4.1 Purpose of the process
The key reasons for using the Citizens’ Jury and Assembly processes were broadly aligned in both Oxford and Leeds. The imperative to act after declaring a Climate Emergency, while bringing citizens on board, was a strong driver in both cases (LGL4, LGL3, LGO2, LGO3). Interviewees highlighted a desire to increase citizen engagement on climate change to encourage behavioural changes (LGL1, LGL2, LGL4, LGO3), involve citizens in climate policy-making rather than imposing policies on them (OL, LGL2, LGL4, OO1) and better educate citizens on climate change (OL, LGL2, LGO1). In Leeds, interviewees saw the value of gathering deliberated opinions from citizens’ from diverse backgrounds, giving them an opportunity to gain an in-depth understanding of how policies will affect different people (PL, LGL2, LGL3). Furthermore, in both cities the processes were seen as an opportunity to engage with the public and assess views on more ambitious climate change policies (LGL4, LGO3, LGL3, PO, LGL2).
“I think the principal thing for our citizens' assembly was, in Oxford was, how ambitious do these people want us to be, and how ambitious do they want the councillors to be.” (LGO3)
Thus, our evidence suggests that these processes were used in order to increase informed citizen engagement in climate issues and policy-making, and to gather informed and diverse public opinions on climate action. The purposes of these processes was not to directly devolve decision-making power to participants, but rather to explore and integrate these deliberative democratic practices within existing institutional arrangements and representative democracy structures.
4.2. Structure of process
The most significant difference between the Oxford and Leeds processes in terms of structure was the choice of question and topics. In general, interviewees from Oxford were positive about the decision to limit the number of topics to be covered beforehand, indicating that the Assembly focused on areas that the council felt they could control or influence (LGO3, LGO2) and did not want to overwhelm participants with too much information (LGO2). Indeed, such a tight framing of the themes can allow the final recommendations to deliver clear messages to policymakers on what actions to take (Bryant & Stone, 2020). However, an assembly with a pre-determined structure may be performing more of an consultative role rather than genuine citizen engagement as they are choosing from a list of pre-prepared strategy options, denying citizens the opportunity to present their own solutions to issues (Bryant & Stone, 2020).
‘Based on that evidence base of ok where is our biggest emitting sectors we do know that’s where we need to focus and on top of that, yeah lots of discussion with various sort of experts in the field of what… was important to include’ (LGO4)
Yet, there were some suggestions that despite limiting the Assembly to cover five themes, the scope had still been too broad given the amount of time it had and its task to assess both a net-zero target date and the participants views of the actions required in each level of ambition within the themes (OO2, OO1, LGO1).
‘I do think it was too many in that there wasn't sufficient time for people to be given to think through the complexities and what they thought about them in specific cases.’ (OO2).
In Leeds, participants selected the topics discussed in the process, focusing on those they felt were important to tackling climate change in Leeds, making the process more citizen-led (PL). As the Jury was on the climate emergency in general and run by the Leeds Climate Commission, it was set up as a wide-ranging process (LGL4). Furthermore, the broad structure of the Jury allowed participants to come up with recommendations which were not necessarily on the Council’s or Climate Commission’s agenda, such as that which recommended stopping the Leeds Bradford airport expansion (PL). This open structure arguably allowed the jury to challenge existing policy which is important in the context of climate change where policy-decisions such as allowing the airport expansion could negate all other efforts to combat climate change in the city. This suggests that creating scope for participants come up with their own recommendations in these processes is important (PL). However, there were suggestions that the scope covered in the Jury had been too broad (LGL2, LGL4).
‘That would be one of my reflections that it's just too broad a topic, you know they had something like 30 hours I think but even so, you know, 30 hours talking about the climate emergency and public transport and housing and financial markets, you know you can't go into depth on anything.’ (LGL4)
Overall, this suggests that the structure of the citizen assembly or jury has a big impact on the type of citizen engagement achieved in these processes, as it determines whether the recommendations produced are citizen-led or reflect a more consultative process of citizen participation.
4.3. Impact of the process
In both cases the Councils responded to each recommendation with reference to their existing or planned actions in those areas and reference them in some reports as supporting initiatives which are in line with the recommendations (OL, LGL3), both of which according to Font and Smith (2013) suggests that they are having some influence. We can make a distinction between these processes having a direct impact (e.g. the recommendations get directly turned into policy) or an indirect impact (e.g. through influencing policy-makers and participant’s views on climate change and climate action).
