The restrictions on public gatherings brought in as a response to the coronavirus pandemic pose challenges to those seeking to set up and run effective citizens’ assemblies. For those involved in the already-running Climate Assembly UK, those challenges had to be understood and met without the benefit of the preparation time future remote assemblies might have. Sarah Allan explains how she moved that assembly online.
Climate Assembly UK moved online at the end of March 2020. Since then, we’ve held two assembly weekends online, with all assembly members still involved.
A fair few people from around the world have been in touch to ask how this worked. The answers to their questions and my wider reflections on online assemblies are too much for one blog post, but this is a start.
For those less familiar with it, Climate Assembly UK is the first UK-wide citizens’ assembly on climate change. It was commissioned by six cross-party committees of the House of Commons to look at how the UK should meet its target of net-zero emissions. You can read more about that and the assembly here.
The assembly was meant to meet over four weekends in Birmingham between late January and late March 2020. The first three of these weekends took place as planned. However, the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic led to the fourth weekend being postponed, and then to the decision to move the assembly online.
This was a first. No citizens’ assembly in the UK – or in the world, as far as we’re aware – has ever taken place online, with the exception of one meeting of la Convention Citoyenne pour le Climat.
There were lots of considerations about whether, and how, to make this shift. Here I focus on four themes. The description of each is not exhaustive, but I’ve highlighted some of the points that feel most important. Continue reading