We set out below the most frequently asked questions:
Why a Citizens Panel?
There are two broad reasons:
Firstly, citizens panels and assemblies help build a stronger democratic relationship between citizens and their elected representatives. A random sample of ordinary people is given a safe space and expert facilitation in order to first learn about an issue in depth before arriving at a set of conclusions and recommendations.
This only works if panel members are randomly chosen so as to reach beyond the more affluent, socially confident sections of society who tend to dominate public meetings. the process of random selection can be more or less rigorous but in all cases it must be composed of a diverse sample of the local population, including more marginalised sections of the community who, for various reasons, don’t participate in public forums.
Secondly they function as “trusted proxies or ‘honest brokers’ whose findings can be shared with the wider community. Evidence shows that the public have more trust in the findings of citizens panels composed of ‘people like us’, even if they disagree with its findings.
In the past, Cornwall Independent Poverty Forum have conducted poverty hearings as a means of raising awareness among a broader public as well as policy makers. The proposal for a ‘citizens panel’ builds on this approach.
Isn’t it the job of our elected representatives to address these issues rather than ordinary citizens?
Yes it is. But it is also the job of elected representatives to listen and respond to voters’ concerns. This doesn’t always happen. A citizens panel – or ‘citizens jury’ as it is more commonly known – is a tried and tested platform for achieving this.
What’s the difference between a Citizens Panel and a Focus Group?
Focus groups conducted as part of a marketing survey are short 1-day or half day sessions in which the aim is to gather a set of opinions and reactions to a particular issue or product. In the case of political issues, the opinions offered can be snapshot judgements based on partial information or no real understanding. The opinion offered is whatever the person thinks at that moment.
By contrast a citizens panel first learns about an issue in depth before offering a set of considered judgements. It is about evidenced based deliberative democracy and informed opinion rather than knee jerk reactions to issues.
What are the benefits of citizens panels or citizens assemblies for elected representatives?
- It bridges the democratic deficit and rebuilds trust in representative government at both local and national level. This is crucial given the currently very low levels of trust in representative democracy
- It adds informed citizens voices to public decision making
- It lends democratic legitimacy to the difficult decisions that elected representatives must make.
- The cost of citizens assemblies and juries is modest in comparison to money spent by local government on private consultants. In 2015/16 Hampshire County Council spent £20 million on consultancy fees, Birmingham City Council £8 million, Bristol City Council £2.59 million. By contrast, a recent central government initiative with local councils was based on a budget of £60,000. And this present initiative set out here is well under £3,000.
I’m not part of the citizens panel – can I still play a role?
Everyone has something of value to contribute. If you applied for the citizens panel but were not chosen, you still have something to give to this process. The website will act not just as a public record of the findings of the citizens panel, it will also be a public record of the the responses and comments by local people, including you.
While we have a Facebook page, a complete record of all conversations is only possible if everything is all in one place. We hope it will be a useful resource to both elected representatives and local people long after the citizens panel has ended.
Please be sure to click the GET UPDATES below to follow the proceedings of the citizens panel.
Finally, before commenting please see our Conversation Guidelines
What happens at the end of this process?
A final report will put together the deliberations of the citizens panel along with its recommendations. The report will be shared with Penzance Town Council, Cornwall Council and the elected MP, Derek Thomas. We will also share it with all local political parties in the St Ives constituency and we will ask for a response in each case. Their responses will also be published on this website.