A crucial element is the design of the Climate Assembly, which is ideally developed by anindependent expert committee
, consisting of both experts in deliberative democracy and climate change. This committee outlines a.o. the timespan, the question and the follow-up plan. The participants however, should have the opportunity to finetune both the question and the process (for instance by requesting extra time).
- An essential ingredient of an impactful citizens’ assembly is time. The expert committee examines beforehand the topic and assessesthe amount of time the participants will needAlthough I am very proud of the outcomes and the quality of the Budapest Climate Assembly, the limited time we had was a shortcoming. Two weekends were absolutely not enough, especially since the topic, after all, remained a bit too broad. Everything had to be done in those two weekends: the learning phase, the deliberation, and the decision making. That’s why my suggestion to anyone preparing to organise such an event is to take more time, especially when the topic is complex."— Eva Bördős, managing director at DemNet in Hungaryto learn, to deliberate, and to formulate recommendations. To do justice to the often complex topic and to the process as a whole, a citizens assembly usually takes up about six weekends (often one weekend a month).
- The committee formulates a general outline for the scope of the topic that fits the timeframe. It isup to the participants to finalise the questionThe big themes give freedom for the members to think outside of the ordinary political framing, Kathrine Collin Hagan (Danish Board of Technology) states, when reflecting upon the Danish Climate Citizens' Assembly:If we told them, ‘You have to restrict yourself to transport’ they would say ‘But we can’t fight climate change that way, it has to do with all aspects of life".during the Climate Assembly; this way participants feel more ownership of the process as well as more responsible for the outcome.The topic should not be too simpleCitizens' Assemblies work well when dealing with complex issues, according to Art O'Leary (Secretary General to the President at Aras an Uachtaráin, Ireland):The Citizens' Assembly model is well known in Ireland now as being a way of dealing with difficult subjects. The two most polarizing issues in good old catholic Ireland over the last 50 years have been the subjects of abortion and marriage equality. And two seperate Citizens' Assemblies safely navigated these difficult issues, by creating a forum in which people could safely talk about these issues."(trust citizens’ ability to collectively solve complex problems), as this diminishes the impact of the assembly, and citizens will still feel that they are not taken seriously. Howeverthe scope should not be too broadThe question laid before the French Convention Citoyenne, for example, was too broad for just one assembly, as Dimitri Courant (PhD candidate in political sciences) points out:The Climate Citizens' Assembly had 5 fixed thematic groups of 30 citizens, so participants did not hear from the same experts or deliberated on the same issues. Instead of a collective intelligence of 150 people [around a specified issue], measures were crafted by separate tables of around 5 citizens and then quickly presented to the 25 others in thematic groups"either: in the case a topic is too substantial for one assembly, narrow it down or break it down into sub questions and organise a parallel climate assembly for each.
- To increase the chances for a Climate Assembly to have political impact, a follow-up plan should be developed before the start of the assembly. This plan outlines the mandate as well as a timeframe indicating when and how the political follow-up of the recommendations will be monitored and assessed. Ideally the political body that commissions the Climate Assembly, commits publicly to this follow-up plan beforehand.