How EUROPEAN citizens CAN
strengthen democracy
and fight climate change

European democracies have fallen short in solving the most pressing issue of the 21st century: climate change. The dominance of party politics, short-term thinking, extensive lobbying of multinationals and political polarization have not only lead to insufficient climate policies but have also weakened our democracies.

Meanwhile, citizens have been
"the ball boys of participation soccer"
Listen to Yves Dejaeghere (Executive Director at the Federation for Innovation in Democracy Europe) his entire soccer metaphor in the LIVECAST session "Designing for legitimacy".
as Yves Dejaeghere (FIDE) described it: citizens have been watching from the sidelines while politicians make the decisions. The climate, however, can’t wait any longer: it is time to re-evaluate the legitimacy of the current system, and
involve the people the policy is made for.
As Melinda Varfi (one of the lead facilitators of the Climate Citizens' Assembly in Budapest) explains it:
I studied sustainability in Sweden, and ever since I realise that participatory methods and dialogue are also a part of sustainability. I don’t believe in a top down structure anymore. You need to involve the people that you are making policy for, otherwise chances are that nobody benefits, because the policy is flawed in structure and design."
A growing number of European countries is experimenting with
Climate Citizens’ Assemblies:
Learn in 3 minutes what a Citzens' Assembly is and how this model of deliberation can help us strengthen our democracies:
a framework in which politicians and citizens can deliberate, establish trust, and achieve broadly supported and impactful climate policies. But if we want to get citizens off the bench and in the game for real, we have to do it right: no false promises or half-baked participation processes, but serious impact through deliberation and political commitment.

By bringing together various keyplayers from grassroots movements, academia, government and civil society, the project
Climate Citizens’ Assemblies: learning with, from and for Europe
From April – September 2021, Pakhuis de Zwijger and Bureau Burgerberaad join forces in the international project: Climate Citizens’ Assemblies: learning with, from and for Europe. Through LIVECAST conversations and the development of a public knowledge platform ("dossier"), the project brings different European practices and key players together to exchange knowledge, enhance collective learning and come to concrete lessons for impactful Climate Citizens’ Assemblies and a 21-century proof democracy in Europe.
aims to help pave the way towards impactful and sustainable Climate Assemblies in Europe. Below, we share the most important insights that we took from these various European practices, with impact lessons for each phase of the Assembly.



To optimize a Climate Citizens’ Assembly’s impact, preparation is key.
In this phase the foundation is laid for its credibility, the level of support for its recommendations, and its political implementation.


A crucial element is the design of the Climate Assembly, which is ideally developed by an
independent 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 assesses
    the amount of time the participants will need
    Although 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 Hungary
    to 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 is
    up to the participants to finalise the question
    The 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 simple
    Citizens' 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. However
    the scope should not be too broad
    The 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.


A Climate Assembly usually consists of 100-150 participants, who are
elected through sortition
Sortition, or election by lot, is the process through which the Assembly's participants are selected. This is done by taking a randomly stratified sample from a larger pool of candidates. For more information see:
(a civic lottery) to guarantee
a fair representation of society
Nobody ever questioned the membership of the Citizens' Assembly... you have to be able to demonstrate that this group can speak for all viewpoints."
- Art O'Leary, Secretary general to the president of Ireland
. Weighting factors as age, sex, income, education, geographical location are taken into account during the selection process. It is not possible to sign up for a citizens’ assembly. In this way the citizens’ assembly is a cross-section of society, with a broad range of perspectives on the topic.
  • Due to the political and societal polarisation around climate change,
    people’s attitude
    Watch the conversation between Eva Rovers (co-initiator Bureau Burgerberaad, the Netherlands); Priscilla Ludosky (yellow vests movement, France); Doreen Grove (head of Open Government at the Scottish Government) and Yves Dejaeghere (Director of FIDE) on this issue:
    towards it (from sceptical to alarmist) must be a weighting factor in the stratification process as well. In this way, the level of climate concern among the participants in the assembly reflects the level of concern in society. This strengthens the legitimacy of the process, and makes it difficult to dismiss the outcomes of the Climate Assembly as (politically) biased.
  • The invitation letter to citizens needs to be followed-up by a personal phone call
    to take away people’s self-doubt
    To help to make people to take the decision to come, we said: 'you will not be alone. You’ll have people who will come to explain the situation, you have the right to claim to talk to people and associations."
    — Priscilla Ludosky, yellow vests movement, France
    around participating in the Climate Assembly. With complex issues such as climate change, it is important that people understand that they don’t have to be an expert: it’s their views that matter, not their knowledge of the topic. Also assure them that there will be assistance throughout the process.
  • To value them for their time and energy,
    the participants should receive compensation
    How do we recognize the value of people’s time? According to Doreen Grove (Head of Open Government at the Scottisch Government) we should compensate people for their time to keep the process inclusive:
    They are giving up a significant amount of time, and for some people that might be the difference between being able to be a part of it, and not being able to be a part of it."
    for their participation. This also makes sure that social or financial hurdles don’t prevent people from choosing to participate: reimbursement of travel costs, data use and child care should be arranged for.


