Posts on this blog over the past few years have tracked a wave of local citizens’ assemblies convened by councils keen to explore a range of issues. Last year, we published an ‘early report card’ examining the impact these assemblies were having – whether councils were listening to them and acting on their recommendations. A year on, it is time to take a fresh look. Lauren Brown here updates the report card to the end of 2021.
A wave of local citizens’ assemblies began in the summer of 2019 in the UK, with topics discussed ranging from climate change to air quality in local boroughs. Despite COVID-19 and the need to shift such assemblies online, the interest in using deliberative processes has continued. Often utilised to help resolve politically tricky issues, citizens’ assemblies are widely celebrated for how they allow representative samples of the population to consider issues deeply before making recommendations.
In the UK, by the end of 2021, there had been 23 citizens’ assemblies, with seven held in the last year alone. These have primarily focused on issues of climate change, though some have also considered COVID-19 recovery and neighbourhood design. Moreover, the London borough of Newham has become the first UK council to create a permanent citizens’ assembly, thereby institutionalising public deliberation within the UK at a local level. The wave of local citizens’ assemblies in the UK therefore shows no real sign of letting up.
Still, as Robert Liao noted last year, the devil is in the detail – whilst it is clear that citizens’ assemblies continue to be popular for addressing local issues, it is less evident whether the recommendations they produce are consistently being followed up on. With the Unit’s own Citizens’ Assembly on Democracy in the UK – which will report in full next month – stressing that people want their ‘elected representatives to do better’, it thus remains key to ask whether citizens’ assemblies lead to significant change, and whether their recommendations are being implemented as well as just listened to.Continue reading