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.

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.

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.

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).

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 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.

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?

The recommendations from the Citizens' Assembly will be presented to 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.

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.