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Citizens’ Assemblies and a path forward in New Zealand

Forum webinars and events

Imagine if our prime minister followed recommendations made by citizen assemblies, which would represent everyone in our society?

The Nelson Tasman Climate Forum hosted a discussion about citizens’ assemblies, also called deliberative democracy. Citizens’ assemblies bring decision making down to ground level. Groups of people representing samples across society find solutions for complex problems, such as how to respond to increased flooding or slip hazards. It has been used in Poland for implementing flood response measures and in France in 2019 when petrol prices caused widespread unrest.

In this webinar, May Miller-Dawkins and Cally O’Neill outline how Citizens Assemblies can help heal rifts in New Zealand society. Miller-Dawkins said that through deliberative democracy, citizens can make many small decisions that will add up to the large scale change we need. “We must go at the speed of trust. To pay proper respect it needs to build off being in real relationship”. O’Neill has been working in Porirua to introduce deliberative democracy to the process of building public meeting places. Collective decision making in New Zealand needs to include mana whenua for the democratic process to be meaningful, she said. “People have a sense of belonging and purpose around community facilities that are created through participatory process”. If people are given the opportunity to talk and understand each other, they can reach an agreement that will be meaningful to them, O’Neill said. O’Neill had just returned from helping a friend affected by the floods in Napier. “When resources are depleted humans tend to not get along so well and we have to front foot that”, she said last night.

Forum co-chair Joanna Santa Barbara said discussions of citizens’ assemblies tend to open up questions about democracy, equity and capitalism. “We do seem to be on the brink of social transformation and we are going to have difficult complicated value laden decisions to make”.

Features of a Citizens Assembly:

1. Clear purpose and question (10 words or less)

2. Representative sample of people

3. Time and resources to learn and deliberate and hear from diverse sources

4. Skilled facilitation

5. Delegated authority or clear process for decision to be taken to others or implemented (after referendum/government response)

The recording of this webinar is available here:

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