FEATURE17 August 2020

Weighing it up

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Recovering from a global pandemic could be the ideal moment for a citizens’ conversation. Jane Simms explores the rise of citizens’ assemblies and the future of deliberation.

Silver marbles balance on scales against a white background

Among the reading matter for MPs to peruse over the summer – whether or not their traditional recess is cancelled – will be the final report from Climate Assembly UK (CAUK), the national citizens’ assembly that began in a Birmingham hotel in January and culminated, under lockdown, in participants’ homes in May. Commissioned by six House of Commons select committees, and run by public participation charity Involve, the assembly sought to address how the UK could best achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.

The climate assembly was high profile – environmentalist David Attenborough attended its first session – and its 110 participants were highly engaged. Yet, for all the time and investment that went into it, its success will be judged, ultimately, on whether the government acts on its findings. At the time of writing, we don’t know whether the report will even be debated in parliament.

Citizens’ assemblies involve a representative sample of people deliberating and reflecting on complex or sensitive issues, gathering and ...