As part of the recent work we’ve been doing around meaningful citizen participation in democratic decision making, mySociety have been investigating how digital tools can be used as part of the process of a Citizens’ Assembly.
We reviewed how Citizens’ Assemblies to date have used digital technology, and explored where lessons can be learned from other deliberative or consultative activities.
While there is no unified digital service for Citizens’ Assemblies, there are a number of different, individual tools that can be used to enhance the process — and most of these are generic and well-tested products and services. We also tried to identify where innovative tools could be put to new uses, while always bearing in mind the core importance of the in-person deliberative nature of assemblies.
We found that digital tools have potential uses in many parts of the process, which we grouped in three areas:
Preparation: bringing the public in
- Question forming
- Public submissions
- Finding experts and stakeholders to give evidence
Internal: facilitating assemblies
- Attendance management
- Tools for coming to decisions in the assembly (voting)
- Sharing assembly materials to members
- Including a wider range of experts
- Enabling online deliberation for assembly members outside the face-to-face sessions
External: sharing products
- Sharing the conclusions of the assembly
- Streaming of evidence/plenary sessions
- Sharing evidence submitted to inquiry
- Tracking implementation of recommendations
- Communicating participants’ experiences
- Allowing feedback from non-participants on the outcome
Above all when considering the use of digital tools, it’s important that the final choice is appropriate to the aims of the project — and will typically be complementary rather than taking a centre-stage role. Digital tools can reduce costs and enhance the process by creating resources that add greater depth and knowledge to the process, but shouldn’t detract focus from the importance of the core deliberative activity of the assembly.