Citizens’ Assembly

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Definition

A Citizens' Assembly is a body of citizens who come together to deliberate on a given issue and provide a set of recommendations, options or a collective decision to the state.

The exact mandate of an Assembly varies in practice. Perhaps the most well-known case is the British Columbia Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform. In that case, the Assembly was established through legislation and formally mandated to provide a proposal on electoral reform, which was then put to a popular referendum. Other Assemblies such as the Citizens' Assembly on Brexit were independent from government and provided a recommendation with no guarantee of it being carried through.

Problems and Purpose

The rationale underpinning a Citizens' Assembly is similar to that of a Citizens' Jury and other democratic innovations based on the principles of deliberative democracy: that a group of randomly selected citizens, when given the information, resources and time to deliberate on a given topic, can produce an informed public judgement. Elected politicians may make decisions that favour their own political interests and are subject to pressure and influence from interest and lobby groups. Even if this is not the case, trust in politicians is low and declining. Decisions made a by a cross-section of society that the broader public can identify with may seem more acceptable or even more legitimate. 

Citizens' Assemblies vary in their exact purpose. The British Columbia Assembly was tasked, by government, with investigating the possibility for electoral reform in the province. Their final recommendation was then put to referendum. The National Assembly in Iceland was organised independently and its purpose was to develop community values and priorities following Iceland's collapse in the Global Financial Crisis 

History

The Citizens' Assembly idea originates in ancient Athenian popular assemblies, loosely speaking. It is considered to embody the principles of deliberative democracy, although it can also be seen as sitting at the interface of deliberative and direct democracy, such as the British Columbia case.

Participant Selection

Participants are usually selected through quasi-random selection with the aim being to secure a representative sample of the state or region. The number of participants varies across cases, although generally there will be more people than a standard Citizens' Jury model whilst keeping at a manageable number to retain deliberative quality. Numbers range from 45 to over 1,000.

In general, no politicians should be involved, although there are exceptions such as the Citizens' Assembly Pilots in the UK where one Assembly included local elected politicians.

Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction

 

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

 

Analysis and Lessons Learned

 

Secondary Sources

Mark Warren and Hillary Pearse eds. Designing Deliberative Democracy: The British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly (Cambridge University Press, 2008). 

John Ferejohn. The Citizens' Assembly Model. Stanford University. February 2006. 

External Links

 

Notes

 

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