Our First Citizens’ Assembly

On the weekend of 19 – 21 July, 58 of the 60 people selected as being representative of the Welsh population gathered at Gregynog Hall in mid Wales to take part in our first citizens’ assembly. The Assembly Commission decided to hold this citizens’ assembly as part of its 20th Anniversary celebrations.

This citizens’ assembly had two questions to consider:

  • How can people in Wales shape their future?
  • Which devolved areas are working particularly well and which are challenging Wales?

The citizens’ assembly’s participants

Sixty participants, drawn from applicants from 10,000 randomly selected households, were chosen to take part. They were demographically representative of the Welsh population. Roughly 75% had no university degree, 25% had no GCSEs or equivalents, and 60% did not vote in the 2016 National Assembly for Wales (the Assembly) election. Distinguishing this political gathering from any other recallable in the last twenty years in Wales.

The 60 chosen to take part in this event were representative of Wales’ population aged 16 and over in terms of:

Age:

  • 16-29 – 23.5% (14-15)
    • 39-44 – 22.4% (13-14)
    • 45-59 – 23.9% (14-15)
    • 60+ – 30.2% (18)

Education level:

  • No qualifications – 25.9% (15-16)
    • Level 1 or 2 – 29% (17-18)
    • Level 3 or Apprenticeship or Other – 20.5% (12-13)
    • Level 4 or above – 24.5% (14-15)

Geography:

  • 12 people from each of the 5 electoral regions.

Ethnicity:

  • White – 95.6% (50)
  • BAME – 4.4% (10 – a decision was made to over-represent this category)

Vote in 2016 election

  • Yes – 40.7% (24-25)
    • No or ineligible – 59.3% (35-36)

Welsh language skills (speak, read, write, understand or some combination thereof):

  • Yes – 26.7% (16)
    • No – 73.3% (44)

Gender (self-identified):

  • Male – 51% (30-31)
    • Female – 49 % (29-30)
    • Other – 0% (none selected this category)

The weekend of the citizens’ assembly.

The citizens’ assembly began with participants considering the areas that are devolved to Wales. A panel of speakers delivered background information about the Assembly, its budget, powers and role. Participants were then asked to write down:

Participants reached conclusions on the areas where they felt Wales is doing well on and the areas they saw as posing the biggest challenges.

“I’ve heard a lot of interesting and diverse views around the table – I’d like to see some of these actioned”.

Niz, citizens’ assembly member.

Participants then focused on the primary question this citizens’ assembly was to address, how they – the people of Wales – want to be able to shape their future through the work of the Assembly.

Participants heard from expert speakers who presented evidence to the citizens’ assembly on the ways in which they can already do this and then focused on the additional ways in which people in Wales could be able to do this in the future.

The  functions participants focused on were:

  1. Ways to shape the future by influencing committees’ work.
  2. Ways to shape the future by engaging with the draft budget approval process.
  3. Ways to shape the future by engaging in questioning the Government.
  4. Ways to shape the future by helping to set the Assembly’s agenda (e.g. the petitions process, the Welsh Youth Parliament).

Participant feedback

All participants completed a feedback form at the end of the citizens’ assembly weekend, giving their views on whether or not taking part in the citizens’ assembly had changed their feelings towards participation in decision making more generally.

  • 91% of participants strongly agreed that taking part in this citizens’ assembly made them want to be more involved in other aspects of decision making.
  • 93% of participants strongly agreed that they felt more confident to engage in political decision making as a result of being involved in this citizens’ assembly.

“Coming here now and meeting lots of different people and listening to different opinions was really good – it was a really good weekend.”

Sarah, citizens’ assembly member

The report

A citizens’ assembly report is currently being drafted. The report will consider the following:

1. What participants value most about Wales as it currently is;

2. What participants see as the biggest challenges facing Wales;

3. The pros and cons of each additional way of shaping the future;

4. Participants’ order of preference for innovations in each of the four functions debated, and why;

5. Participants’ order of preference across all of the innovations, and why;

6. Participants’ view on whether or not each innovation should be considered for adoption, and why.

This will provide the Assembly with an excellent understanding of what people in Wales see as the biggest challenges and how people in Wales would like to be able to shape their future through the work of the Assembly.

The aim is to publish the report at a public event at the Gwlad Festival of Politics in late September with the Assembly Commission considering its response in the Autumn term.

The team behind the citizens’ assembly

The evidence and information for participants was compiled by the citizens’ assembly’s expert leads: Professor Graham Smith, Professor of Politics and Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster and Dr Huw Pritchard, lecturer in law at Cardiff University and member of the Wales Governance Centre; Huw supported by putting together background information for the citizens’ assembly.

Also, the Assembly Commission’s steering group coordinated internal scrutiny and analysis whilst the Hansard Society provided an impartial external critique.

Furthermore, the expert speakers, who are leading academics and practitioners in this field, advised on the comprehensiveness, accuracy and balance of the evidence the assembly was to hear on both current and future opportunities for people in Wales to shape their future. 

The citizens’ assembly guest speakers included the expert leads, along with Dr Alan Renwick, University College London; Dr Diana Stirbu, London Metropolitan University; Dr Clodagh Harris, University College Cork; Professor Cristina Leston-Bandeira, University of Leeds and Rebecca Rumbul, Lead Researcher with My Society.

The Assembly Commission commissioned two leading organisations to deliver the citizens’ assembly event and recruitment. The Sortition Foundation, which delivers stratified, random selection solutions, and the Involve Foundation, the UK’s leading public participation charity.

To find out more about the citizens’ assembly, visit the Devolution20 website.

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