Reflections on a People’s Assembly: advice for organisers - RSA

Reflections on a People’s Assembly: advice for organisers


  • Picture of Clare Gage FRSA
    Clare Gage FRSA
    Designer Maker working in ceramics, jewellery and creative education
  • Deliberative democracy
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  • Fellowship in Action

In July 2019, we held a People’s Assembly on climate change in Chesterfield.

The assembly was part of Create Change Chesterfield (CCC) and supported by the RSA. 

We wanted to further explore ideas around deliberative democracy raised at our first CCC event, and focus on a topic where there was a real local interest.

Having managed to hold such a large-scale event, here are some reflections on how we did it that we hope will be useful to other people running people’s assemblies around the world.

Work with experts who can help achieve your vision 

The day needed the experience and expertise of Talkshop, a group of experts in facilitation and deliberative democracy.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be the leading voice. We discussed at length what I’d like to achieve with the day as well as the overall atmosphere that I wanted to create.

It's important to me that I’m led by the community. I held many discussions to inform my plan for the day. One to one meetings with key individuals as well as a group meeting where I invited representatives from established community groups working on climate endeavours. Feedback from these meetings informed my plan.

Then the technical expertise for how to deliver the day was needed. Talkshop were then responsible for planning and delivering the main activities on the day.

To get a diverse group, promote widely

One of the aims I have for my RSA activity is to address issues of inclusivity. I’m particularly keen to engage with my generation. Both of my events have had aspects that make it more accessibly for people with families, with busy lives and for those who haven’t been involved in social action before.

This aim shaped how I promoted the event. I spoke at 2 primary schools and flyers were sent home to parents. I also found Facebook an effective way to connect with people in their 30’s and 40’s. The tone of how you discuss the day is important. I carefully considered how to be welcoming to a diverse audience.

The various methods of promotion that I used led to a group of 70 people from babies to grandparents.

Think about how you want to have influence, and structure your discussion around that

Given that we asked people to volunteer, the Chesterfield People’s Assembly wasn’t a Citizens’ Assembly – we were local activists and concerned citizens, not a selected cross-section of the entire local community.

We also weren’t set up by a public body, such as Parliament or a local council. The day has been described as an example of grassroots organising, which is certainly true. The event came about through the ideas and action of myself- nothing more than a local citizen. I saw the event as a chance for the people of Chesterfield to take responsibly and create action themselves.

But we did have engagement with policymakers. We had some input from the borough council. Several councilors and our local MP made appearances on the day, so there was interest. But they weren’t tied to the outcomes. Did we have complete freedom because we were not connected to existing power structures or does this disempower us?

When organizing your event, there is a balance to be struck between having independence and being too easy to ignore. The context will be different in each case. 

You can create change through the exsisting corridors of power, or by gaining your own power as a self-appointed group. But think carefully about your strategy and how it will shape your discussion: 

We had 3 categories we considered for action discussed on the day:

  • things we can do ourselves
  • things we can do as a group
  • things we need input from another body.

By ‘another body’ we considered the council, parliament, businesses etc. With this in mind we were able to think big but not feel disempowered by not immediately affecting the actions of the council etc.

Plan for follow up activity – the assembly is the start

I believe that everyone can create change and wanted to spread this message.

Since the People’s Assembly I have been able to reflect on its impact. A report of the day was created and this has been distributed as widely as possible. I was able to discuss it directly with representatives at Chesterfield Borough Council. Although no direct action came from this the priorities and ideas from the group are now part of the council’s bank of information. There is potential for future engagement which I am able to continue to build on.

Perhaps sometimes you need take the first step, and soon others join you on the journey?

A press release was written on the day and sent to local press outlets. Through this and personal involvement from some individuals in the local press CCC has had some good coverage of the event itself and the climate change endeavours locally.

Each of the groups created on the day were encouraged to self organise for future activity and we promised a follow up meeting as an opportunity to reconnect, find out what has happened and what support is needed for next steps.

Next steps for Create Change Chesterfield

This meeting was held in September. A discussion was had about the value of Create Change Chesterfield in our town and it’s role within the climate emergency endeavours. Value was attributed to the opportunity for the community to gather as a large group. It was described as a place where they felt the energy and drive for change in the town. One member described how she no longer felt alone in her endeavours and how powerful it was to see her community gather in this way.

Time was also given to discussing the effectiveness of the participatory techniques. The participants who attended the follow up meeting have become advocates for deliberative democracy. They discussed how we could find opportunities to experience it again, how others could experience it and how it could play a part in our democracy. We discussed how CCC could play a part in delivering this in the future.

I have used these reflections from the follow up meeting, along with the learnings made at the People’s Assembly to consider the next steps for Create Change Chesterfield. I am developing a reflective, feedback led model for this project. With this in mind I am making plans for another CCC event. If at each stage I am able to listen and respond to the needs of the community then this project will truly be giving people the chance to be heard.

I would be interested to hear about other initiatives similar to mine. Please do reach out if you have information to share about projects similar to Create Change Chesterfield.

Get in touch with me on MyRSA.

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