The UK’s first national Climate Assembly kicks off this weekend, and mySociety have played a small part in its logistics, building the website which will enable everyone to follow along with the proceedings.
The Assembly will bring together 110 randomly selected citizens representing the UK population in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, education, location and views on the climate, to take in balanced evidence from experts and then agree what needs to be put in place to achieve net zero carbon emissions for the country by 2050.
From Saturday, you’ll be able to watch a livestream of the Assembly as it progresses in Birmingham. The site also provides information on how the Assembly has been set up and who is involved — and afterwards will act as a permanent home for videos and transcripts of the presentations and the conclusions the Assembly comes to.
While we manage the website, the actual Assembly is being run by Involve, and will take place over four weekends. The Sortition Foundation are responsible for recruiting a representative set of people. The end product of the Assembly will be a report, containing the recommendations that have been agreed by the assembly members. This will go back to the six select committees who commissioned the Assembly, in the hope of informing parliamentary legislation — and you’ll also be able to see it on the website once it’s completed.
As part of our work investigating the digital side of Citizens’ Assemblies (see our previous report), mySociety have started writing a guide on what the website for a Citizens’ Assembly should look like.
A dedicated website can be important before, during and after the event. It can help you to recruit, inform and communicate during the whole process, from planning to sharing of results. But beyond that, it helps ensure you meet two of the most crucial standards suggested in Marcin Gerwin’s well-regarded list for Citizens’ Assemblies: Visibility and Transparency.
It can also help with the further standards of Impact: making clear from the outset what will result from the outcome of the Assembly; and Openness: providing a forum where everyone can contribute to the process.
In this guide we discuss broad design and editorial principles, as well as information that should be included. While we include examples of what we consider good practice from previous Assembly websites, this is very much a first attempt at consolidating good practice rather than a definitive document.
Image: Markus Spiske
mySociety’s Head of Research Dr Rebecca Rumbul will be speaking at the first ever Welsh Citizens’ Assembly next week. She’ll be exploring how citizens might more easily feed into the questions posed to ministers and the First Minister in the National Assembly for Wales.
Questions are a fundamental part of all of the UK’s parliaments, most famously in the form of PMQs, the half hour every Wednesday when MPs can raise any issue they deem important with the Prime Minister.
In the devolved parliaments there are also various formats for Q&As, both written and oral. But, Rebecca will argue, there are fundamental problems inherent in all of them, from a lack of representation of the views of the general public, to the political motivations that lead to many questions lacking meaningful substance.
Of course, a Citizens’ Assembly is most concerned with hearing from the general populace, and Rebecca will go on to present our recent research into the digital tools that can help with that process, while examining the pros and cons of each.
Rebecca is one of several speakers who will also include Dr Diana Stirbu and Professor Graham Smith. The event is being co-facilitated by Involve and you can keep up to date with the Citizens’ Assembly’s activities on their dedicated website.
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.