The general public should be made aware of the Climate Assembly taking place, and evidence provided to the participants should be accessible to the public as well. By making the process transparent and visible to the public, it becomes possible for everyone to access and understand the process and argumentation. This will strengthen the public trust in and support for the Climate Assembly’s recommendations.
  • Create a public campaign
    Not only politicians need to take the outcome seriously, in order for a citizens’ assembly to have impact. The rest of society needs to consider the outcome to be legitimate as well, Gabriel Pelloquin of the German Climate Citizens' Assembly explains:
    If you want the process to be successful you need a lot of public attention. The format of a citizens’ assembly is quite new to a lot of people. So first of all, awareness needs to be increased. People need to know what it is, and why it is such a valuable tool for democracy and politics..."
    that starts before the beginning of the Climate Assembly (preparation phase) and lasts till the end (recommendation and political follow-up). In this way, the general public stays up-to-date on every step, which increases trust in and support for the Climate Assembly and its recommendations.
  • During the learning phase the participants are introduced to various perspectives on the topic through evidence and expert talks, which needs to
    be transparent and accessible to the general public
    There is the standard of visibility: all citizens should know that the whole process is taking place. For example by putting posters on bus stops."
    as Marcin Gerwin (Center for Climate Citizens' Assemblies), explains the assemblies in various Polish cities. This standard, moreover, also applies to the assembly itself, Art O'Leary adds: "During the Irish Assembly, everybody gets to see everything... It was totally transparent."
    . Make sure to livestream the learning sessions, and create a public knowledge platform, which provides the public of all the evidence used during the process. Make sure to specify why, how, and by whom evidence and experts were chosen. This will help prevent the dismissal of the Climate Assembly as (politically) biased.
  • The media plays a crucial role in making sure the general public is aware of the Climate Assembly and why it takes place. In order for more people to understand the process and/or topic however,
    different ways of journalism and storytelling are necessary
    David Van Reybrouck (Belgium author and expert) reflects on the role of media in this podcast, and shares an inspiring example, in which a journalist from Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin followed one of the participants of the Citizens' Assembly in Eastern-Belgium:
    to communicate the process in an alluring, more personal manner.


The impact of a Climate Assembly depends largely on its mandate:
There is a clear difference in mandate between different Citizens' Assemblies, as Eva Rovers (co-initiator of Bureau Burgerberaad, the Netherlands) remarks:
In the UK, the government only had to 'take note': you can't expect that that will make much impact. Then there is Ireland, where there was obviously thought about how to ensure that these recommendations are getting political follow-up. But in Poland they said: 'we consider this a binding agreement', which I think is absolutely revolutionary.

That is one of the major vulnerabilities of a Citizens' Assembly: you can have a wonderful process and very helpful people, who put a lot of time and energy and effort in deliberating and in formulating these recommendations. But if, in the end, all those recommendations are not getting proper political follow-up, it's very feeble. That’s not what you want, you want CCA’s that can actually have an impact."
its appointed authority to act and come to recommendations. The mandate varies depending on the level of political commitment. This can be the modest political commitment to discussing the outcome in parliament; a somewhat stronger commitment to justifying why certain recommendations are not implemented; and/or the ambitious commitment to implementing the outcome.
  • The Climate Assembly’s
    mandate must be clear at the beginning of the process
    Or, as Claudia Chwalisz (Innovative citizen participation lead at the OECD) concludes in her report 'Catching the Deliberative Wave' (p. 83):
    Having strong political and/or institutional commitment is important for giving the process credibility and motivating people to invest their time by participating.

