Reposted here with thanks to The Alternative UK.

A/UK has featured Citizens Assemblies many times. We believe they have a lot to offer, though we have some concerns (see this blog)..

However, our friends at Talk Shop suggest Citizens Assemblies could be extended. They argue that Citizens Assemblies don’t fully address the widespread desire to ‘Take Back Control’. Not everybody has a chance to participate.

But what if anyone could join in these sessions? And send in their comments and questions? Talk Shop has worked up a way to enable this which both allows Talk Shop to grow, and could strengthen the legitimacy of Citizens Assemblies.

But first here’s a bit about what Talk Shop has been doing over the last few years. They hold group discussions around the country on big issues. People work in both small groups and whole group sessions over a number of rounds.

Discussion is seeded by cards and data graphics containing a mixture of impartially researched information and provocative questions.

They have complementary ambitions for what they do: firstly they want people to engage fully with the particular issues, secondly they want to develop the hunger for this kind of politics and the realisation of its power; and then to link it in with real decision making. And of course, once this link is made, there will be a massive rush – in this country and the world – to transform the way we do politics.

They’ve held around 60 events reaching 2,000 people on topics such as Fracking, Inequality and Brexit. The vast majority who attended said they felt safe and that the time spent was enjoyable and constructive.

In a Brexit event one participant – a Remainer – who was asked to put the case for the Leave position, reported that he had surprised himself by how much of the Leave position he agreed with.

At each event people are asked to give their views at various points. When all the events on a given topic have taken place, Talk Shop writes a report summarising the outcomes. This is given to all who attended, and forwarded to those who funded or sponsored the topic, plus stakeholders and policymakers.

Right now, they’re extending the reach of the Funding Social Care Citizens Assembly setup by Parliament that finished in June 2018, and aim to involve 1,000 people. The cards in this kit are based on the options and outcome of that assembly.

Talk Shop used the 28 hours of presentation and discussion that the assembly members had conducted, and summarised it in a way suitable for a two hour discussion.

Round one helps everyone get to a level of understanding of how Social Care needs develop, and how users and different types of carers perceive it. Round 2 then encourages discussion of what the State should provide – and to whom; and then how this might be funded.

Talk Shop are keen to support any group who’d like to hold their own event on Funding Social Care – you can read more on the Talk Shop website, or ask for a kit here.

But, you’ll rightly ask: so how does that answer Take Back Control?

Every Talk Shop session has a feedback form reporting on participants preferences and observations. In the case of the Funding Social Care discussions, the consolidated conclusions will be fed back to Parliament’s Health and Social Care Committee in a report. And in future a report might go to a Citizens Assembly looking at the topic under discussion.

This completes Talk Shop’s ‘Growing Spiral of Connected Political Conversations’ (see graphic at top, and Powerpoint here) so strengthening their claim that they are “making sure that everyone has a voice in the matters that concern them – so that democracy works for everyone”.

We’ll look forward to hearing more of Talk Shop piggy-backing onto other Citizens Assemblies in the future. And if you’d like to help Talk Shop grow or put on your own event, you can contact them here.

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