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City council passes motion supporting pilot of citizens assemblies

Bristol City Council will introduce two ‘citizens’ assemblies’ pilot schemes within the year in an effort to increase the involvement of citizens in the council’s decision-making process.

The motion, entitled “Reboot Democracy”, would increase participation and battle disenfranchisement through involving the public in the decision-making process, the council said.

The new deliberative democracy scheme would see two pilots launched this year. One suggested pilot would involve a citizens’ assembly on how to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.

A second suggestion detailed in the council’s motion on 14 January 2020 involved devolving funds to the Area Committees through a Participatory Budget.

However, the council noted that the new processes would not be used for everyday decision making. Instead, Bristol said it would be best used for complex and divisive issues or where there might be political gridlock.

Bristol also acknowledged that involving citizens would be a complex process, referencing potential training needed for participants, difficulties incentivising participation, and offering support to allow people, particularly disabled people, to participate.

In 2016, the West Midlands Combined Authority consulted residents of the West Midlands, with lived experience of mental health problems in a similar scheme. The citizens’ assembly produced a set of recommendations illustrated by their own personal stories which the commission committed to taking into consideration.

In a statement, Bristol City Council said: “Please note that whilst we see the value of citizens assembly, we are also investigating other deliberative democracy approaches. This is to ensure whatever options are considered they are capable of approaching a variety of subjects and audiences.”

Cllr Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet member for Communities, said: “Taking inspiration from other European cities, the Citizens Assembly will provide a robust platform for listening to and engaging with citizens.

“To ensure the approach fully represents the diversity of Bristol, discussions about process and mechanisms will take place over the coming months.”

Adam Carey