    Evidence suggests that the commitment of public decision makers is one of the key factors for why response rates are high and dropout rates are low amongst participants in representative deliberative processes for public decision making."
    . This way, both the participants and the general public will know what to expect of the political follow-up. A clear mandate beforehand increases trust between government and society.
  • The politicians that agree on the mandate should be the ones
    that have the authority
    Watch Eva Rovers, co-initiator of Bureau Burgerberaad in the Netherlands, discuss the lacking political follow-up of the French Citizens' Assembly:
    and carry the responsibility to turn its recommendations into policy.
    Including politicians and civil servants as experts
    "How does it happen that a mayor promises to implement recommendations before the whole process starts?" The answer is in the design, Marcin Gerwin (Center for Climate Citizens' Assemblies, Poland) explains:
    We had a case [in a city in Poland] with a mayor who was skeptical for months. He said: ‘If I don’t know the outcome, how can I say that I will implement it? What if it will be super expensive?’ In the end, however, he agreed. In the opening meeting with the assembly members, he even repeated three times that the recommendations would be treated as binding!

    What changed his mind is that we explained that civil servants have many opportunities to share their knowledge throughout the process. They cannot decide on the outcome, but their point of view is included”.
    in the learning phase is likely to benefit their commitment to the mandate, increasing the chance of proper political follow-up.
  • Engage civic society and businesses
    An example is given by Ellen Maassen (co-initiator of the G1000 Agriculture in the Netherlands), who uses partner agreements to organize the G1000's mandate:
    to support the Climate Assembly beforehand. This public coalition helps to both
    depolarize the public opinion
    Benito Walker (spokesperson of Youth for Climate NL) is calling for a Climate Citizens' Assembly in the Netherlands: "It's crucial to break the political deadlock, and it might be the only way", he states:
    But if we want to have a Citizens' Assembly in The Netherlands and we want to do something with what comes out of that, we need to depolarize the entire discussion. We can have a Citizens' Assemblies and have good plans coming out of that.

    Like David [Van Reybrouck] said, there are a lot of people outside of the assembly. And if the issue of climate is still polarized outside, politicians are not going to make those hard choices, they are not going to risk their seats for the next four years."
    on climate policies and to familiarise people with the method of a Climate Assembly. It will also increase pressure on politicians to keep their promises with regards to the political follow-up.



Although each citizens’ assembly is different, they often roughly consist of three steps: learning, deliberating, and formulating the recommendations. Depending on the scope of the topic the assembly takes place over the course of four to six weekends.


The participants of the Climate Assembly are introduced to the topic through reading material and plenary sessions with experts. Specifically in this phase, full transparency is important: the general public should have full access to all the evidence the participants are provided with. An online platform with all the evidence and livestreams of the expert talks, will help the public understand how the participants have come to their conclusions and recommendations.
  • Make sure the participants are offered a wide array of
    comprehensible, balanced and evidence based information
    "Everything was fair, so if one side of an argument got a 30 min. presentation, we found someone to give a 30 min. presentation on the other side of the argument as well"

    — Art O'Leary, on the Irish Citizens' Assembly
    . This means including alarmist as well as sceptic documentation on climate change and everything in between (as long as it’s evidence based). Participants should also be
    encouraged to request evidence
    It's useful to have a substantial amount of climate negationists in the room, not for window dressing purposes, but for making them part of the process as well... A climate sceptical person can have an impact on who is going to talk at the Climate Citizens' Assembly."

    — David Van Reybrouck (author and expert on Citizens' Assemblies in Belgium)
    , experts and stakeholders themselves, in addition to the evidence provided to them by the organising party.
  • Everyone needs to be able to understand all information and participate fully, without feeling inadequate.
    All information should be presented in an inclusive way
    “People with lower levels of education are often underrepresented [in Climate Citizens' Assemblies], because they are less likely to respond to the invitation. It is difficult to communicate information about a complex topic in a way that is understandable for people with very different backgrounds, levels of knowledge, education, and so forth.

    We tried to solve this by preparing written and oral briefings on all the expert presentations, and checking if everything the experts told was understandable for everyone. We developed some criteria for the expert information, for example: a consistent story line, no foreign or scientific terms, no complex graphs...

    Nonetheless, getting the information across in a manner understandable for everyone is a difficulty of every assembly which has to be further discussed and improved for the future.”

