What is a Citizens’ Assembly?
A citizens’ assembly is a group of citizens who are selected at random from a cross-section of the population to learn about, deliberate upon, and make recommendations on an issue or set of issues. The process supports informed discussion and consideration, often of a complex or contentious issue.
Have Citizens’ Assemblies been used before?
Citizens’ assemblies have been used in Ireland, Canada, Australia, Belgium and a number of other countries, and have been used within the UK, including to consider the consequences of Brexit. The Scottish Government has also undertaken exercises along similar principles to inform policy – for example, Social Security User Panels and the Citizens’ Forums on attitudes to Agriculture. The Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland was the first national citizens’ assembly in Scotland and was followed by Scotland’s Climate Assembly which will report in 2021.
Was this Assembly run by the Scottish Government?
No. The Scottish Government appointed a Convener of the Assembly and worked with them to set the remit. The Scottish Government also provided resources to the Assembly. However, the Assembly operated entirely independently of Government and in accordance with the design principles that have been published.
How was the Assembly set up and run?
The design principles that shaped all aspects of the establishment and conduct of the Assembly can be viewed here. An independent Convener was appointed to lead the Assembly supported by an impartial Secretariat. A Stewarding Group consisting of a group of independent experts and advisers were tasked with providing advice and support to the Convener. Latterly a Members Reference Group provided insights on the Assembly experience and significantly contributed to the delivery of the Assembly. A range of contractors were appointed to provided specialist services to the Assembly on the design and delivery and communications and engagement.
What questions was the Assembly tasked with answering?
The remit sets out the following topics to be addressed by the Assembly:
- What kind of country are we seeking to build?
- How best can we overcome the challenges Scotland and the world face in the 21st century, including those arising from Brexit?
- What further work should be carried out to give us the information we need to make informed choices about the future of the country?
The remit set out that it was for the Assembly to decide which specific challenges to consider and asked that in doing so that the constitutional arrangements for dealing with those challenges and options for constitutional reform be examined.
How much did the Assembly cost?
A budget of £1.37 million has been set by the Scottish Government. A breakdown of estimated costs is available here. The budget is published in the Assembly’s report and the final outturn will be published in due course by the Scottish Government. Costs for this Assembly are comparable with similar exercises undertaken in Ireland.
Who were the Members of the Citizens’ Assembly?
The Assembly was made up of over 100 people randomly recruited from across Scotland. The membership was selected to be broadly representative of the adult population (16 and over) in terms of age, gender, socio-economic class/educational qualifications, ethnic group, geography and political attitudes.
Who recruited the Members of the Citizens’ Assembly?
Following a competitive tendering process, Mark Diffley Consultancy and Research Ltd was awarded the contract to recruit members of the Citizens’ Assembly.
How were Members recruited?
The objective of the recruitment was to identify a group of people who broadly reflected the adult population (aged 16 and over) of Scotland in terms of socio-demographic variables and political attitudes/view. The following socio-demographic variables for stratification purposes were used, in line with practice in other citizens’ assemblies in the UK: Age, Gender, Educational Qualifications, Ethnic group, Geography, having a life limiting health condition, and voting intention in the Scottish Parliament, with regard to the EU Referendum in 2016 and with regard to the Independence referendum in 2014.
Could people apply to be Assembly members?
No. Members of the Assembly were randomly selected; people were not able to apply to join. The detailed methodology for selecting members, which had the aim to achieve an Assembly broadly representative of the adult population (aged 16 and over) of Scotland, has been published on our website.
What level of political activity excluded people from becoming Assembly members?
Elected and appointed representatives (MSPs, MPs, MEPs, councillors and members of the House of Lords), political party staff, public appointees and senior public and civil servants were ineligible.
How were Assembly members supported to attend?
Assembly members were able to claim the cost of travel, caring responsibilities and other reasonable expenses agreed in advance. Accommodation costs for participants were covered along with all meals during the in-person Assembly meetings. The venues used for the Assembly were fully accessible and all accessibility requirements of Assembly members were taken into account to support their participation. This could include, where needed, providing materials in Braille or large print, sign language interpretation or covering the costs of a carer or personal assistant to attend to support a member. Weekends 5-8 took place online and members were supported with digital accessibility, IT and technology support.
What was the politicians’ panel?
All of the political parties represented in the Parliament were invited to put forward a representative to participate in a panel, all parties with the exception of the Liberal Democrats participated. The panel members attended the 3rd meeting of the Assembly during which they engaged in discussion about political priorities and how politics is conducted in Scotland. A further meeting with the panel was due to take place in weekend 5 but did not take place due to Covid-19.
How often did the Assembly meet?
Eight times. The Assembly was initially scheduled to meet over 6 weekends between autumn 2019 and spring 2020 and to submit its report in early summer 2020. However, meetings 5 and 6 scheduled for March and April 2020 had to be postponed in line with the public health measures put in place in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. The Assembly reconvened online, completing its work through four shorter meetings held between September and December 2020.
Why was one venue chosen to hold Assembly meetings?