The direct impact of the recommendations produced through the assembly and jury varied. In Leeds interviewees indicated that the recommendations were too broad or vague to provide useful insights for specific and complex policy-issues such as improving energy efficiency in housing (LGL2) or citizen engagement with and communication of climate change to the public (LGL4). This supports the argument by Font and Smith (2013) that vague recommendations may not offer useful guidance to policy-makers, suggesting that if a citizen jury or assembly is being used to inform policy-making on specific issues rather than gage broader public opinion it may be more useful to run them on narrower topics so they can be studied in depth and produce focused and practical outputs.
“In my view, the recommendations need to be SMART. Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. Well, specific, I don’t think they’re as specific as they could have been…” (LGL1).
Nevertheless, in Leeds the recommendations aligned with the Council’s plans to tackle climate change and interviewees claimed it endorsed pre-existing policies or initiatives (LGL2-4). Yet, the jury was part of a wider process of citizen engagement, the Big Leeds Climate Conversation (LGL4) which makes its’ impact on climate policy-making more difficult to identify, and was run by the Leeds Climate Commission rather than the council itself which may have influenced the extent to which the council felt it had to act in response to the Jury.
“The results from the citizens' jury aligned very very closely with what the, the council, you know, was intending to do anyway, so it was a kind of a, kind of an endorsement verification process.” (LGL3)
In Oxford, interviewees highlighted that the Citizens Assembly provided support for the introduction of a policy package including £19 million additional funding on climate change, which one interviewee claimed had been drafted and approved beforehand but was presented as a response to the assembly (LGO1, OO1, PO). Yet, it was suggested that Oxford City Council’s response to the recommendations had been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, implying that it could have more of an impact in the long-term (OO2). Nevertheless, one interviewee claimed that the Assembly supported pre-planned policies rather than changing the councils’ approach, which suggests that the Assembly did not change the council’s policies although this may be expected given the Assembly was framed according to the councils’ climate policy options (LGO1, LGO3).
‘…it was all things they were going to do anyway. Nothing changed in the local plan for instance, so the local plan that we’ve just adopted will not see all new buildings being zero carbon. They could’ve put it in but they didn’t.’ (LGO1)
‘I don’t think we would have done what we did in the time-scale that we did without that process… it’s really helped put it on the agenda and as an organisation it’s completely flipped what our corporate policies are… zero carbon became one of our primary corporate priorities and for the first time as well it meant the whole organisation had to be engaged’ (LGO4)
The lengthy process of writing, approving and implementing policy was also referenced, suggesting that the influence of the citizen jury and assembly recommendations may be seen in years to come, but also that pre-existing policies that are being put into place are not always a direct consequence of the processes (LGO1, LGL1). However, in both cities there was mention of how the recommendations were not intended to directly make policy decisions, and some interviewees expressed doubt that the recommendations would have a direct impact on policy (LGL3-4, OO2, LGO1, LGL1). This implies that citizen juries and assemblies on climate change are playing an advisory role, providing legitimacy for and momentum to launch pre-planned policies at a faster pace rather than truly empowering citizens in decision-making (Wakeford et al., 2015). If these processes are to represent citizen engagement on climate change rather than citizen participation it should be clear from the beginning how the process will inform decision-making, as some interviewees implied that they were unsure what impact the processes had had or why it was used (LGL1, LGO1, LGL4; Goodin, 2008).
The influence of the recommendations may reflect the stage in decision-making in which they were used, as Roberts and Escobar (2015) claimed that citizen assemblies are most influential if done at the agenda-setting stage of the policy process, rather than when policy approaches had been drafted as was the case in Oxford where participants chose between a narrower set of options to form their recommendations. Yet, climate policy-making is ongoing and the processes still may play an agenda-setting role by indicating the level of ambition the council should strive for (Roberts & Escobar, 2015).
The value of the processes in creating momentum and giving politicians and policy-makers greater confidence to pursue stronger measures on climate change was highlighted in Leeds and Oxford. In Leeds the Jury created momentum and gave officials backing for stronger measures by increasing their confidence that the public would be supportive of them (LGL2, OL). Similarly, in Oxford interviewees highlighted how the Assembly created momentum by pushing the Council to be more ambitious in their climate action and reassuring politicians of the public’s support (LGO2-4, OO2-1, LGO1). This supports the argument that the biggest impact these processes have is to create a strong political platform for action by providing elected representatives with a public mandate on climate change (Bryant & Stone, 2020). Yet, the need for the momentum to be sustained in the long-term by continued reference to the recommendations by other actors in the city was highlighted in Leeds (OL).