    — Sabine Schröder, nexus Institut Germany
    , using a variety in form and medium, such as texts, videos, presentations by experts and stakeholders, games etc.. Special attention should also be given to
    people with no/little digital skills.
    You have to be very thoughtful about what you put in place in order to support people. That really matters"
    — Doreen Grove (Head of Open Government at the Scottisch government) explains:
  • Specifically in the case of a Climate Assembly, it is important that the learning phase helps people both in- and outside of the assembly to understand possible climate scenarios and the likelihood of each scenario. Also, both the participants as the general public should understand the difference between: 1. changes to the system and system change, and 2. reducing climate change and adapting to climate change. Participants should be able
    to weigh the effectiveness and consequences of these different scenarios.
    Citizens need to be supported to understand the difference between transformative and incremental change and develop recommendations through that lens", Claire Mellier and Rich Wilson write. They also recommend to
    look at mitigation and adaptation as two sides of the same coin... Even if the Paris Agreement target is met [mitigation], people’s lives will still be impacted by issues stemming from climate change [adaptation] —such as sea-level rises and food and water security".


Deliberation is the core of a citizens’ assemblies. It is a type of discussion that is not about ‘right or wrong‘, but about exchanging perspectives and values. It helps people to look beyond their own (unconscious) prejudices, convictions and ideologies. 

During deliberation the participants talk with each other in groups of about eight people, collectively trying to find possible solutions. Every group works towards a set of preliminary recommendations on each sub-topic (so every group works on every aspect of the main topic). 

  • Each group is facilitated by an independent moderator. This person helps participants to deliberate by exchanging perspectives, not opinions. The moderator also safeguards a balanced discussion, by making sure that every participant has 
    equal opportunity to speak
    In which ways can (and should) we bring citizens and politicians together to deliberate in a Citizens' Assembly?

    Listen to the discussion between Christoph Niessen (PhD researcher, Eastern-Belgium), Lars Klüver (Director Danish Board of Technology), Eva Rovers (Co-initiator Bureau Burgerberaad, the Netherlands) and Ellen Maassen (Co-initiator G1000 Agriculture, the Netherlands) on this topic:
    - especially when politicians also partake in the deliberation process. 
  • The groups should be rotated
    Listen to Dimitri Courant's (PhD researcher) critique on the way in which the French Citizens' Assembly designed the deliberation process:
    in order for every participant to deliberate with as many other participants as possible. This prevents blind spots and creates the broadest support for the various preliminary recommendations.
  • When questions arise during these deliberations,
    participants should be able to turn to experts, fact checkers and research institutes
    The participants of the French Climate Assembly were supported by a range of experts, among which a Public Law Committee and fact checkers. The Public Law Committee helped the participants during the deliberations "when measures needed to be turned into texts fit for referendum, legislative or regulatory purpose," as Claire Mellier points out.

    She also mentions the fact checkers the participants could call for:
    Fact Checkers from various research organisations are available during the sessions to answer any questions that require clarifications."
    for policy questions or calculations of for example costs, reduction levels and other data.


All the participants come together again in a plenary session to finalise the recommendations. The recommendations that have been formulated during the deliberating phase are collected and then put to a vote.
This is not a simple yes-or-no vote: people who feel they cannot consent to a specific recommendation, have the opportunity to indicate what adjustments would make them able to consent. This adjusted recommendation is then voted on again. This ensures that every recommendation is formulated democratically and supported by as many participants as possible.
Finally, these recommendations are presented in a report, which incorporates the level of consensus on and argumentation for each recommendation. 

  • Important in this phase is the reviewing of the recommendations on, for example, financial and judicial practicalities. In this step,
    civil servants can play a crucial role
    In this phase the civil servants provide an overview, like an estimated budget for all recommendations, view if it is legal or not, or can add other pressing concerns. Finally, and this is new, before the final voting there is a questions and answer session between them and the assembly members, and the opportunity for assembly member to discuss the civil servants’ feedback with them.

    This whole process makes sure that the assembly members are not closed off and discussing subjects they know nothing about. This makes civil servants – and other stakeholders – realize that they can provide their perspective in several ways."

    Marcin Gerwin, Centre for Citizens' Assemblies
    , as they are able to bring in the necessary expertise from a policy- and government perspective. They can check the recommendations and take part in a conversation with the participants to work out possible obstacles, thereby strengthening the potential of the assembly’s recommendations to be implemented later on.
  • When
    the report is presented
    For an example, see the UK Assembly report, which includes the concensus of the Assembly's participants on each recommendation.
    to the responsible politicians, it should be accompanied with the request to react. Doing so, a detailed timeline indicating moments of evaluating the political follow up should be enclosed. To prevent the report from being put aside, it is important to publicly state when a reaction is expected and to have politicians confirm this date.



