Guidance for local authorities, produced with Friends of the Earth

Blaenau Gwent Citizen’s Assembly engages communities on climate

How is this tackling the climate crisis?

Citizens’ assemblies help ordinary people from all backgrounds understand the climate crisis, and work together to suggest solutions that can create a better future for everyone. Blaenau Gwent Council in Wales joined forces with local and national organisations, as well as volunteers from the area, to deliver a citizen’s assembly for the relatively small sum of £50,000.

The assembly’s recommendations included creating an integrated transport system throughout the authority area, more help for people to train in green construction, and a programme of woodland preservation and restoration.

The assembly process was designed, launched and managed by the Blaenau Gwent Public Service Board Climate Mitigation Steering Group. The group’s members include the council, environmental action groups, housing associations and electoral reform organisations.

The assembly creators worked with the Sortition Foundation, who are experts at bringing together groups of local people reflecting an area’s different attitudes and social and ethnic backgrounds. The foundation selected a group of 50 assembly members, and in March 2021 these members took part in 23 hours of online climate literacy session on key issues like housing, transport and nature.

They were asked to think about how to tackle the climate crisis in a way that’s fair and improves living standards for everyone. The members debated and agreed on five key proposals that the council and others should adopt in order to tackle the climate crisis.

What impact has it had?

Although the assembly’s recommendations are not legally binding, Blaenau Gwent Public Service Board has committed to respond to all recommendations. At the end of the process three assembly members took part in public service board meetings, discussing how their work can form the basis of future policy plans.

What made it work?

The Blaenau Gwent Public Service Board Climate Mitigation Steering Group was well-placed to develop a strategy and process that included key local stakeholders. As well as helping assembly members engage with the climate crisis, the group also made sure the assembly’s recommendations could be used by Blaenau Gwent public bodies in their decarbonisation plans.

The stakeholders included four housing associations – United Welsh, Tai Calon, Linc Cymru and Melin Homes – that between them control 24% of housing in the area.

There was council-wide buy-in to support this project. This was crucial, as political will is needed to make sure that a Citizen’s Assembly can be delivered through a fair process that sparks real change.

What resources were needed?

The Citizens’ Assembly was funded through Welsh Government’s Innovative Housing Programme – Optimised Retrofit Programme, with the project costing £50,000 in total. This is a relatively low amount for a citizens’ assembly, and volunteers were needed to support or carry out almost every role in the process.

Up to eight council staff members were needed to run the assembly sessions, with local housing association staff also involved. The housing associations also played a key role here in securing initial funding to deliver this project.

Lessons learned

The council found it challenging to complete this work within budget, which limited its capacity to make the sessions as engaging possible. As a result, some people taking part said they felt rushed during the learning, deliberation and recommendation phases of the assembly. If the council was to run an assembly again, it would create more time for people to take on board information on specific themes.

Running the assembly was a tough administrative challenge. Creating a design team, as well as appointing project managers, would have helped.

Assembly members found expert speakers with local knowledge and/or local experience expert speakers attendees found to be the most engaging.

Useful information

Find more guidance for local authorities on our Learning Out Loud page.

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