Key steps in designing a Citizens’ assembly

1. Appointment of an oversight panel

This oversight panel monitors the entire process and the other bodies in order to make sure that the citizens’ assembly is balanced and robust and that the principles of its design are followed.

2. Defining the task

The person or group that initiates a citizens’ assembly can set the question. In doing this, they must ensure that the question is clearly formulated and adequately addresses the issue at hand. Assembly members make informed judgements based on expert and stakeholder input, rather than deciding on policy details. In some cases, the specific policy areas to be addressed by the citizens’ assembly need clarifying. In a citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice, for instance, certain sectors could be given priority due to their contribution to the climate crisis and the breakdown of ecological life-support systems. Decisions on which policy areas the citizens’ assembly is to consider will affect its duration and whether there need to be multiple citizens’ assemblies to address these different areas.

3. Appointment of the coordinating group

The coordinators must be selected through an open and competitive tendering process. Safeguards must be in place to ensure that powerful stakeholders, such as the government, are not able to influence the selection process by appointing a team of coordinators to act in their interests.

4. The evidence base

The coordinating group, in contact with the advisory board, work to develop a clear, comprehensive policy framework in order to structure the evidence, deliberation and decisions. In the case of a citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice, this might mean developing feasible alternative policies within specific sectors.

5. Inviting experts and stakeholders

The coordinating group identifies and contacts experts, stakeholders and rights-holders based on the key criteria outlined by the advisory board.

6. Designing the assembly process

The coordinating group plans the topics of the citizens’ assembly. Information for assembly members is prepared so they can fully understand the discussed problem with all it’s aspects. This implicates also the consideration of the amount of presentations held by different experts, stakeholders and rights holders. In addition to them, who will attend the assembly in person, every member of the swiss society can hand in a written inputs to the citizens’ assembly which will be shared online, summarised and then presented to the members of the assembly.

7. Creation of briefing materials

With guidance from the advisory board the expert and stakeholder panel creates accessible and balanced background materials to be presented to the assembly members.

8. Selection of assembly members by sortition

First, a large database of swiss residents is identified. A certain number of these people are randomly selected from the database and letters of invitation are sent out. The invitation explains the task and provides details about logistics including dates, location, accommodation, available support for travel and honorarium. Interested citizens complete a form either online or via freephone providing basic socio-demographic criteria to the coordinators. A specific team within the coordinators contacts those selected and provides support in order to ensure their attendance — giving information and reassurance, organising travel, offering support for caring responsibilities, etc. The coordinators select assembly members using a process called stratified random sampling.

9. Running the assembly

The citizens’ assembly takes place in an accessible location with adequate accommodation and catering in order to ensure the comfort of assembly members. To ensure transparency, all presentations during the learning and consultation phases should be live streamed and recorded, and all materials should be made available online. In addition, the coordinating group should produce a report explaining the methodology used in the citizens’ assembly to ensure procedural transparency.

10. Impact of recommendations

An explanation of how and when the government will respond to the recommendations should be clear before the citizens’ assembly begins. Recommendations that receive the support of the citizens’ assembly at an agreed threshold could be treated as binding. For example, the government could commit to implementing recommendations that receive the support of 80% of assembly members. Parliament could be required to debate recommendations with less support within a specified time period (e.g. a month) and provide an explanation as to why the proposal has been accepted, modified or rejected.

Citizens’ Democracy

Connecting Swiss deliberative democracy
initiatives & promoting Citizens’ assemblies
Subscribe to our Newsletter
@Citizens' Democracy