(Title Image: National Assembly of Wales Blog)
Last week, the Assembly Commission published a report from the first Citizens’ Assembly, which met in mid-July as part of a programme of events to mark the 20th anniversary of devolution (pdf).
Sixty people were selected from a long list of 331 people who themselves selected via a civic lottery – which involved 10,000 people in total. The final sixty were chosen based on their defining characteristics to ensure membership which reflected the population of Wales. Politicians (at all levels) and their staff were barred from taking part.
The majority of people who took part (59.3%) didn’t vote in the 2016 Senedd election and were English-speakers (73.3%).
The question the Citizens’ Assembly was tasked with answering was: “How can people in Wales shape their future through the work of the National Assembly for Wales?”
What did the Citizens’ Assembly think about the current state of Wales?
The Citizens’ Assembly was asked to consider two things they believe are working particularly well in Wales at present and two things which were being dealt with badly or were challenges facing Wales.
In terms of where Wales is going right, culture seemed to factor well, with the protection of historic monuments, food, environmental protection/maintaining green spaces and tourism ranking highly.
There were few surprises in terms of the areas factoring poorly or deemed to be a challenge: health services (physical and mental health), education, road infrastructure & public transport.
Influencing the Senedd
The Citizens’ Assembly was presented with thirteen different ways the public can shape the political agenda.
One of the most popular suggestions was co-creation: bringing people with relevant personal experiences together to develop recommendations which can be presented to the Senedd’s committees when they gather evidence during inquiries. Citizens’ assemblies themselves were also popular and overall there was a conclusion that a “blended approach” of crowd-sourcing ideas then discussing them further through a citizens’ assembly should definitely be available.
The least-favoured option was online discussion, with concerns that it would be dominated by people with strong views, would be shallow/lack depth and might not be taken seriously.
They also weren’t keen on using social media- but thought a web form or specialist online platform (to ask questions and receive responses) should be available on the Welsh Government website.
Many local authorities have introduced “budget games” to consult with the public on how to set their budgets, but these weren’t particularly popular – though there was some support for its use as an educational tool.
What else did the Citizens’ Assembly think?
The Citizens’ Assembly put better general engagement as a priority and didn’t want this citizens’ assembly to be a one-off. There were calls for better general publicity of the Senedd’s work and for better geographic reach beyond the south – including a method to request committee visits.
In terms of reform of the Senedd itself, there were calls for better diversity, a pay cut for AMs and the introduction of proportional representation – though reforming the Senedd doesn’t seem to have been very high up the list of priorities.
As for what they believe should be discussed in the future, the topics included post-Brexit policies, climate change, the impact of new housing developments and transport.
Reaction to the Citizens’ Assembly itself seems to have been overwhelmingly positive.
More than 90% of the people who took part believed it was useful in learning more about the Senedd’s work, believed they had ample opportunity to express their views, believed it was a balanced exercise and something which has encouraged them to become more politically active.