Center for Blue Democracy GUIDE FOR ACTIVISTS
HOW TO START A CITIZENS’ ASSEMBLY IN YOUR CITY
- Learn more about citizens’ assemblies
Start by having a good understanding of how citizens’ assemblies work. You can read our guide about citizens’ assemblies or seek out other materials. You don’t need to be an expert, but you should be able to freely explain to others what a citizens’ assembly is and why it is worthwhile to organise them.
- Share the idea with your friends
Bill Mollison, a co-founder of permaculture (ecological design system) once said, “I can’t change the world on my own, it’ll take at least three of us”. It’s a good idea to start with a group of several people. If you already are a part of a group, you can present the idea for a citizens’ assembly during a meeting. If you do not belong to any organisation, it is not a problem as you can discuss it with your friends, who in your opinion might be interested in holding a citizens’ assembly in your city. Having a dinner together is a good idea.
- Clear vision
It is vital to have a clear vision of what you would like to accomplish. What do you want to happen? The more people who share your vision, the better, but the most important thing is for you to have it.
How to start a citizens’ assembly? Depending on the city or country, it can be started by a mayor or a city council. Therefore, check who is responsible for initiating public consultations. You can also investigate whether citizens have such a right by collecting a certain number of signatures.
You can then contact the mayor or chairman of the city council with a proposal to organise a citizens’ assembly by sending them a letter or arranging a meeting to discuss the issue. The second option is to collect signatures under a petition for a citizens’ assembly to demonstrate citizens’ interest in this subject. Collecting signatures of citizens is also a good way to promote the idea of having a citizens’ assembly. It is also an opportunity to simply have fun together. That’s actually an important point.
- Form a coalition
Before you arrange a meeting with the mayor or councillors, it is worthwhile to contact organisations and other groups interested in civic participation or in the topic that is proposed for the citizens’ assemblies. They may include non-governmental organisations and informal groups of activists as well as all persons interested in this issue. You can write them, call them or organise a work meeting to present the idea of organising a citizens’ assembly.
Formation of a coalition is advantageous for several reasons. You can assume that the mayor or city council will be more supportive of the idea of a citizens’ assembly when they are approached by a group of organisations, rather than only a few persons or just one organisation. Of course, sometimes one organisation is enough, and everything will work out fine. However, a coalition is a signal that the idea of having a citizens’ assembly is widely supported and that many citizens will promote it and monitor implementation of its recommendations.
If you collect signatures or conduct an educational campaign for citizens as a coalition, it is worthwhile to specify clearly how decisions are made and by whom. You can also set up a social media site where current information about the campaign will be published.
- Meeting with the mayor and councillors
Before a meeting with the mayor or city council, think about your expectations as far as the results of that meeting. Be clear about what your ideal outcome would be. During the meeting, both the idea of the citizens’ assembly and basic advantages resulting from it should be presented. You can also present why you personally care about this issue and why you would like this to take place. It is worthwhile to follow your intuition regarding this.
You can bring to the meeting a list of standards needed to organize a citizens’ assembly and a description of how a citizens’ assembly may work in practice. Having a friendly attitude towards the mayor is important. Two or three persons can attend the meeting. Ideally, those meeting with the mayor should have good communication skills, be able to express themselves clearly and inspire trust.
Even if it is the mayor in your city who makes the decision about organising a citizens’ assembly, it is still worthwhile to meet with all factions of the city councillors to gain the widest possible support for this idea.
- We will have a citizens’ assembly!
When the mayor or city council agree to organise a citizens’ assembly, it is definitely a reason to celebrate. It is worthwhile to appreciate this success.
What happens later? When the specific topic to be addressed by the citizens’ assembly is already known, the city hall selects its coordinators. The agenda is prepared, subjects to be presented during the educational program are set and experts who will be best suited for this role are appointed. According to the standards we promote, themes for the agenda and experts can be recommended by non-governmental organizations or informal groups who want to participate in the citizens’ assembly as stakeholders, as well as by you personally. All organisations and groups in the alliance initiating the citizens’ assembly may already present their own proposals during this stage. Then, their selection for the agenda is approved by a coordinating team.
- Presentations during the citizens’ assembly
According to our standards, all stakeholders can present their position to the citizens’ assembly in person, or when there are numerous stakeholders, through their representatives. So is there anything you want to propose to the citizens’ assembly? In your opinion, what should be done and which solutions should be implemented? It is worth taking time to prepare well for this part and thoroughly think over your recommendations.
- Monitoring of implementation of recommendations
After spending many days studying the subjects and having discussions on particular solutions, the citizens’ assembly then nears its end and develops its final recommendations. Great! Then it is time for another, crucial stage — implementation of these recommendations. Of course, it is the city hall that is responsible for this stage, however, non-governmental organizations and informal groups who initiated the citizens’ assembly can monitor implementation of these recommendations. Ideally, the aim of organising the citizens’ assembly is not only to develop the recommendations, but also to implement them.
A good option at this stage could be establishing a special monitoring panel by the mayor that will be independent of the city hall and will monitor implementation of the final recommendations. The monitoring panel can be formed by former participants of the citizens’ assembly, experts and representatives of non-governmental organisations. This group should meet from time to time to learn from civil servants about what progress has been made. The entire process should be as transparent as possible — for example, the list of recommendations can be accompanied by a time schedule for their implementation, together with information about their current stage of progress. And even if you are not a part of the monitoring panel, you can still follow this process and if necessary, intervene.