“It gave the political leadership…the political momentum to push through more funding… for low carbon initiatives.” (OO1).
“it certainly added weight and credibility and helped with momentum, would it, would it completely change the councils views on something, probably not” (LGL2).
Furthermore, the citizen assembly and jury processes were valued as tools to help overcome some of the key challenges climate action faces. In Oxford, the Citizens’ Assembly was seen as a response to and an opportunity to overcome the struggle within the political system to effectively tackle climate change (PO). Reasons for this included short political cycles clashing with the long-term issue of climate change (LGO3), the lack of trust in governments and influence of lobbyists such as the fossil fuel industry (OO1), and the failure of elections in informing government of public opinions on climate change as votes generally reflect people’s short-term interests (LGO1). This was also suggested in Leeds, where the citizens’ jury was described as an alternative and deliberative form of democracy outside of the normal realm and challenges of local government (LGL3-4).
“If you just leave it to the ballot box, it’s hopeless. I mean our democracy is fundamentally broken, you know, it doesn’t tell you what people think about climate change because they’re more interested in what bus routes are running and things like that, you know, it’s short-term stuff.” (LGO1)
“Politicians are absolutely driven by the political cycle…and a lot driven by what is in the public domain and in the press, so they…really do react to that kind of reputational arena, and you and I both know that sustainability is a long-term issue… and those aren't great in a 4 or 5 year political time-scale, and we've got a kind of clash between a long-term and quite potentially 'unsexy' area of work, against political priorities, press, the need for new and news….” (LGO3)
Furthermore, in both cities the processes demonstrated that citizens who are educated on climate change and the various issues surrounding it through the right communications are more likely to be supportive of and engaged in stronger climate action (LGL2, OL, LGO2). Additionally, interviewees highlighted that better educating and communicating with citizens on climate change was recommended in both processes. Thus, the processes seem to have encouraged the councils’ and other parties to increase and improve future citizen engagement on climate change more broadly (LGO2-4). However, in Leeds it was suggested that the Jury could have provided more in-depth insights into how the participants thought communications could be improved to engage the public in climate change debates, highlighting the desire for more practical recommendations (LGL4).
‘Part of what came out of it was a huge engagement programme and actually some of that has survived… we were due to do workshops and all sorts… that was not something we were planning to do before this process so, yeah huge engagement programme now lined up.’ (LGO4)
Therefore, the indirect impact of deliberative democratic processes can be significant and positive. Participants themselves find the experience enriching, and politicians and policy-makers can find it emboldening and reassuring in their chosen policy path, balancing some of the other influences they are usually subject to (e.g. the media, lobbying groups, electoral cycles).
It is important to critically analyse how these processes are being run and the impact they have in practice. Direct impacts or indirect impacts may not be immediately apparent, which led to some interviewees raising concerns that the impacts of these processes were not being critically assessed due to the heightened attention on climate change action (LGL4, LGL1)
‘I looked at the recommendations, I think it was Camden because there weren't that many before ours, and I read the recommendations and I thought exactly the same as I thought about ours, that it didn't tell me anything I didn't already know. But if you were to listen to the politicians at Camden speaking, well it's the best thing that's ever happened, you know it's really changed the world, you know I struggle to see that, but I think it's a bit like the emperor’s new clave, if you know what I mean by that, that you're almost on the wrong side of life if you're not saying they're great, because everybody's just singing and dancing,’ (LGL4).
The role that citizen assemblies and juries on climate change were seen to have within the wider democratic policymaking process was unclear. There was a feeling that if these types of process were to have a direct impact on policies it would be undemocratic (LGL2). Again this represents a tension of how to embed deliberative democratic practices that involve the public directly within institutional arrangements based on representative democracy, a tension between giving some power back directly to a group of citizens, potentially at the expense of elected councillors.
