A plan to create a citizens’ assembly in Southampton has been announced by City Council and University experts as part of efforts to tackle climate change and co-design a road to net-zero with nearby residents and businesses.
The assembly, an initiative which has become a popular democratic innovation worldwide, intends to bring inclusive and diverse groups of ordinary residents together to engage them in informed, and safe deliberation and provide recommendations to decision-makers on controversial topics.
Responding to a high demand for a citizens’ assembly, Southampton City Council together with the University of Southampton intend to deliver a wide, democratic and cutting-edge engagement programme on climate in 2023.
It has strong commitment from Southampton Council Leader, Satvir Kaur, wider political leadership and administrative leads at the council, as well as demand from the recently formed climate commission of leading businesses and third sector bodies. Councillor Kaur said: “We all know the huge devasting impact climate change is having. In Southampton it means poorer health and parts of our city will be under water if we don’t act. It will take everyone to make changes, and this new climate citizens assembly is about ensuring everyone can be part of how we locally make those changes towards a net-zero city.
“I am looking forward to the project going into our communities, engaging with people from all ages, backgrounds and viewpoints on this issue. All contributing to what priorities, policies and opportunities are needed, and how we deliver those together. It is great to be partnering with the University of Southampton, we committed to being future focused and taking communities with us, tackling the challenges we all face.”
In recent years leading governments around the world, including the UK parliament and its devolved and local governments, have increasingly used citizens’ assemblies to help policymakers better understand people’s preferences on complex and controversial issues.
Experts from the University of Southampton, which is a renowned hub for democratic innovation research in the UK, will design and support the implementation of the Climate Assembly using novel tools developed through their research.
The project team is led by academics Dr Matt Ryan and Dr Paolo Spada, who oversee the University’s Rebooting Democracy Research Group, and supported by Public Policy Southampton unit and PPS Policy Associates.
University of Southampton lead Dr Matt Ryan said: “Rather than focusing solely on a short-term assembly involving a handful of citizens, this new and longer-term approach will seek to expand the influence and footprint of an assembly well beyond a handful of formal learning and decision meetings.
“This new model encourages many kinds of conversation from people from all walks of life embedding the assembly and its message within the fabric of the city itself. Assembly members will be supported to produce outputs to be shared across the city. All this will be done in preparation for citizens to contribute to the council’s climate and green policies.”
Several initiatives will be hosted across neighbourhoods in the city and online in the coming months allowing residents to learn, deliberate and decide on a future direction. A group will then convene in an assembly in the autumn to work with experts to recommend solutions to difficult problems which will be implemented and monitored over the coming months and years.
Dr Ryan added: “This initiative is a great testament to the civic agenda that is embraced by the University and the Council aimed at strengthening collaboration and changing the culture of engagement between key partner organisations and the city to include historically disadvantaged and marginalised groups systematically in research-informed policymaking.”