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Putting citizens’ assemblies at the heart of climate action

Barnet CA 1

Client: Barnet Council

Discover how we worked with Barnet Council to empower its community to tackle the climate emergency

Challenge

The climate crisis is one of the biggest challenges we face, with organisations across the country taking action both at a national and local level. 

One organisation that wanted to be at the forefront of innovative climate action was Barnet Council. In 2022, the local authority declared a climate emergency and committed to becoming a Net Zero council by 2030 and making Barnet a Net Zero borough by no later than 2042. But rather than just implementing policies from above, the council wanted to take a different, more inclusive approach. 

As part of Barnet’s mission, the council wanted to bring the wider community on the journey to reaching Net Zero. Climate policies will affect people across Barnet's diverse communities and  this approach aimed to ensure that initiatives were both fair and in line with the community's needs. 

Climate policies affect a vast range of people in the areas that they are implemented, this approach ensures that Barnet’s initiatives are both fair and in line with the community's needs. 

The council is committed to putting community engagement at the heart of what they do and agreed that the best way to drive this initiative was through holding a citizens’ assembly. With the objective set, Barnet decided to team up with us at TPXImpact to help bring the citizens’ assembly to life, ensuring it met the needs of residents, the borough and the environment. 

Approach 

Building diverse and representative assemblies

Barnet Council is committed to making meaningful community engagement a central part of its overall strategy, recognising how key the resident voice is for reaching critically important environmental targets. 

To make involvement in shaping climate action as wide as possible, Barnet chose to run two parallel assemblies. These were a citizens’ assembly, made of 40 residents aged 18+, and a young people’s assembly, consisting of 20 residents aged between 12-17.

We worked with the council and the Sortition Foundation to create both assemblies in a way that was fair and represented the people of Barnet. Using a democratic lottery system, we designed and sent 8,000 invitations to randomly selected addresses across the borough. Engagement was strong, with around 360 people registering their interest for the 40 available spaces.

To ensure the final 40 assembly members reflected the demographics of the borough, we used a sortition algorithm to better understand the makeup of the respondents. This allowed us to randomly select assembly members in a way that was demographically representative of the whole community, including age, gender, ethnicity and religion. 

For the young people’s assembly, we worked with local schools to share an open application process, selecting 20 students from across Barnet. Interested students were asked to write a short statement on why they were wanted to join the youth assembly. They were also asked to share some demographic information to ensure a variety of perspectives and experiences.

Creating a clear mission statement

‘How can we contribute to addressing the climate crisis?’ can feel like a huge and unanswerable question. Therefore, it was important that the challenge was broken down into actionable steps for participants to give them a clear idea of the problem and what they were trying to achieve. Working with a diverse group of stakeholders, including Barnet Council staff, elected members and community groups, we developed a question the assemblies could realistically answer.

To make sure the question was actionable and clear, we hosted a workshop to develop a series of proposed mission statements with stakeholders. These options were shared at a meeting of Barnet’s Climate Action Group. We then surveyed attendees on which question they preferred. Following this process, the following question was agreed:

"Barnet has declared a climate emergency. What more can we do together to make Barnet more sustainable, now and in the future?"

This question was preferred by stakeholders because it included:

  • A broad focus, rather than a specific topic 
  • An opening statement that conveys the context of the process
  • A signal that we need to act collectively, involving actors and stakeholders across the borough
  • Indication that we need to act now and that our actions will impact the future

Educational and engaging assembly sessions

A key part of our design for the assemblies was to ensure that everyone engaged with the process throughout. To do this, we wanted to create an environment where participants could learn, discuss and enjoy themselves.

To create these engaging sessions, we split the citizen’s assemblies meetings into eight parts:

  • Session 1: Setting the scene in Barnet and beyond
  • Sessions 2 & 3: Exploring the key themes of the assembly: housing & buildings, transport, sustainable consumption, natural environment & biodiversity
  • Session 4: Fairness & equity; making change happen; a vision for  a more sustainable Barnet
  • Session 5: Community exhibition to learn about existing initiatives in relation to the key themes
  • Session 6 & part of Session 7: Ask me Anything Panel and deliberations
  • Session 7 & 8: Decision-making and voting

The young person’s assembly followed a similar format but consisted of three sessions, as well as two co-design sessions at the beginning and end of the assembly process. These co-design sessions consisted of five participants to shape the session plans and ensure that young persons voices were heard and actions were taken post-assembly.

"TPXimpact’s flexible approach was key to the success of the assemblies. The team’s adaptability and openness to co-design demonstrated they were putting the community first at all times. The assemblies have brought our community together with a shared goal, to tackle climate change. You can see how they have motivated everyone to carry on with this mission. We look forward to continuing to work together to ensure community engagement remains at the heart of our climate policy."
Ellen Jennings

Senior Workstream Coordinator at Barnet Council’s sustainability team

Impact 

Following a series of engaging, exciting and thought-provoking sessions, we worked with the assemblies to bring their visions and recommendations to life through a comprehensive report. This report included a range of innovative ideas from both the citizens’ assembly and young people's assembly. Once finalised, members of both the assemblies presented their recommendations to the council.

The report was a huge success and warmly received by the Cabinet. Many of the visions and recommendations were accepted and are now helping inform a key part of Barnet Council’s Net Zero Action Plan. 

But the work doesn’t end here. Inspired by the success of the assemblies, Barnet is now bringing the wider community together to discuss how they can act upon the recommendations. This is being done through a range of activities such as public events, action groups around the assembly themes, and commissioned murals. It is hoped the ongoing engagement will ensure communities remain involved, while at the same time enabling the council and wider community to monitor the progress of the implementation of its recommendations. Many of the participants have also expressed interest in continuing to stay involved in upcoming activities of the campaign.

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