Assembly Research

The Scottish Government commissioned an independent research initiative to run throughout the Assembly. This research was been undertaken collaboratively by Scottish Government Social Research in partnership with 3 independent academic researchers: Dr Oliver Escobar and Professor Ailsa Henderson, University of Edinburgh and Dr Stephen Elstub, University of Newcastle. Research plans were reviewed by a Research Advisory Group set up to support the project, consisting of those who have international experience of conducting research in the field of democratic innovation and representatives from the Citizens’ Assembly Secretariat and the Scottish Government.

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. The specific objectives were to:

  • Provide ongoing evaluative evidence about the Assembly process to convenors and the Secretariat
  • Evaluate the success of the CA as a model of democratic engagement in Scotland
  • Produce a research dataset on the CA that will be available for use by researchers, practitioners and leaders and ensure Scotland’s contribution to the developing global evidence on democratic innovation
Researchers squatting

The research provides evidence about both the internal operation of the Citizens’ Assembly and the external relationship between the Assembly and wider Scottish society. The methods used to address the external dimension involved a population survey, analysis of media coverage of the Assembly and interviews with stakeholders. The internal dimension gathered data on assembly members’ understanding, attitudes and experiences as well as the quality of deliberation
and facilitation through:

  • Member Surveys – to track members’ experience, knowledge and learning, members have completed surveys throughout the course of the Assembly meetings
  • Non-participant observation – members of the research team have attended all assembly meetings to collect observational data during the course of the weekend, including facilitator briefings. During the online weekends the research team also observed a small number of the breakout room discussions
  • Audio recordings of facilitated group discussions – a small sample of the discussions have been recorded each weekend and analysis has focused in quantifying the quality of deliberation

Following each Assembly meeting the research team prepared research briefings. These briefings provided important evidence to support Assembly design and operations. Once the Assembly has reported, the research team will conduct a range of further qualitative interviews. 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.