

The Advisory Group is recruited to represent a range of expertise and perspectives particularly around:  Economic growth; public health; the public realm, transportation – including accessibility and mobility, demand management, behavioural change, modal shift and environmental impact.  Members were chosen through a combination of desk research and recommendations. 

Who on the Advisory Group represents environment and climate change?

At the first Advisory Group meeting members were asked to reflect on the expertise of the group and whether having a member not specifically focused on environment/climate change was an omission. The group felt that their respective experience covered the key areas and in particular that from Darren Shirley was sufficient to cover the topic of climate/environment for the purposes of the Advisory Group’s role.

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?

Members of the Advisory Group were asked to declare any conflicts of interest in relation to their work, to Cambridge, or to the GCP at their first meeting on 29 July. None were declared by any of the members. This has been recorded in the minutes of the meeting. Peter Blake from GCP is on the Advisory Board to give the GCP context.

Will the Advisory Group meet in public? Will papers and minutes be made public?

The Advisory Group meetings are not open to the general public to attend, however minutes of the meetings will be published on the website at https://www.greatercambridge.org.uk/cityaccess/greater-cambridge-citizens-assembly/advisory-group/

Are Advisory Group members paid and/or offered expenses?

Members of the Advisory Group are not paid for their time however they are able to reclaim expenses.

How many submissions were made to the call for evidence?

The call for evidence was open from 1-31 July. The main purpose was to gather views on what people thought the citizens’ assembly needs to hear to inform the work of the Advisory Group. We received 37 submissions to the call for evidence. 

Why weren’t the suggestions for evidence published as soon as they were submitted?

Following the closing date the evidence was collated and any personal identifiable data redacted before it could be published. 

Who will give evidence to the assembly? Will it be the Advisory Group?

The Advisory Group has an oversight role to ensure the range of different expertise and perspectives are represented in terms of what Assembly members will learn about.  This may include hearing from academics, professional experts, campaigners or people who have a unique or direct experience of the issue. Members of the Advisory Group may be asked to provide evidence if relevant depending on the final programme, what has been suggested during the call for evidence or by the assembly. 

How will you select examples of ‘particular lived experience?

This is yet to be determined but will be considered by the Advisory Group.  However we know that Assembly Members will have their own experience to draw on.  In addition we are asking for people’s travel stories as a way to reflect on wider experiences of travel in Greater Cambridge.

Will members of the public be able to observe the citizens’ assembly in action?

Yes, anyone can apply to be an observer. The application period opened on 1 August and will close on 28 August. Information on how to apply can be found on the website at https://consultcambs.uk.engagementhq.com/greater-cambridge-citizens-assembly

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.