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Citizens’ Assemblies: A Snapshot

A Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform is a non-partisan, independent process.

An Assembly will consider all options and make an evidence-based recommendation that people can trust. A 2022 EKOS poll showed that 76% of Canadians would support a National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform.

Citizens’ assemblies have a strong track record around the world and are recommended by the OECD as a path to meaningful citizen engagement and evidence-based decision-making. They have been used with great success in Ireland, France, Scotland, Belgium and across the OECD to tackle complex and challenging issues. Citizens’ assemblies are growing in popularity in Canada, most notably the recent Citizens’ Assembly on Democratic Expression, funded by the Government of Canada.

Learn more about citizens’ assemblies work in the FAQ below.

What is a Citizens’ Assembly?

A citizens’ assembly is a body of citizens formed to deliberate on an important policy issue. 

Citizens’ assemblies are based on evidence that when given the knowledge, resources and time, citizens can find solutions to complex and controversial issues.

 

Who is on a Citizens’ Assembly?

A citizens’ assembly is a “mini public”. The citizens are selected like a jury with steps taken to ensure the assembly is demographically representative of the population – by age, gender, region, education level etc. 

 

What happens at a Citizens’ Assembly?

Participants move through the following stages:

  • learn from experts and evidence
  • consult the public
  • hear from stakeholders
  • discuss the evidence and carefully weigh the options (deliberation)
  • Usually come to a consensus recommendation (not necessarily unanimity).

Who runs a Citizens’ Assembly?

A citizens’ assembly may be commissioned by the government but it is run by an independent, non-partisan body that specializes in deliberative processes.  

In Canada, most processes like this are run by MassLBP, which has run hundreds of processes for various levels of government and other organizations. 

On a federal level, they ran the Citizen’s Reference Panel on Pharmacare in 2017 and the Citizens Assembly on Democratic Expression.

Around the world, there have been hundreds of citizens’ processes based on the citizens’ assembly model over the past decade.

 

Role of the government

The government needs to fully fund and publicize the assembly so the public knows the process is happening, that it is made up of “people just like me”, that they can engage in the consultations and follow the Assembly’s work closely if they choose.

 

Benefits of Citizens’ Assemblies for governments and public 

  • Better policy outcomes from informed citizen deliberation rather than public opinion
  • Greater legitimacy to make hard choices
  • Enhanced public trust by giving citizens an effective role in decision-making
  • Governance which is more  inclusive to a more diverse group of people
  • Protection from undue influence on decision making by those with money and power
  • Decisions made in an environment free of partisanship and misinformation

Learn more about citizens’ assemblies

Shoni Field talks about her experience on the BC Citizens’ Assembly.

In this video, Shoni talks about her experience on the BC Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform – why and how it worked.

Ireland Citizens' Assembly on Biodiversity

Citizens’ assemblies are shaking up the status quo in Ireland—and getting results

Learn about how citizens’ assemblies are being used in Ireland to tackle the toughest issues. All the major parties now support citizens’ assemblies to enhance democracy and guide policy choices.

Groundbreaking OECD report: Catching the Deliberative Wave

Read a summary of the 2020 OECD report on best practices from 279 citizen processes.