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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

One that serves the young, old, walkers, drivers, bus users, cyclists, disabled drivers and non-drivers, carers and those with small children …

Such complex issues are increasingly being addressed around the world by convening Citizens’ Assemblies (at government level as well as in local areas, for example), where randomly selected residents (a group of 50-100, commonly) are given expert advice about a topic, which they discuss, and then draw up a set of recommendations. An independent organisation such as the charity Involve supervises the process, including which experts provide the information, and the Sortition Foundation organises the random sample. In our traffic example, the recommendations would then be presented to Haringey Council, who could then act on them in the knowledge that people with different backgrounds and experiences had worked these out together.

The selection process has two levels – initially, several thousand residents are randomly selected and sent invitations, then a stratified random sample is generated from those who reply (and supply demographic details, as well as e.g. whether or not they own a car). So the resulting sample should reflect the demographic etc. characteristics of, in our case, the population of Haringey.

A petition has been organised by a coalition of local groups to ask Haringey Council to convene such a Citizen’s Assembly to clarify what residents want - please sign!


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The concept is appealing to me. 

But I'd appreciate some links to available independent academic research which considers different aspects and arguments for the method. Preferably stuff written and presented in  plain English and possibly with the option of using other of Haringey's main languages. Also with such material available cheaply. Also which gives examples of  such projects elsewhere in London with some assessment of what worked or partly  worked.

Phew! I'll check out what I can.

Using others of Haringey's languages is a very good idea.


Thanks so much for posting- this is a fantastic idea! 

Great! Please share widely!

Perhaps I'm missing something but it's not clear to me what the issue is that citizens assemblies are trying to solve. My understanding was that under the UK/ local government system Councillors effectively act as a proxy for "people with different backgrounds and experiences" who are given expert advice and asked to make decisions (rather than make recommendations) based on expert advice. Consultation is used by experts to ensure that a full range of views are represented.

By contrast , the citizens assembly process seems drawn out and time consuming (especially for participants, presumably who would have to agree to take time off to do this?) and getting 50-100 people to agree on a coherent set of recommendations seems challenging. 

Thanks for this, Amit. Citizens’ Assemblies involve residents more directly in decision-making about complex issues than relying on elected representatives (who cannot be experts on everything) to speak for them. The assembly members listen to experts, and interrogate them, on different aspects of the issue at hand. Then in subgroups of about 8 people they listen to each other (each is likely to have very different experiences and backgrounds), think about the issue, and discuss. A professional facilitator in each group makes sure that everyone is able to speak, and no-one dominates.

Out of these deliberations they will formulate proposals together, which are shared and discussed in the wider Assembly. The resulting informed and representative recommendations are made to whatever institution has convened them - government, parliament, local authority or etc. The Assembly will meet at weekends – possibly a couple for an area the size of Haringey – and each member will probably be paid something to make sure that nobody loses out.

No decision-making process is perfect, but this method tries to provide institutions with informed and thought-out proposals that are representative of a local community.

Thanks, Annabel. That's a really helpful explanation. I've added my name to the petition. In response to Amit's point, personally, I would only invest the time to participate in a CA if I felt that the body responsible for enacting any of the changes that emerge is fully invested in the process and the possible likely outcomes. 

Thanks Hugh! I feel that investing a couple of weekends of my time to explore a relatively new democratic process would be worth it. The Council's existing consultations on transport are, I believe, hopeless - surely another way of approaching the issue is worth pursuing for the sake of the many residents of Haringey who are suffering from the current chaos.

Thanks Annabel - really appreciate the time you've taken to get back to me. 

From reading the lord's report and the IoG explainer, it looks like they are indeed costly and time consuming - the IoG report suggests £758,094 on average, per assembly. That's not to say they're not valuable but I think helpful contextually, especially considering the state local government finances. 

As with Alan above, I'd be interested in evidence of their efficiency - although the lord's report suggests they're highly rated by people who take part in them, it's less clear what the impact is on the wider system. 

I'm also not sure about the point regarding elected representatives not being experts in everything - isn't the point that CAs aren't experts but have access to experts? So how is an "assembly" of councillors different? Personally I think improving democratic processes and making councillors/ elected representatives more responsive to, and reflective of, their populations (as well as investing in their decision making capability) would lead to better decision making overall (on a wider range of issues) than single issue citizens assemblies. 

That's of course not to suggest that you can't have both!

Amit, we leapfrogged.  I drafted and then posted my thoughts below, before I read your latest post (immediately above.)

I also agree with Hugh Flouch that none of this works properly unless "the body responsible for enacting any of the changes that emerge is fully invested etc..."

One of the ways the present systems shred democracy is when people's  experience is that participation is ignored. For example when little tinpot would-be dictators dismiss people and different ideas in advance. (Keir Starmer for example gives his closed mindset away by talking about  "my" party as if Labour belonged to him.)

I was once very lucky to be called for jury service on an attempted murder case. And for many hours had to follow and ponder the shifting and sometimes partial thoughts of eleven complete strangers. Was it frustrating? Of course it was. Did I change my mind? of course I did!

Yes, let's have both! i.e. ward councillors as well as CAs.

£758k for a CA - wow! That's got to be for the whole country. Estimates that I've seen for CAs set up by local authorities are about £60k. Not peanuts, but for comparison, the standard cost of installing modal filters in a neighbourhood is £250k - most of which will, I am told, be spent on the consultation (Walking and Cycling Action Plan). And as I said above, I don't think these consultations are effective.

Sure, it would be good for all councillors to come along to the 'expert advice' day provided at the CA. Our councillor works full time as well as being absolutely inundated with queries on all sorts of topics from her constituents (we now effectively only have one councillor). She doesn't have time to get all the expert advice on transport that would be desirable, as I imagine is true of the other councillors who do not specialise in it. What she does is invaluable, but she welcomes our involvement in these issues too.

Yes, I am going to get back to you and Alan on assessments of the effectiveness of CAs.



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