Stories of Equity in Public Engagement:
At a time of heightened domestic attention to climate issues—when the UK was poised to host COP26 in Glasgow and in the midst of Extinction Rebellion protests—UK’s House of Commons called for a citizens’ assembly1 to discuss how the Government should reach its legally-binding target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Climate Assembly UK was launched before the dissolution of Parliament for the December 2019 election, to ensure that the assembly’s report would be immediately available to the new Parliament.
As climate actions impact all aspects of life—from housing and transportation to the economy—it was crucial to hear from a truly representative body of citizens.
The Assembly selected 110 members through a randomized recruitment process known as sortition2. First, 30,000 invitation letters were sent to randomly selected addresses across the country. After recipients RSVP'd their interest and availability, computer-based random stratified sampling was used to select 105 participants who were representative of the UK population in terms of age, gender, education, ethnicity, location and attitudes to climate change.
An over-recruitment strategy was employed to account for systemic inequities that often lead to under-representation of certain groups. For instance, 20% of the initial invitation letters were reserved for randomly selected addresses from lower-income postcodes that often see poorer response rates. Similarly, five extra participants were selected in order to over-sample groups that are were more likely to face attrition or be under-represented if a participant fell ill. Near perfect representation was achieved for all demographics.
Additional measures helped support equity and accessibility for participants.
Some examples of these measures include payment of travel expenses alongside a 150£ honorarium per event, provision of childcare and personal helpers on a needs-basis, and psychological supports due to the potentially distressing nature of the topic. Meetings were extended and moved to virtual platforms to accommodate the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout the assembly, members heard evidence from a broad range of stakeholders and researchers, before breaking into working groups to enable in-depth discussion of specific topics. Footage of the Assembly hearings and transcripts of speakers' presentations were made available to the public through its website. The Assembly not only provided an unprecedented opportunity for the public to influence the Governments’ climate action with their final recommendations, but it also strengthened democracy, with 88% of members expressing an increased interest and confidence engaging in political decision-making in the future.