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Citizens’ Assembly

A Citizens’ Assembly (also known as a Citizen Jury) is a representative group of citizens who are selected at random from the population to discuss a topic or issue and make recommendations. The aim is for the members of the assembly to engage in serious and informed reflection on an important policy matter with people they would normally not meet. It is still up to elected politics to decide whether or not to follow the assembly’s recommendations.

A key characteristic of a citizen’s assembly is to secure a group of people who are broadly representative of the country, covering characteristics such as gender, cultural background, social class, or where they live. They are presented with high-quality information on the topic from experts in a neutral manner allowing them to be informed of all sides of a debate.

Crucially, an assembly gives a group of people the tools and time to properly discuss a complex or controversial opinion.

An assembly will typically go through three phases: learning, consultation, deliberation and discussion.

Learning Phase

Participants get to know each other, how the assembly works and its’ aims. Facts are presented to the participants in a neutral manner, providing background to all sides of the topic considered. Experts are often invited where participants are able to talk to and question.

Consultation Phase

Campaigners from all sides of the topic are able to present their arguments and be questioned on them.

Deliberation and Discussion

Deliberation is a long and careful discussion. The assembly participants discuss the topic or question they have been given, and talk as a group on what they through was convincing. This is similar to how a jury discuss a case once they have been informed by both sides in a trial.

Arguably one of the strengths of a citizens’ assembly is bringing together a group of people from a differing range of backgrounds to discuss and deliberate, having been informed by all sides of the argument, and briefed by experts on the topic.

Often taking place behind closed doors, the deliberation phase allows for participants to discuss away from external pressures, making participants feel that they can change their views.

The deliberation and discussion phase allows for nuanced reflection and informed discussion, often allowing people to change their views.

Key Characteristics

  • Members are invited at random from the general public, in a similar way to jury service.
  • Broadly representative of the electorate. Covering characteristics such as gender, class, ethnicity, and where they live in the country.
  • A clear task or question. For example, the Irish Convention on the Constitution of 2012–14 asked the Citizens’ Assembly about eight specific conditional proposals, including allowing same-sex marriage.
  • A set amount of time to complete discussions, meeting at regular occasions.
  • Members are informed by experts and evidence presented in a balanced manner.
  • The opportunity for nuanced discussion, informed by evidence.
  • Outcomes: a series of recommendations by the assembly often presented as a detailed report.
  • An Advisory Board comprising of independent experts and campaigners from all sides of an issue to consider the information provided to the participants.

How Assemblies are Set Up

Anyone can set up and run a Citizens’ Assembly. The legitimacy, impact, and outcomes of the assembly however depends on several factors.

An assembly can be formed and run by a national government, such as the Irish Convention on the Constitution of 2012–14. The Irish Government accepted six of the recommendations for constitutional change, most notably on same-sex marriage equality.

A non-governmental organisation such as a charity or campaign group can set up their own assembly. For example, the UK’s Citizen Assembly on Brexit, which was facilitated by the UK’s Electoral Reform Society. (

There are advantages and disadvantages to how an assembly is set up and by whom. An assembly run by a government could be considered more legitimate and democratic, it is also able to harness the financial resources of the state. There is more pressure on the government to accept and implement the results of an assembly it has created.

In contrast, an assembly organised by a non-governmental organisation such as a charity can be considered more independent. However there is no guarantee that a government will accept the results of the assembly or consider the recommendations.

Notable Citizens' Assemblies

Ireland has undertaken three citizens’ assemblies.

Abortion in Ireland

Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, British Colombia, Canada

Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform, Ontario, Canada,

G1000, Belgian Citizens’ Assembly,


Irish Citizens’ Assembly

Citizens’ Assemblies

Citizens’ Assemblies:


Electoral Reform Society, ‘What is a Citizens’ Assembly’, The organisation has helped run Citizens’ Assemblies in the UK.