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What is a People's Assembly

By Aishani Parkash  

On 19 June, Islington Climate Centre and Shade UK hosted a People's Assembly on Heat and Shade. It was a tremendous success and a moment of civic community and problem-solving. People’s Assemblies have been used throughout history by various social and civil movements, but what exactly are they and how do they work? AISHANI PARKASH explores.

People’s Assemblies are events where individuals from a range of backgrounds come together to openly discuss community challenges and make collective decisions. Conversations are structured by facilitators so that everyone gets a chancee to speak and anyone can choose to take part.  People’s Assemblies differ from Citizens Assemblies, in which citizens are instead selected to represent a sample of the population, but both People’s Assemblies and Citizens Assemblies are a form of deliberative democracy: 1% of the people get 1% share of voice. 

What are the benefits of People’s Assemblies?

1. People’s Assemblies are tried and tested. People’s assemblies can actually be traced all the way back to the Ancient Greeks. They used popular assemblies to decide laws and policies.* In Islington, the “Islington Climate Panel” was created by the council to improve the borough’s climate resilience. Participants were recruited by a process called 'sortition', meaning that they exactly represent the makeup of the Islington community. Members listen to community expert on various issues before discussing solutions in the community. The results of their deliberations are due at the end of the summer. Talk-centric assemblies are a proven and effective way to deal with community challenge, - nfinitely more effective than adversarial party politics!

2. People’s assemblies platform diverse perspectives and create an inclusive space. Ideas are usually stronger when they are developed and tested by a diverse range of people. Participants in People’s Assemblies can come from many different backgrounds, bringing unique life experiences and perspectives. The diversity enables People’s Assemblies to produce strong and considered solutions to community challenges. Everyone’s voice is valued. It is, literally, the pooling of common sense  

3. People’s assemblies are usually localised. They allow people from the local community to come together and actively listen to each other’s perspectives. This collective problem solving means assemblies help build consensus in the local community, making them particularly useful for complex challenges such as our response to climate change and social care 

More reading:

1 Smith, G. (2009) ‘Popular assemblies: from New England town meetings to participatory budgeting’, in Democratic Innovations: Designing Institutions for Citizen Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (Theories of Institutional Design), pp. 30–71.

2 Local people set to shape Islington’s approach to creating a greener, healthier borough | Islington Council News 

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