8 thoughts on “Do citizens’ assemblies work in practice? Eight lessons from a pilot

  1. Getting the commitment from citizens for such processes is very difficult. Why would it not be? Why would we expect citizens, who are understandably very cynical of our politicians, to want to take part in such initiatives? My experience of having run over twenty Citizens Juries over the past ten years is that (like all of us) people need incentives. Often these incentives are to get people through the door. We are currently running the Wirral Alcohol Inquiry and are recruiting for 20 residents to attend nine evening sessions. Last Thursday as we walked the streets in the rain to randomly recruit people (supplementing the letter drop) the thing that grabbed peoples attention the most was the offer of a £20 voucher for each session that they attend. Once through the door they realise there are many many more incentives on offer, making new friends, feeling more part of the community, feeling they can make a difference, something to do etc. time and time again some of the participants have said to us ‘actually I’ve decided I don’t want the voucher please use it to help make sure the recommendations become a reality’. The danger of not offering such incentives (and child care etc) is that such processes become dominated by the 60+ white middle classes who then find it difficult to not engage in othering when discussing complex social issues.

  2. Alan, the challenge with the democracy is not found it its spirit, but rather with its implementation. As you state from your experience “Small-group discussion is where most of the deepest thinking happens” — yet you must appreciate how problematic this can become as factions start to take up strong positions. You probably do not know of large group processes that specifically support diverse assemblies of citizens as that jointly co-construct a coherent view of a governance challenge, and then find themselves part of a diversified community in support of that understanding. If the expectation of democracy is to govern, rather than to define rules for governing, all is lost. Democracy is a design approach, and to get the design adopted among governance community, that governance community needs to directly engage in the collaborative design. Please consider “structured democratic dialogue” and “structured dialogic design” as an experiential learning platform for large groups engaging uncertain futures. Tom Flanagan, Institute for 21st Century Agoras

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