At the outset consideration was given to rotating meetings to different venues. However, this would have resulted in substantial logistical challenges for members and additional costs. A single location was also considered preferable as members would become familiar with the venue and how to get there. Given this, apart from the first meeting, all Assembly in person meetings took place at the Golden Jubilee Conference Centre in Clydebank.
What was the impact of Covid 19 on the Assembly?
The public health measures put in place in March 2020 in response to Covid-19 resulted in the cancellation of weekends 5 and 6 and a temporary suspension of the Assembly. The Assembly then reconvened online in September 2020, meeting for the final time in December 2020.
What support was provided to members in the move online?
Members were fully supported to move online, both by the provision of equipment where necessary and through technology induction sessions to ensure familiarity with the online platform and all online tools that were being used. In addition to providing this training to all members in advance of the first online session, support and assistance was provided between weekends and at weekends where required. All material used online was developed in line with accessibility needs and hard copy materials were provided if requested.
How did the Assembly decide what to cover each weekend?
Members drove the Assembly’s approach to tackling the broad remit by establishing common ground on a range of values and priorities for action. A detailed rundown of the Assembly’s learning journey can be found here.
What evidence was presented to the Assembly?
All of the work of the Assembly, including the agenda for meetings, the evidence presented at the weekends, key points in discussions and interim outputs prepared on specific topics can be found in the weekend reports and in the recordings of plenary sessions published by weekend. Much of the learning from weekends 1 to 4 was brought together in the interim report and ‘journey so far’ summary papers and in the accompanying videos prepared by the Secretariat in advance of the Assembly reconvening in September.
Annex 7 provides a table of the agenda for each weekend together with a list of the evidence sessions and the outputs that were produced. Annex 8 provides a more detailed account of the evidence of the Assembly, including information on the expert speakers, links to their presentations and the full range of supporting materials that were provided to members in advance of Assembly meetings.
How was the evidence selected?
A key role of the Stewarding group was to help decide on the evidence provided and at an early stage evidential standards were prepared and discussed as part of a wider consideration of using evidence and engaging with trusted sources. Expert speakers were identified in line with the principles and approach set out in the evidential standards. Those invited to present were drawn from a range of reputable organisations and institutions from across the UK. A full breakdown of participating speakers and the evidence given across Assembly weekends is provided in Annex 8.
How did the Assembly engage with the wider public?
The Assembly engaged the wider public via social media channels and sustained engagement with print, digital and broadcast journalists. The Assembly received coverage in a wide range of international and domestic media.
Social media channels (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) provided avenues for informing stakeholders and the general public, making the Assembly’s work accessible and transparent. Livestreams appeared on Facebook and our YouTube channel in addition to the Assembly website accompanied by BSL and closed captions. Our YouTube channel hosts a range of additional video content created around weekend meetings, including highlights videos featuring members’ reflections and distilling key evidence from expert speakers. The Convener posted regular blogs and updated our subscribers via email on the progress of Assembly work throughout.
As noted in the Assembly report, the remit and timetable for delivery made it impracticable to undertaken open calls for evidence.
How did members answer the remit?
The members answered the remit through their shared vision and 60 recommendations which were published in Doing Politics Differently: the report of the Citizens Assembly of Scotland on 13 January 2021.
Hear members share their vision and recommendations here.
The vision answers the first remit question. It was agreed by consensus and consists of statements that received 90% or more support of members. The 60 recommendations address the second and third remit questions. 58 were strongly supported (receiving over 75% support) and 2 were majority supported (receiving over 50% support).
Can you tell me more about the research?
The Scottish Government commissioned an independent research initiative to run throughout the Assembly. The overall aims of the research were to provide learning about the process to support the delivery of the current Assembly and to meet the Scottish Government’s commitment to review and learn from the experience as well as to situate the Scottish experience within a wider body of international evidence on Citizens’ Assemblies.
Following each Assembly meeting the research team prepared research briefings. These briefings provided important evidence to support Assembly design and operations.
Findings will be published in a Scottish Government Social Research report in September 2021. This report will provide lessons for informing similar democratic processes in Scotland and beyond. Further detail on the research can be found in the Assembly report.
What happens now the report has been published?
Following the report’s publication, Assembly members met virtually to discuss their vision and recommendations with ministers from the Scottish Government. The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Futures Forum held an event convened by the Presiding Officer which brought together members of the Assembly, a political panel and a number of MSPs to discuss and consider the vision and recommendations of the Assembly. On 18 February 2021, the Scottish Parliament debated the report. MSPs welcomed the Assembly’s shared vision and 60 recommendations for the country’s future, ahead of an action plan on the Assembly’s findings to be published by the next Scottish Government and a further debate to be held by the new Parliament following the election in May 2021.
How do I contact the Citizens’ Assembly?
At the end of February 2021, the Citizens’ Assembly Secretariat closed. Any enquires about the work of the Assembly should be directed to the Scottish Government sponsor team at CitizensAssemblyofScotland@gov.scot.