The oversight panel can be made up of citizens, representatives of government, rights-holders (representatives of those whose rights are under threat, such as grassroots campaigns), technical experts in deliberative processes and other stakeholders such as NGOs and corporations. The role of this body is to monitor the whole process ensuring its compliance with standards.
These are a mixture of experts, stakeholders and rights-holders who brief the assembly on their perspective. They are invited by the coordinating group based on criteria set by the advisory board to ensure fair and broad representation of opinion. Assembly members also have input and are asked whether there are specific questions they would like answered or particular groups or individuals they would like to hear from. They also have the chance to cross-question panel members at the assembly itself. Contributions from experts, stakeholders and rights-holders can be made in the form of a talk in person, a recording, a written briefing, or they can be live streamed.
The advisory board develops key criteria for the selection of the expert/ stakeholder panel. It also ensures, with the help of the oversight panel, that the background material and evidence presented to a citizens’ assembly is balanced. The advisory board may be composed in different ways, for example, in the Irish Citizens’ Assembly the board comprised academics and practitioners across a number of specific fields of interest.
A team of facilitators is appointed by the coordinators. In every session during the citizens’ assembly a facilitator sits at each table with assembly members. The role of the facilitation team is to ensure that the deliberation is not dominated by a vocal few and that everyone has a chance to speak. This role should be carried out by experienced practitioners who can ensure that the deliberation environment is respectful. The team should be impartial and sufficiently large to adequately support the number of assembly members. The facilitators will not have the opportunity to voice their own opinion.
Citizens are the heart of deliberative democracy. Citizens’ assemblies must represent all social groups directly affected by the decisions taken in them. In this case, the Swiss population. The members are therefore drawn by lot to represent a representative panel of citizens from this population. Today, a large part of the population is still too often excluded from political decisions.
For example, several authors have shown that – based solely on the age factor (one of the few sociological variables, along with education level and social class (or income), that influence voting inequalities) – young people (18-25 years old) vote less than other age groups (although they participate in a different way), while the 65-74 year olds vote the most (Maye, 2019; Boughaba, 2014).
Therefore, organizers of citizens’ assemblies need to pay attention to the range of factors that would deprive certain groups of people from participating in the democratic process or discourage them from participating in collective discussions in citizens’ assemblies.
A Citizens’ assembly is run by a team of coordinators whose impartiality is essential. Their independence from those funding the process is safeguarded by a series of checks and balances, such as the oversight panel. These coordinators are responsible for conducting the process of random selection and inviting experts, stakeholders and facilitators. This role is normally taken by a professional organisation or a group of such organisations.