“There was an implication by a few people… it was almost like we should leave it to the jury and just do what the jury says… well that's not a position that a democratic body would take, it wouldn't actually say you know, we have been elected by the electorate but we are actually going to in some senses abdicate responsibility and allow a jury to determine policy, it's got to be, it's a form of, informed consultation, and kind of consultation has a weight obviously.” (LGL2)
4.4. Engagement with the wider public
There was agreement in both cities that the citizens’ jury and assembly needed to better draw the wider public into debates on climate change. The value of the Leeds Jury in relation to its cost was questioned due to its perceived failure to influence or draw a significant proportion of the wider population into climate change debates (LGL1, LGL4, LGL3). This implies that in order for these processes to be seen as worthwhile they need to engage the wider public in climate debates. Similarly, the failure to energise and involve the wider public through the process of organising the Oxford Assembly was criticised (OO1, LGO1). This suggests that citizen juries and assemblies on climate change present an opportunity to engage with the wider public and build trust, an opportunity which was missed in these two instances. Better media coverage of citizens’ juries and assemblies on climate may engage and communicate with the public more deeply on the debates had in and generated by these processes (Goodin, 2008; Delap, 2001; Devaney et al., 2020, Capstick et al., 2020). Thus, broader citizen engagement should be a key focus for future climate citizen juries and assemblies for them achieve their engagement potential and be worthwhile processes.
‘Ultimately you know 25 people across 800,000, you know they might each go back and talk to 10 people but that still only reaches 250. So I think there's something about trying to work out how you get more out of that legacy, and how they become more kind of influential (…) it can be quite a limited role if that kind of legacy bit is not properly planned out and talked through.’ (LGL4)
‘The very process of organising a citizens’ assembly should energise and involve in it, you know lots of people, and that wasn't really achieved.’ (OO1)
Interviewees suggested that citizen assemblies and juries could be used again in the future with a narrower scope or at more local scales (OO1, OO2, LGL4). Before the COVID-19 pandemic there was discussion in Leeds of having citizens’ juries at a regional-level on adaptation (LGL3) and in the city on transport as this was highlighted as being a particularly contentious and difficult issue (LGL2, LGL3, LGL4). Thus, this suggests that policy-makers saw these as being useful processes for engaging with citizens on contentious climate-related issues.
“I don't think just having more and more citizens assemblies in the same place on, on climate change is, is the way forward (…) actually, you probably need to go to the next level of granularity and ask questions like, well, what, what should Oxford's transport system look like?” (OO2)
4.5. Value for money
Citizen juries and assemblies were frequently referred to as expensive processes, especially in Leeds where funding primarily came from research grants (LGL3-4, OL, LGO1, LGO3-4). The price of the Oxford Assembly process was estimated at £200,000-£250,000 (LGO1, OO1) and the Leeds Jury at £30,000-£40,000 (LGL3, LGL4, OL). Consequently, there was concern over how to make them more accessible as most local authorities or organisations lack funding to run these processes, especially given the wider context of the pandemic, or prioritise delivering projects rather than extensive public consultations (OL, LGL3). The use of other deliberative tools on narrower topics was suggested as alternative way to engage with citizens on climate change (PL, OO2). Focus groups were identified as being as good or better tools to gage public opinions on specific issues due to the in-depth discussions and practical insights they can provide and the lower cost of running them (LGL3, LGL4, LGO4). Moreover, other methods of informing the public was suggested as being better value for money, such as a radio campaign or educational programme in schools which may reach more people, further emphasising the need to involve the wider public in these processes if they are to be worthwhile (LGL4).
‘I think yeah reflecting on the amount of staff that was involved and the money it cost to run it, you have to reflect on whether there are more effective ways, or at the end of the day this is what it comes down to whether there are cheaper ways to achieve something similar.’ (LGO4)
‘Has it raised greater awareness, maybe but there's no kind of evidence to show that, in which case you know I think our kind of assessment up front was that it was a lot of money to talk to 25 people even though they come away as really good advocates, unless they're advocates that go out and talk to 1,000 people or you know, from a value for money perspective you know it's not the best value for money.’ (LGL4)
Yet, the value of having an inclusive sample participating in a jury or assembly was highlighted, suggesting that in-depth citizen engagement with a representative sample at more affordable rates was desired (LGL4). However, this is difficult to achieve as recruiting representative samples is a resource-intensive process (OL, LGO4). Therefore, the price of running and the small number of the target population which they engage seems to be key challenges to these processes.
‘You know those 24 people in Leeds they came up with recommendations which were broadly consistent with what we were going to be doing anyway, so that, that, that's interesting, that's an interesting thing, but given that that's the fact then could we use that 30,000 pounds maybe to try and get carbon literacy in I don't know, the 5 largest employers in the city and maybe reach, I don't know, 20,000 people’ (LGL3).