The level to which the recommendations are translated into policy is crucial
for the impact and credibility of Climate Assemblies.
Most assemblies have not been able to
reach their full potential
The East-Belgium case is a special one in that sense: it is the only European example in which the model of Citizens' Assemblies has been permanently integrated into their local democracy and decision-making.

Listen to the 10-min presentation of Christoph Niessen (PhD Candidate and one of the 'architects' of the East-Belgium model) on this model; and the joint discussion with Ellen Maassen (G1000 Agriculture, the Netherlands), Lars Klüver (Danish Board of Technology) and Eva Rovers (Bureau Burgerberaad, the Netherlands).
, due to political cherry-picking or a lack of political follow-up. That is why the conditions for political follow-up should be clear from the start (see mandate). A proper media campaignand public support from a broad societal coalition are vital to increase the public pressure needed to further ensure implementation of the recommendations.
  • In order for the participants and the general public to know what has and/or will be done with the recommendations, a
    monitoring committee should report
    The follow-up of the Assembly in Budapest (Hungary), for example, is monitored by the organisation DemNet, who helped to organize the Assembly.

    The German Climate Citizens' Assembly, however, asked
    "an advisory committee consisting of twenty members from various fields of civil society to oversee the process and to spread the results into their networks as well. Bothpathways will make the public support for the assembly visible, which will politicians to act on the outcome".
    every three to six months to which extent recommendations have received follow-up.
  • A set of recommendations may be
    put to a (p)referendum
    How can we make sure that the general public accepts the outcome of the Assembly?

    David Van Reybrouck wonders whether a preferendum (a list of 20 proposals about which all citizens can indicate to what extend they agree or disagree) might be a good solution:
    In this way, you would have the smart recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly, you would have the involvement of the public at large through the preferendum process, and politicians would have a very clear list of shared priorities on what is most urgent and important to tackle first. I think the three together would create a powerful tool for climate action."
    , to offer politicians insight into the level of public support for these solutions. A combination with direct democracy can strengthen the legitimacy of the recommendations and of their political follow-up.
  • The climate is changing - and rapidly so. In order for climate policies to keep up with new developments, Climate Citizens’ Assemblies need to
    become recurring annual events
    The question is not whether the Netherlands needs a Citizens' Assembly, we need thirty Citizens' Assemblies, or at least once a year. That is crucial.

    If you do it only once, you might as well not do it at all. It needs to become an annoying part of our democracy."
    — David van Reybrouck, author and expert on deliberative democracy
    . An extra benefit is that an increasing number of citizens will get to participate in Climate Assemblies over the years.
If we continue to
learn collectively
This project plays a modest role in an ongoing and longterm effort of various organizations, movements and institutes that are working hard to make (Climate) Citizens' Assemblies in Europe that "annoying part of our democracies" that David Van Reybrouck hopes for.

We would therefore like to call attention for the hard work and extensive research of amongst others:
> The Federation for Innovation of Democracy in Europe (FIDE),
> the Centre for Citizens' Assemblies in Poland,
> the recent initiative of the European Climate Foundation: the Knowledge Network on Climate Assemblies (KNOCA),
> the Extinction Rebellion Guide to Citizens' Assemblies
> and the OECD report Catching the Deliberative Wave (OECD).
how citizens can help fight climate change, we have the possibility to
change democratic decision-making
There was a lady who said on the first morning: ‘I have a car and there is absolutely no way I am going to ditch it. It’s the most convenient mode of transport.’ At the end of the first weekend she said: ‘Maybe I should use my car less.’ And then when she came back for the second weekend, she said: ‘Guess what, I bought an electric bicycle!’

All in the span of two weekends! That is really what a deliberative process is about. When people with different backgrounds, different ways of thinking talk to each other, it can change attitudes. That is a wonderful thing.

Of course, Citizens’ Assemblies have a more ambitious aim: exchanging views and democratising decision making in general, not just changing the attitude of 50 or 100 people in the assembly.
It is a tool for a bigger, more systemic change. Citizens’ assemblies are what we need for sustainable development and for a peaceful society.”
— Eva Bördős, managing director at DemNet in Budapest
in both personal and systemic ways; thereby equipping our democracies to deal with the most urgent challenges of the 21st century.
For more information on the project "Climate Citizens' Assemblies: learning with, from and for Europe",  see our online knowledge platform. Want to get in touch? Contact
Project leads: Charley Fiedeldij Dop & Eva Rovers
Strategy & design: Menko Dijksterhuis & Fenno Verdaasdonk